On our recent trip on the Grand Hibernian we were treated each night to entertainment by a variety of local performers – a story teller, a remarkably accomplished Celtic harpist, one of the great Celtic singers Nan Tom Tiamin, and on our last evening The Baileys. Several of us lingered in the Observation car with our whiskies and late night pint listening to these extremely talented lads and were introduced to a few songs that are not part of the standard “Irish” repertoire including this lovely little ditty, performed here by Mary Black and the Black Family back in 1986.
The colcannon that the Blacks and the Baileys so fondly remember is one of the traditional dishes, along with those potato cakes from the second verse, that Irish cookery gave the world. When done properly it is the perfect accompaniment to a Sunday roast or an addition to a fine big breakfast with poached egg and Cumberland sausage.
I wasn’t surprised to see that there are as many variations for this wonderful potato dish as there are cooks out there. Everyone’s ma or grandma had their own version – and you can rest assured that their way was the only “right and proper” way to make Colcannon. Some use kale, others cabbage; a few add bacon (though bacon was that rare in most homes that Eamon Kelly has a wonderful, if slightly scatological, story about a few precious rashers); and one or two add leeks or chives. But any recipe I’ve seen cautions that everything must be well drained so that the dish doesn’t become thin and watery but light, fluffy and creamy. And of course no recipe for Colcannon would omit making “the hole in top, to hold the meltin’ flake of the creamy flavoured butter that our mother’s used to make”.