Hallowe’en, or Samhain, is a traditional Celtic tradition. While the original customs of Hallowe’en are being forgotten by many, there is a resurgence of our ancient traditions among those yearning for the old ways. Hallowe’en is a night of ghostly and merry revelry. Mischievous spirits choose it for carrying off gates and other objects, and hiding them or putting them out of reach. In Irish tradition, the kitchen was a central place for magic and charm on this special occasion.
One of the traditional dishes served by the Irish during Hallowe’en is colcannon, although now it is often served during St. Patrick’s Day. Consisting of chopped kale, cabbage or green cabbage mixed with hot, floury, mashed potatoes, colcannon is a tasty part of Samhain, and is easy to make, especially with children!
The word colcannon is from the Irish cal ceannan, which literally means “white-headed cabbage.”
In the past, charms were mixed into the colcannon. Charms found were seen as a portent for the future. A button meant you would remain a bachelor, and a thimble meant you would remain a spinster for the coming year. A ring meant you would get married, and a coin meant you would come into wealth. Others filled their socks with colcannon and hung them from the handle of the front door in the belief that the first man through the door would become their future husband.
- 4 lbs potatoes, or about 7-8 large potatoes (‘old’ potatoes or russet potatoes are best, waxy potatoes won’t do)
- 1 green cabbage or Kale
- 1 cup milk or cream
- 1 stick of butter, divided into three parts
- 4-5 scallions (green onions), chopped
- Salt and Pepper
- Fresh Parsley or chives
- Peel and boil the potatoes. Remove the core from the cabbage, slice it thinly, and place into a large saucepan. Cover with boiling water and keep at a slow rolling boil until the cabbage is just wilted and has turned a darker green. This can take between 3-5 minutes, depending on the cabbage. Test it and don’t let it overcook. If anything, it should be slightly under-cooked.
- When the cabbage is cooked, drain it well and squeeze to get any excess moisture out, then return to the saucepan.
- Add one-third of the butter and cover. Leave it covered and in a warm place, but not on a burner, with the butter melting gently into it while you continue.
- When the potatoes are soft, drain, and then return to the saucepan with the drained potatoes in. Put burner to low, leaving the lid off so that any excess moisture can evaporate.
- When they are perfectly dry, add the milk to the saucepan along with a third of the butter and the chopped scallions (if you are using them). Allow the milk to warm but not boil – it is about right when the butter has fully melted into it and it starts to steam.
- With a potato masher or a fork, mash the potatoes thoroughly into the butter/milk mixture. Do NOT pass through a ricer or, worse, beat in a mixer as it will make the potatoes gluey and disgusting.
- Mix the cabbage thoroughly through the mashed potato.
- Before serving, season with a pinch of salt and sprinkle with fresh parsley or chives. Most importantly, make a well in the center of the mound of potato and put the last third of the butter in there to melt.