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Once upon a time, I worked in downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota. Saint Paul is an interesting city. More so than anywhere else I have lived, it’s very ethnic. There are Italian neighborhoods and a Germantown. There’s a large Hmong population from the mountainous regions of Asia and, of course, an Irish neighborhood.
Saint Patrick’s Day was a big deal in Saint Paul. I remember my first Saint Patrick’s Day there. I worked in an office in downtown. It was cold and gray with lingering snow.
I was surprised by the sudden marching bands, and then parades and raucous crowds. I went downstairs to the sidewalk to watch. There was lots of action, guys shouting in the streets and green beer—lots of green beer. Every pub in Saint Paul serves green beer on Saint Patrick’s Day. It was an animated Fourth of July for the Irish.
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I’m not Irish, a mixture of English and Scandinavian. But I married an Irish lass; Merri Ann is a Maloney. So if I’m going to make her something Irish, I’m going to need some help.
I went to our friend, Shannon Griffin. She gave me a recipe for colcannon that’s been in her family for generations.
Colcannon is a side dish. Matched up with some salmon, it made a fine dinner. I could handle the bread.
Once I figured out that this was just mashed potatoes with cooked cabbage and onion, I put this right together. I didn’t cook the onions nearly as long as suggested—probably a mistake–and so they didn’t get mashed into a paste. But they got lost in with the cooked cabbage and everything was just fine.
Instead of milk, I added a generous portion of sour cream, maybe a half cup. Sour cream always seems to make potatoes better. I added quite a bit of pepper and salt.
2 pounds potatoes
1 pound kale or cabbage
1 large onion
2 tablespoons or bacon drippings
- Peel the onion and chop coarsely. Heat the oil or drippings in a skillet with a tight cover. Place the onions in the skillet and sauté over medium heat until onion just starts to turn golden. Cover tightly and lower heat until it just barely sizzles. Cook for 30-40 minutes checking occasionally to make sure onions aren’t browning. When onions are done, mix them until they are a paste.
- Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in their skins until tender. Skin potatoes and mash until smooth, adding milk (or sour cream) as necessary.
- While the potatoes are cooking, chop the greens and place them in a pot with 1/2 cup water. Bring it to a boil and cook over low heat until tender.
- Mix the greens, onions, and potatoes together well, adding salt and pepper to taste. If desired, drizzle melted butter on top just before serving.
Ireland has a rich culinary history that includes a wonderful array of breads. These breads tend to be rustic; often with whole grain flours, potato flour, or buttermilk, and are often leavened with baking soda instead of yeast.
Irish Soda Bread: This may be the most famous of the Irish breads. It’s made with soda and buttermilk (The soda reacts with the acidic buttermilk to create carbon dioxide to leaven the bread). Soda bread splits around the middle while baking like a large biscuit. There are many varieties of this bread and many are made with whole wheat flour. Our favorite version has a bit of graham flour. (See our Irish Soda Bread mix.)
Raisin Soda Bread: Often Irish soda bread is made with raisins or currants. If you decide to add raisins to your soda bread, try a touch of orange zest and maybe some allspice. Occasionally, you will find a raisin soda bread label as regal soda bread. Regal soda bread is made with or without raisins and with a shot of Irish whiskey.
Irish Potato Bread: This bread is made with potato flour and lots of buttermilk. The buttermilk and potato flour give it a wonderful, sourdough-like flavor. It’s usually made in a rustic round loaf (See our Summerhill Irish Potato Breads in both wheat and white flour versions).
Barm Brack: This traditional bread is made with fruit and spices. It’s a yeast bread though we have found recipes leavened with soda and buttermilk. When made with soda, it resembles a dense, fruity cake. Often the fruit is soaked overnight in black tea.
Aran Spiosrai (Irish Spice Bread): This bread is leavened with soda or baking powder and is sweet and spicy. It is usually made with raisins and resembles a dense, fruity cake.
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About the Author
Dennis Weaver has burned food from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Miami, Florida. He is the founder of The Prepared Pantry in Rigby, Idaho and the author of How to Bake: The Art and Science of Baking available as an E-book or as a Kindle book on Amazon.
Dennis lives in Rigby, Idaho, with his wife, Merri Ann. They have five wonderful children and five beautiful granddaughters.