Halloween began as a pagan holiday in Ireland, Scotland and other Celtic countries. Samhain (pronounced sow-in), marked the end of the harvest and the end of the Celtic year. In a sense, Halloween is Celtic New Year’s Eve.
The Celts believed that on the last day of the year the line between this life and the afterlife was blurred and spirits moved freely between the worlds. The presence of spirits made it possible to get a glimpse into the future and what lay ahead in the new year. Fortune telling plays a big part in Irish Halloween traditions. Many Irish Halloween games and even food involve divination. Teenage girls throw apple peels over their left shoulder hoping the peel will form the initial of their future husband. Gold rings, coins and other charms that reveal the future are baked or hidden in special dishes eaten at the holiday such as barm brack — a fruit bread similar to the Italian panettone — and colcannon — kale or cabbage blended with mashed potatoes. Whoever finds the gold ring in their slice of brack or serving of colcannon will marry within the year. Finding the coin predicts future wealth and a thimble, poverty.
Although it is traditionally eaten at Halloween, I eat it through the autumn and winter. It pairs well with a variety of dishes — corned beef, Irish bacon, roast pork and even salmon. Colcannon is one of my favorite comfort foods because I feel less guilt-ridden about eating mashed potatoes made with cream and butter if it serves as a delivery system for superfood kale. Here’s a tip — blending nutritious kale with creamy mashed potatoes may help to introduce it to children and others who are wary of greens. Leftovers can be made into cakes and fried in butter, oil or — even better — bacon fat.
- 2 cups chopped kale (12 to 14 stems), leaves removed from stems, washed and chopped
- 2 large russet or other floury potatoes, peeled , washed and cut into quarters
- 2 leeks, outer leaves removed, washed and finely chopped
- 1/2 cup whole milk or cream
- 2 tbsps. Butter
- Salt and pepper
- Remove the kale leaves from the tough stems. Wash and chop. Cook for a few minutes in boiling salted water until the leaves soften. Drain and set aside.
- Peel and wash the potatoes. Cut them into evenly sized quarters and put them in a saucepan. Just cover with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then turn heat down, cover saucepan and simmer about ten minutes until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork but not mushy. Take saucepan off the heat. Drain the potatoes. Place them back in the saucepan. Cover the potatoes with a clean cotton dishtowel and cover saucepan. Place the saucepan over a very low heat for five minutes to dry the potatoes. Remove saucepan from heat.
- While the drained potatoes are drying over the low heat, place the chopped leeks and milk or cream in a small saucepan. Heat the milk, cook over a low heat for a few minutes to soften the leeks. Do not let the milk boil.
- Add the butter to the potatoes. Gradually add the milk and leek mixture (you may not need all of it) when mashing the potatoes.
- Blend in the cooked, chopped kale.
- The dish can be prepared in advance and kept warm, covered in the oven until ready to serve.
Cabbage can be substituted for kale. Scallions can be substituted for leeks. Leftover colcannon can be formed into cakes and fried in butter, oil or bacon fat.