Colcannon is an Irish dish that is rich in tradition and folklore. It was first referenced in 1735 by William Bulkely, a traveler from Wales, who ate the dish in Dublin on Halloween night.
Traditionally, Colcannon is made with only four ingredients: potatoes, butter, milk and curly kale or cabbage. The potatoes are mashed with butter and milk then stirred with the cooked kale or cabbage. The Colcannon can be flavored with garlic, onion or leeks. It is often eaten with ham, salt pork, Irish bacon or corned beef.
The word ‘colcannon’ is from the Gaelic ‘cal ceannann,’ which means white-headed cabbage. One Irish tale surrounding Colcannon tells how unmarried girls were sent to the garden at Halloween to pick a cabbage, and then a ring was hidden in the Colcannon. Whoever found the ring was said to be the next to marry.
On Halloween in Irish homes today, the tradition is for the cook to hide trinkets in the mash, each representing fortune, poverty or the chance of a future marriage. Another tale says that unmarried women would put the first and last bite of Colcannon into a stocking to hang on their front door. The next gentleman to come to the door was said to be her intended husband.
Colcannon is also customarily served during feast day of Saint Brigid on February 1. “Mary of the Gael” is one of Ireland’s patron saints, and a friend of Saint Patrick. Saint Brigid was born in 451AD and traveled across Ireland teaching about Jesus. She went on to be the founder of churches, monasteries and a school of art. She loved entertaining and was a great cook as well as an expert dairywoman and brewer. She fed the hungry and was said to have many miracles attributed to her, including turning water into beer.
Today, Colcannon is seen on Irish tables year-round, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. There are as many variations on Colcannon as there are cooks, but commonplace in all of them is generous amounts of butter, potatoes and dairy. Floury potatoes give the best results, as they have more starch and less water to produce a fluffier mash.
Traditional Irish Colcannon
- 1 dash salt
- 2 russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 4 ounces curly kale, chopped and stems removed
- ½ cup of milk, half & half or cream
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 spring onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
- Freshly ground black pepper and salt (to taste)
1. Lightly salt a pot of boiling water, add and simmer the potatoes until soft in the middle when pierced with a sharp knife.
2. In a different pot, blanch the curly kale in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and reserve.
3. Place the blanched kale into a blender and pulse for 10 seconds until roughly cut.
4. Drain the potatoes and add the butter and milk.
5. Mash the potatoes, butter and milk until smooth and creamy.
6. Add the kale and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
7. Top the mash with the chopped spring onion before serving.
Have fun in the kitchen!