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Friday Follies: Colcannon

My colcannon, with a few charms waiting to be stirred in

If we’re going to discuss Halloween fortune-telling games played in the British Isles, I can’t omit colcannon, a dish traditionally served in Ireland on Oíche Shamhna (Halloween).

It sounds like some kind of medieval weapon, but colcannon is actually a mixture of potatoes and cooked cabbage or kale. The name comes from the Irish word cál ceannann, or "white-headed cabbage.”

A recipe printed on a bag of potatoes (Wikimedia Commons)

Colcannon is a popular dish in Ireland year-round, but on Halloween, fortune-telling charms are stirred into the dish. If you find a ring in your portion, you’ll be the next to marry. A doll indicates children are in your future. A thimble foretells spinsterhood for a woman, while a button means a man will remain a bachelor. Finding a coin is a sign that wealth is in your future.

Regardless of the charms, single girls would often wrap a leftover piece of colcannon in a stocking and put it under their pillow at night to dream of their future husbands.

There are many versions of this recipe, but the main ingredients are potatoes, cabbage (or kale) milk or cream, and lots of butter. You can find a traditional Irish version at Irish Central

Celebrity chef Alton Brown created a version using Irish whiskey. It’s not traditional, but who cares?

For my colcannon, I used a heart-friendly recipe from Great Food, Good Medicine by Dr. Miles Hassell and his sister Mea Hassell. It’s similar to the other recipes, except the onions are sautéed in olive oil instead of butter.

Colcannon is so well-known in Ireland there’s even a song about it. Here’s a lilting rendition of Colcannon by the Irish singer Mary Black and her family, with the lyrics below:

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?

Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I.
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I'm to cry.
Oh, wasn't it the happy days when troubles we had not,
And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot.

Resources for this post include:
  • Halloween Symbols and Customs, Third Edition, edited by Sue Ellen Thompson, Omnigraphics, Inc., Detroit, MI  2003
  • Good Food, Great Medicine: Recipes & Ruminations from a Medical Practice, 2nd Edition, by Miles Hassel, M.D. and Mea Hassell, printed by Lithtex in Hillsboro, OR, 2014
  •  The Real Halloween, Ritual and Magic for Kids and Adults, by Sheena Morgan, Barrons Educational Press, Hauppauge, NY, 2002


  1. Maureen,

    That Colcannon sounds good! I'd like to try some please!

  2. It is good, especially if you're a fan of mashed potatoes!


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