Food & Drink

In the spirit of All Hallows Eve, try these soul-satisfying treats

JULIAN BRUNT/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD 
 Mashed potatoes and scallions make a sharp Irish Champ.
JULIAN BRUNT/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD Mashed potatoes and scallions make a sharp Irish Champ.

So you think Halloween is just for kids? Think again.

All Hallows' Eve has been celebrated as a harvest festival for countless ages. The festival most likely came to us from the ancient Celtics, or according to some people, the Romans might have had a hand in it.

Whatever its origins, early Halloweens were hardly kids' play. Besides giving thanks for the harvest, it was thought to be a time for wandering souls to visit, so you had to set a place for them at the table.

So, in the spirit of early Halloweens, let's consider some soul-satisfying hearty treats.

All of the following recipes are of Irish origin and are potato heavy. What food is more comforting than the potato? Baked, scalloped, mashed or even boiled, all are good and soul satisfying.

Lets start with colcannon, a dish so delicious and heartwarming, a poem was written about it that begins:

"Did you ever eat colcannon, made from lovely

pickled cream?

"With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.

"Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake

"Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make?"

How many recipes do you know of that have a poem written about it?

COLCANNON

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes

1 stick butter

1 package kale

1/2 cup whole milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional six strips of smoked bacon

Peel the potatoes if you must, the skin has nutrients and fiber that you will be tossing if you do, but the skins do not add any beauty to this dish. It's your call. Quarter the potatoes and boil in water that has been salted so that it tastes like the sea. Simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, 15 to 20 minutes. As with all foods, please do not overcook, it will affect the flavor and texture. Drain the potatoes but return to the still-hot pot to help them dry out a bit. Buy kale in a bag or a bunch, remove the tough stems and discard them. Melt 2 teaspoons of butter in a large pot and add the kale, toss over medium heat, season lightly, and cook until wilted and tender. Combine the milk and the rest of the butter in a sauce pan and heat until the butter has melted. Separately mash the potatoes roughly, try to get the big lumps out, then slowly pour the milk/butter mixture as you mix. Use a electric mixer if you want to be quick about it. When it is smooth and wonderful, mix in the kale, take your time and get a good mix. If you go for the bacon option, fry it crisp, break it up and scatter it on top like a garnish. Place the colcannon in an attractive serving bowl, and if you just can't resist, do as the poem suggests, add a nice lump of fresh butter on top and make your own "melting flake." Serve at once.

IRISH CHAMP

This dish is a variant of colcannon, but it is also popular around All Hallows. It is a bit simpler to make and so if you are rushed, try this instead. The green onions add a nice counterpoint to the mild, mashed potatoes, with just a hint of picante. If you like this idea, you might also want to try it with leek.

2 pound Yukon Gold potatoes

1 cup scallions, green and white parts included.

1 stick butter

1 cup hot milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel the potatoes, quarter and add to a large pot of heavily salted, boiling water. Simmer gently until the potatoes are done, a fork or knife should easily run through a chunk without resistance, now remove and drain thoroughly. Make sure the scallions are nicely chopped, all about the same size. Now start mashing the potatoes to remove all the big lumps, when done, pour a thin stream of hot milk as you use an electric mixer to make the mixture smooth. Hand whipping is just as good, but it is labor intensive. Season aggressively. There is nothing wrong with leaving a few lumps to make smashed potatoes, instead of mashed potatoes, but that's a personal choice. Add the scallions, mix well, then break the butter up into chucks and scatter about the top, give it another mix with a big spoon, but leave the butter to melt and form little pools.

Boxty

Here's another Irish dish that is commonly eaten at Halloween. It too has a poem written about it, and in fact has several. Here's one:

"Boxty on the griddle,

"boxty on the pan,

"If you can't bake boxty

"sure you'll never get a man"

IRISH BOXTY

1/2 pound grated potato

1/2 pound left over mashed potatoes

1 chopped onion

1/2 pound flour

1 beaten egg

1 tablespoon milk

Optional sautéed kale

Combine the grated potato, left over mashed potato and the onion in a large mixing bowl. When well-incorporated add the egg and the milk; mix well again. The mixture should be of the consistency to drop easily from a spoon into the frying pan. Add oil to a heavy skillet, heat to medium, then add the Boxty a spoonful at a time, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden brown, then turn and repeat the process. Remove to paper towels to drain. Serve with bacon, sausage or fried eggs, and serve at once. If you want to add a great spin to this dish, serve with sautéed kale, it's a great combination. Simply sauté stemmed kale in oil with a little garlic until tender.

Julian Brunt, who comes from a family with deep Southern roots, writes the Coast Cooking column that appears in Wednesday's Sun Herald and for a blog at sunherald.com. He is a food writer and photographer with regular columns also in magazines.

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