Satisfying, buttery and hearty, this traditional mashed potato dish is a seasonal favorite. The Irish know this dish as Colcannon from Gaelic cal ceannann meaning “white-headed cabbage” and for the past few hundred years it’s become a customary dish served for Imbolc, one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals marking the time of year, or in Ireland it is the feast St. Brigid's Day.
The dish was introduced to England later in the eighteenth century, where it became a favorite among the upper classes which turned this humble mashed potato dish into a culinary tour de force using greens like cabbage, kale, endive and leeks.
Made with what would have been the last few items in the cold room: mashed potatoes, fried cabbage, onions (mine has garlic... because I believe it tastes better with it) and plenty of butter and cream, it often features ham or bacon. It can be made with kale, leeks and a bit of bacon with is more Dutch, like the recipe a few posts ago, "Burning Love Mashed Potatoes." It is also a meal that I place in the February Hunger Moon Market Gypsy monthly guides as it describes a month with little food choices in the home, a cold time of year and a need for comfort not just nutritionally but as a meal to gather around and dip a fork full into the melted butter in the center.
It's totally simple and pretty inexpensive considering the price of cabbage, kale & leafy greens. It was considered a working persons meal but later became popular with the upper classes. Although I’ve never tried, apparently it can be prepared in advance and frozen. You thaw the potato mixture in the fridge at least 24 hours before you plan to serve, and let it stand 20 minutes before baking.
One of the first Irish references for Colcannon can be found in the Journal of William Bulkely of Bryndda.The dish was introduced to England later in the eighteenth century, where it became a favorite among the upper classes which turned this humble mashed potato dish into a culinary tour de force using greens like cabbage, kale, endive and leeks.
An Irish traditional food of the masses, plenty of old world food magic revolved around Colcannon. Unmarried woman would put the first and last bites into a stocking and hang it from her front door. The next single man to enter the house by that door was said to be her future husband. Often charms like a ring, a thimble or button were placed in the Colcannon pot, too. The following traditional rhyme tells the story…
“Did you ever eat Colcannon
When ’twas made with thickened cream,
And the greens and scallions blended
Like the pictures in a dream?
“Did you ever scoop a hole on top
To hold the melting cake
Of clover-flavoured butter
Which you mother used to make?
“Did you ever eat and eat afraid
You’d let the ring go past,
And some old married ‘sprissman’
Would get it at the last?
“Gods be with the happy times
When trouble we had not
And our mother made Colcannon
In the little, three-legged pot.”
On with the recipe…..
2lbs of Russet or any winter potato, peeled
3 cups chopped kale or cabbage
2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon of butter for potatoes
1 tablespoon of butter for sautéing greens and onion
½ cup cream for potatoes
Salt to taste
1. Boil potatoes until tender to mash.
2. In medium fry pan, on medium-low, saute kale or cabbage with onion until soft.
3. Add garlic and saute for another minute or two until garlic is tender but not golden.
4. Drain water from potatoes, mash with salt, butter and cream.
5. Add cooked green, onion, garlic mixture.
6. Mix well, serve with an extra teaspoon of butter in the middle.
7. Dip a fork full of Colcannon in melted butter.
What is also interesting about this meal choice is that adding a dairy such as butter or cream allows the body to fully absorb the nutrients from all the vegetables. It is part of the reason French cooking also includes let's say butter with carrots. Sally Fallon known for traditional cooking and grounded in Nutrient filled meals, also claims many of the vitamins and micronutrients in food are fat-soluble, which means they cannot be absorbed without the presence of adequate fat. That means that if you eat fruits or vegetables without fat, you’ll absorb only a fraction of the nutrients you would absorb if you ate them with fat.