“Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream?
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake
Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make?”
(Irish song, traditional)
Potatoes and Ireland go together like, well like Guinness and Ireland. Introduced in the 16th Century the potato rapidly became part of the staple diet and culture of the Irish and remains so today. Ballyporeen, the town of the little potato, is even named after the versatile tuber. Mash ’em, fry ’em, boil ’em, roast ’em, the potato offers a variety of ways to be cooked and served. One of my favourites is the traditional Irish recipe Colcannon, or cál ceannann in Irish, a delicious buttery concoction of mashed spuds, greens, and butter that gave rise to the above hymn of praise to a mother’s favourite.
1.8kg potatoes, preferably old spuds or a floury variety like russet
1 head of green cabbage or kale
240 ml milk or cream
120g butter divided equally into 3 portions
4-5 scallions (green onions), chopped
Salt and Pepper
Fresh Parsley or chives
Peel the potatoes and put them in a saucepan to boil.
Meanwhile, remove the core from the cabbage, thinly slice the leaves, and place them into a large saucepan. Cover with boiling water and parboil for 3-5 minutes making sure that the cabbage doesn’t overcook.
Drain the cabbage thoroughly and gently squeeze out any excess moisture. Return the cabbage to the pan with one third of the butter, cover, and leave in a warm place for the butter to melt.
When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and return to the saucepan. The idea is that they should be as dry as possible. Add the milk to the saucepan with a third of the butter and the chopped scallions. Warm gently, ensuring the milk does not boil while the butter melts
Mash the potatoes thoroughly into the butter and milk mixture using a potato masher or fork, then mix the cabbage thoroughly through the mashed potato.
Before serving, season with a little salt and sprinkle with fresh parsley or chives. Most importantly, make a well in the centre of the mound of potato and put the last third of the butter in there to melt. Eat on its own or serve with boiled ham or Irish bacon.
Research from the Defence Studies Department, King's College London
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