A St. Patrick’s Day Dish: Colcannon

By , March 17, 2011

Like most Americans, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a “traditional” meal. I even have Irish ancestry. For us, the celebration centers around the evening meal, and there’s not a drop of green beer in sight.

I say “traditional,” because my family tradition was corned beef and cabbage.

Some years ago, I read a comment somewhere that this could hardly be a real Irish dish. The writer pointed out that very few Irish families could afford a big hunk of beef. About that same time, we found a recipe for colcannon.

Colcannon is basically mashed potatoes, cabbage, and onions or scallions. We might have followed the recipe once. As the source pointed out, there are many different versions. Recently, Aly and I came up with our own, extremely simple method:

1 head of cabbage, sliced or chopped

1 medium onion, or several scallions, chopped

8 medium potatoes, scrubbed, cut to roughly uniform size

Put in a steamer and steam until soft. Serve with butter and salt, if desired.

That’s really all there is to it! We have a large pot with a steaming “cage” that we got from the local second hand store, that will whip up colcannon in no time on the propane stove or the wood stove. It’ll make enough for several meals.

We also find that the leftovers are highly versatile—we have added them to soups, meat pies, and many other dishes.

We grow a lot of fingerling potatoes in our garden, especially two closely-related local Native varieties, Marias (Tlingit) and Kasaans (Haida). They’re at their best steamed, and make great colcannon. We used the last of our garden’s cabbages in a couple batches last month. For tonight’s holiday meal, we’ll be using purple cabbage, since that was what we found at the grocers (Saints preserve us!). That’ll be different.

Our source, Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook (ask your local independent bookstore) says that colcannon is a favorite meal in Irish homes at Halloween. We actually started eating it at that time of year, but it has replaced corn beef and cabbage in our home on St. Patrick’s Day.


8 Responses to “A St. Patrick’s Day Dish: Colcannon”

  1. Shona Hilton says:

    Ever since I moved from Scotland to the PNW I have been trying to convince people that colcannon is the way forward for St Patricks Day (or any day). Great with sausages and fried onions in gravy.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Shona,

    Colcannon with sausage? Yum! When I was a kid, I liked the cabbage, but it paled next to the corn beef. As i got older, that preference kind of switched, which helped us drop the beef. I suppose the dish works best for those who actually like cabbage. We’re crazy about it.

    Last night’s dinner got “saved” at the last minute. Michelle and Aly had gone to town, and returned with a green cabbage. We put that in the colcannon instead of the purple cabbage we had on hand. Our plan had been to steam it separate from everything else, so it wouldn’t color the whole dish, but we didn’t expect it to seem quite right . . . .

    Thanks for your comment!


  3. A. Cook says:

    I was very interested to know that you have native potatoes. Could you tell me where I could get some seed potatoes? We have a place on Prince of Wales Island.
    Love your site!!

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi, I would imagine that Kasaans, the Haida variety, would be very easy to find from gardening neighbors. I don’t know if you have community gardens or farmers markets, but those would be excellent places to look.

    We got our patch started with a single Kasaan that a lecturer from the Cooperative Extension at UAS gave Michelle as a door prize at a local talk! The Maria’s, the Chilkat variety, we got from friends in Klukwan to the north of us.

    I’d bet that the Cooperative Extension has a list of people who have some to share. I think they’re making an effort to proliferate them.

    If these don’t work, please email us.

  5. A. Cook says:

    Thanks for the info. We are in Whale Pass. We can only get to our place by boat. We have been there part time for a few years and are looking to get it up to speed so we can move there full time. I will look into the sources you recommend and let you know.

    Thanks again.

  6. Mark Zeiger says:

    So, your place is a lot like ours, although far more remote, I’m guessing. The great thing about potatoes is you can plant them and leave them. If the bears don’t dig them up, they should be waiting for you in the late summer.

  7. A. Cook says:

    Hmmm… That is good news about the potatoes. We bought our place from a couple of retiring hippies who homesteaded for 25 years. We have beautifully cleared land, 6 greenhouses and a pretty run down cabin, but we are finishing our house this year. We can’t really move there yet…. in the next few years hopefully.

  8. Mark Zeiger says:

    Next time you’re out there in the spring and summer months, take a look around. Chances are their potatoes and other crops are still growing there on their own. That’d be excellent, because each viable plant would be a “native” by this time, fully adapted to your particular growing conditions. Once you harvest some samples, you can identify what you have.

    I’m excited for you! Please keep me posted on your progress.

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