Monday, October 26, 2009


The traditional Irish food for Halloween is a potato dish known as colcannon. While it was eaten all year round by the poor due to its few ingredients, low cost to make and its ability to fill the belly quite nicely, it was considered special on Halloween as the cook would hide small trinkets within the dish. Traditionally it was a ring, a coin, a thimble and a tiny porcelain doll. The ring was said to signify marriage for the lucky recipient of that prize, the coin was said to foretell wealth, the unfortunate thimble bachelorhood or spinsterhood, and the little doll meant that that person would be the first in the group to have children. In modern times coins alone are hidden within the dish and it's believed to bring good luck for the coming year to those who find one (or more) in their serving. Colcannon also contains cabbage and butter, but many other ingredients can be added to it as well: milk, cream, bacon or ham, and garlic. Like the traditional Christmas pudding with its hidden prizes still served in England, cook up a batch of colcannon, add a few (safe!) lucky charms to it, and enjoy it with your guests after your Samhain rituals are over.

The traditional recipe called for an alarming amount of butter, and as most of us no longer live in sod huts, and with our modern central heating, we really don't need to pile on an excess layer of fat to see us through the colder months till spring. As such, I've reduced the fat content substantially and by browning the onions in a healthy oil (rather than adding them raw as in the original recipe), have maintained a nice hearty flavor in this dish without using multiple cups of butter. Feel free to add to it whatever your hungry heart desires!

Colcannon serves approximately 10 as a generous side dish

six or seven good-sized potatoes (approximately 4 1/2 - 5 pounds), peeled and coarsely chopped
one medium head of green cabbage, chopped or shredded (not too finely)
one medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup milk (approximate)
2-3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste
one pound bacon cooked and cooled or ham cooked the previous day and chopped into small pieces (optional)

Peel the potatoes, coarsely chop them and put them in a medium pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil, cooking until just tender, but not mushy. Drain and mash. Add butter and milk to potatoes and mash until well blended. Adjust the milk so potatoes are neither too wet nor too dry. In a small skillet, place chopped onion in olive oil and saute over low flame until lightly golden in color, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary to keep from sticking. Add to mashed potatoes and pepper to taste. Steam the chopped cabbage just until color darkens slightly. Cabbage should be cooked, but not be mushy. Drain and add to potatoes, mixing thoroughly. An additional pat of butter can be added to each serving in an indentation made on the top of each.

And if you've added any prizes, please eat with care so as not to break any teeth! Enjoy!

Samhain "prize lore" information came in part from The Pagan Book of Halloween by Gerina Dunwich.
Additional information courtesy of Wikipedia.
Photo courtesy of teenytinyturkey on flickr.


mxtodis123 said...

This is my absolute favorite Irish dish. Thanks.

Victoria said...

You're welcome! Yummy, isn't it?