I include that “one version” in the post title because I am well aware that this version is not the traditional version, and I don’t want all the clans of Ireland coming after me, swinging shillelaghs and slinging stones at my head. I’m Scottish. I’ll open my purse and all the moths will fly out and send you running.
Now that I’ve dispensed with the mocking, (and it’s mocking with love, of course, because I wanted to BE Maureen O’Hara’s character, Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man, which we watched faithfully every March, despite the strange “we are Scots, not Irish, and we don’t ever wear green” upbringing I had), it’s time to talk colcannon.
I don’t think I’d ever heard of colcannon, or cál ceannann, until a number of years ago when I was listening to NPR and someone was talking about the song, “Colcannon,” which is also called “The Skillet Pot.” They played a recording of a woman singing the song, and the lyrics begin like this:
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?
Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I.
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I'm to cry.
Oh, wasn't it the happy days when troubles we had not,
and our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot
I believe the version I heard was recorded by Mary Black, which you can listen to below, though there’s not much to see.
There are other recordings, of course, but this is the one I remember. That song, with Mary Black’s voice, has remained in the music room of my mind ever since.
Back to the food…
Traditionally, at least in the older cookbooks I’ve got, colcannon is made with cabbage, but I’ve read (online) that kale is an acceptable substitute. That’s the version I made. We found a recipe in The Gardeners’ Community Cookbook (a huge favorite of ours) for Colcannon submitted by Sophia Geohegan of Boulder, Colorado, and she writes,
“As an avid gardener of Irish ancestry, I think it fitting that my cooking contribution be a comfort food, traditionally served on November Eve, from my homeland. Whenever I serve colcannon, it is always all gone at meal’s end. This tells me something (‘this’ being- it’s quite good)!”
Here is her recipe. We chose this one because it calls for kale, and we, as I’ve mentioned before, have lots.
2 small bunches kale, stems cut off, leaves coarsely chopped, washed, and drained (1 pound)
2 medium-large leeks, trimmed, thinly sliced, and washed (about 1 pound)
2/3 cup half-and-half
3 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and halved
Salt and pepper
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1. Place the kale in a large pot, add water to cover, and boil over medium heat until the kale is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside to drip dry.
2. Combine the leeks and half-and-half in a saucepan and simmer over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
3. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water, and boil until fork tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and shake dry. Mash the potatoes with a potato ricer or masher or a pastry blender until fairly smooth. Stir in the kale, the leek-cream mixture, and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Mound the potatoes on a warm serving dish and make a well in the center of the mound. Pour the butter into the well and bring to the table. Spin the dish around once, then invite guests to serve themselves from the outside of the mound and ladle on butter to taste.
Accompany with steamed cabbage.
Now, we broke with tradition and didn’t make any cabbage. I did, however, make little sausage patties out of ground pork, fresh sage and thyme, a couple eggs, salt and pepper, and some crushed crackers to help bind it.
The colcannon was fabulous. I started tasting it as I was making it, as I added each component (oh, how I love leeks, by the way), and I probably ate more than my fair share before I even brought the bowl to the table.
The other directive I chose not to follow, at least not this time, was making the well for the butter and serving it at the table that way. I mixed the butter right in while the whole thing was still in the pot. For one thing, Julia would have tried to help herself to ALL of the butter. And for another, if I tried to spin the bowl or platter around once at the table, it would have dragged the tablecloth and all the plates and flatware with it, and there would have been a lot of crashing and breaking of things, which, despite my Mary Kate Danaher wannabe status, really would not be acceptable.
So I just plunked the bowl down and we dished it out to the kids and to ourselves without fanfare.
Julia LOVED colcannon, as did Bill and I. And Alex, as I anticipated, didn’t really. He ate some, and he LOVED the sausages I made, but he’s not a fan of mashed potatoes, so the colcannon was not a hit for him. Ah well, win some, lose some.
I don’t know if this is sacrilege or not, but I was thinking some colcannon, warmed in a buttered pan, and served with a couple of fried or poached eggs on top, would make a lovely breakfast.
Anyway, that is my colcannon story.
Do you make colcannon? What’s your version? Is it a recipe that’s been handed down through the family? Just curious. I love food stories.
If you’d like to share a colcannon story, or some other food story, feel free to include it either in the comments section here or on the Barefoot Kitchen Witch page on Facebook. The more the merrier!