Colcannon – A Traditional Irish Halloween Dish

Colcannon?  At Halloween?  Most Americans think of colcannon as a tradtional St. Patrick’s Day dish, but colcannon was originally associated with Halloween in Ireland.

There are many, many variations of the basic colcannon recipe.  Some call for meat like ham or bacon, some for regular onions, others for green onions or leeks.  Some recipes insist on Savoy cabbage while I always associate curly kale with colcannon.

So what is the most traditional, most accurate reinterpretation of this traditional dish?   Since the ingredients used to make colcannon grew abundantly in Irish country gardens, the Irish cook literally used whatever she had on hand, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact right combination of ingredients.

A bit of old blarney revolves around colcannon and unmarried women.  Young Irish girls in years gone by were blindfolded and sent out to the garden at Halloween to pick a cabbage.  A ring was then hidden in the colcannon made with said cabbage. Whomever found the ring on their plate was said to be the next to marry.

Another old Halloween colcannon tale tells how unmarried women put the first and last bite of colcannon into a stocking and hung it on their front door.  The next unmarried man to grace that door was said to be her intended husband.

Who needed matchmakers if a stocking of colcannon did the trick?  I wonder how long it was left hanging there.  Maybe it was the smell of stinky, old cabbage that eventually attracted a curious, unsuspecting bachelor.

So enough of the storytelling, let’s move on to my recipe for this ever-so-Irish dish.

 

Ingredients

 

  • 3 lbs russet potatoes
  • 2 minced shallots
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions (also called scallions)
  • 4 cups chopped fresh kale
  • 4 ounces butter
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (or to taste)

 

The first step to colcannon is making mashed potatoes.  Peel the potatoes, and cut them into 1 to 2 inch pieces.  Cut each potato into quarters or eighths depending upon how large they are.

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water, bringing the water to an inch above the potatoes.

Season the water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Bring the potato water to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender.

Drain the potatoes and set them aside while you prepare the onions and kale.  I like to cover the cooked potatoes with a clean dish cloth under the lid of the pot.  This helps absorb the steam the potatoes give off, but keeps them warm while waiting.

I think colcannon has been made with every kind of onion ever grown, from big yellow onions to leeks to scallions.  I like the milder flavor of shallots combined with the slight crunch of green onions (known as scallions in Ireland).

Mince the shallots finely.

Next , finely slice the green onions, both stems and bulbs.

Clean and chop the kale, or do as I do.  Buy a pre-washed, pre-chopped bag of kale.  Even when I do this I look through the kale and remove any tough or thick-looking stalks.

Melt 2 ounces of the butter in the bottom of a large skillet.

Add the shallot and saute for 2 minutes.

Next add the kale and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until it wilts.

Many people use cabbage for colcannon.  I like to use kale because it is so easy to cook it in a large skillet.  Cabbage usually requires boiling to get it tender enough to mix through the mashed potato.  So I take the easy route and use kale.  I also like the flavor kale adds to the dish.

Throw in the chopped green onions and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.

Now it is time to give those spuds some attention.  Mash them with a potato masher.  Add the last 2 ounces of butter and the half and half.

I only use about 1/2 cup of half and half, but feel free to add up to a cup, depending on how loose you like your mashed potatoes.  I just don’t like sloppy spuds so I limit the amount of liquid I add.

I like half and half for this dish rather than milk.  In years gone by our ancestors would have skimmed the creamy milk from the top of the churn to make this dish.  Others would have used the “top of the bottle” in the days when milk was delivered to homes in glass, pint bottles.  Half and half is the closest thing to the “top of the bottle”.

Time for greens and mash to meet.

Mix them thoroughly together with a potato masher.  Season with salt and white pepper to taste.  I like to use white pepper.  I just don’t like the look of black pepper flecks through my potatoes.

And there it is, colcannon.

To serve colcannon, make a well in the center and add a knob of butter, which as it melts adds to the delicious flavors of this traditional Irish dish.

For anyone looking for a husband, don’t forget the old tales, and go ahead and toss in a ring.  Just make sure all those eating are pre-warned to avoid any ring swallowing incidents.

Happy Halloween.

Here is the printable recipe:

Colcannon

Serves 6
Prep time 30 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 1 hour
Meal type Side Dish
Occasion Halloween
Region Irish
Colcannon is a traditional Irish Halloween dish made of mashed potatoes mixed with onions and cabbage or kale.

Ingredients

  • 3lb russet potatoes
  • 2 minced shallots
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions (also called scallions)
  • 4 cups chopped fresh kale
  • 4oz butter
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (or to taste)

Directions

Step 1 Peel the potatoes and cut them into eighths. Place them in a large pot and cover with cold water by about an inch. Season the water with 1/2 teastpoon of salt.
Step 2 Bring the potatoes to a boil, then reduce the heat and continue to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until fork tender. Drain the potatoes, then cover with a clean dish cloth and the lid of the pot.
Step 3 Melt 2 ounces of butter in a large skillet. Add the minced shallot and saute for 2 minutes.
Step 4 Add the chopped kale and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until wilted.
Step 5 Add the green onions and cook for 2 more minutes.
Step 6 Mash the potatoes. Add 2 ounces of butter, the half and half and the wilted greens to the potatoes. Mix them through the potatoes with a masher.
Step 7 Season with salt and white pepper to taste.
Step 8 Serve hot in bowls or as a side. Make a well in the center of each serving of colcannon. Place a knob of butter to melt in the potato well.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

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Comments

  1. Yes, I’d say you’re correct, it is more an Autumn Winter dish than a spring one. By 17th March the season for potatoes would be ended. At least you wouldn’t be mashing them with anything green anyway. Onions maybe. Nowadays, and for the last 20 years one could get fresh veg all year round since we’ve New Zealand and SA imports.
    The butter would seize my chest in a vice though. I put a good olive oil instead.

    • Vince – Potatoes and cabbage were plentiful alright at the end of October in the Ireland of days gone by. Colcannon was easy to make and perfect for autumn days. Olive oil is a good substitute for the heart clogging butter. I use it in limited quantities compared to some recipes that call for 8 oz of butter and 1 and 1/2 cups of cream – a heart attack on a plate!
      All the best,
      Mairead

      • There are a lot more people allergic to milk and milk products. It’s isn’t just being agin butter, for frankly I cried when I realised just how ill it was making me for I used it to carry flavours. There was nothing not one thing like browned butter and a rib-eye and tarragon mit chips. The oil just doesn’t do it. It’s not the fat you see, but the milk. And a overall fug that I lived with all my life vanished and I can now smell stuff without ramming my nose into it.

        Slán agus oiche mhaith an Samhain agaibh

        • Míle buíochas, Vince. Ní bheidh mo pháistí in ann éisteacht le na múinteoirí ar scoil inniu, mar tá siad ag smaoineamh ar na milseáin atá le teacht anocht. Samhain shona duit chomh maith.

          Mairéad

  2. Penny Wolf says:

    What a yummy and easy dish to feed the restless witches and ghosts before they hit the streets.

  3. This looks so delicious, Mairead! Just the thing for a blustery post-Sandy kind of meal. Warming & comforting. When can I come over? ;)

    • Elizabeth – If you ever find yourself in Kentucky just come on by. We could have great fun swopping Irish recipes and cooking up a good old Irish feast.
      Stay warm and safe, away from Hurricane Sandy’s wrath.
      Take care,
      Mairead

  4. I love how yummy this sounds! Much better than plain ol mashed potatoes… I would have thought that cream would be closer to ‘top of the bottle’ though. We get raw milk from a farmer and skim off a little of the top cream for making butter with. If you skim too thoroughly though, you’ll end up with a bit of milk as well. And butter has gotten such a bad rap, but thankfully more and more research is coming out stating that it just isn’t true that butter is bad for your body. And if you think about it, our ancestors didn’t have near as many diseases as we do since removing butter and fats from our diet. Just doesn’t add up in my book.

    • Aimee – The top of the churn was cream, whereas the top of the bottle was a little lighter than cream. My sisters always wanted the top of the bottle for their cereal in the morning, whereas I preferred the regular old milk.
      I agree with you about butter – I think it has got a bad rap, and is far better for us than many of those fake butter spreads. Remember how eggs were deemed bad for us in the eighties, but now they are ok again. I think the old motto of “everything in moderation” is the best way to balance things.
      Thanks again for a great comment.
      Mairead

      • Thanks for clarifying that for me! Is it because it’s already been mixed in once?

        • I’m not sure Amy. I think the cream is taken off the milk before bottling and what rises to the top is the residue. The “top of the bottle” in Ireland may be very close to American cream. I always find whipping cream in Ireland to be far thicker than what you get over here. Something to do with the grass the cows eat in Ireland.

          • We’ve had our raw milk from a couple of different places and sometimes the cream is really thick and sometimes not as much. The cream that was really thick, the cows were eating lots of acorns so the cream and milk were rich with nut oil. It definitely makes a difference what they are eating!

  5. Looks delish! Love the stories also. Halloween has been postponed for a week in my part of the world due to Hurricane Sandy.

  6. Mairead, I learn something new every time I visit your site. I’d never heard of colcannon before — or of the cream crackers you featured in your previous post. Congrats on finding those! :)

  7. Me so glad me be Irish!!! LOL!
    I just learned about this dish recently, however, I use green cabbage. Now I make this at least once a week with some homemade bangers!

    Also, because of learning about Colcannon, I made a new dish. I saute the cabbage in some butter and a bit of stock (or water) enough to cover the pan. I add some fresh corn off the cob and sliced onion. By the time the liquid cooks off, everything is steamed with just the butter remaining. Add S&P. The corn makes the dish sweet.

    Thanks for sharing your recipes. I love your website.

    • Carolann – I love your new Irish-American fusion cuisine. Adding corn is a wonderful idea. Thanks so much for stopping by my site. I really appreciate your support and lovely feedback.
      Best wishes,
      Mairead

  8. : )

    I first heard of this recipe while watching “In America” directed by Jim Sheridan.

    • John – I loved that film. I can’t remember the reference to colcannon. Being Irish, I probably didn’t take note of it. ‘In America” is one of my all time favorite Irish films.
      Take care,
      Mairead

  9. This looks wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your recipe. I’ve never put kale in potatoes before. I might try making this tomorrow and having it for dinner with a Guinness! :)

  10. Mairead, I used your recipe this evening, thanks so much! Also, dug up The Black Family’s performance of the song “Colcannon” on Google :-)
    Hope you enjoyed this dish today too and you & family had a fun Hallowe’en!
    Happy Samhain,
    Mairead R.

    • Hope you had a lovely Halloween, Mairead and that you enjoyed your colcannon. We had a lovely time – it really is one of my favorite holidays, and my kids always enjoy trick or treating.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

  11. Lovely recipe. Even better I find if you somehow have some left over, fry it up in the pan like an omelette, crisping up the outside of the potato golden crispy. Then serve on a plate with a fried egg on top, Sunday night supper done!!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] I have received kale in the past 3 CSA boxes, so it was nice to find an Irish recipe to use up the latest shipment with St. Patrick’s Day quickly approaching. Colcannon is an Irish dish traditionally made from mashed potatoes and kale or cabbage. It may also contain scallions, leeks, chives, or other types of onion. The name “Colcannon” is derived from the Gaelic term “Cál Ceannann”, meaning white-headed cabbage. In Ireland, Colcannon is especially popular around Halloween. Mairead, from Irish American Mom, writes a little about the Halloween traditions surrounding Colcannon. [...]

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