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Finding my inner Irish

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Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 3:24 pm

I do not know which forebear emigrated from Ireland or when. The family name is Kenney, on my mother’s side; it was her maiden name. Because of the lack of ancestral stories, we’ve had to make up our own humorously black history.

While on a visit to Ireland some years ago, an aunt and her husband asked around for information on our Kenney ancestors. In a pub, they bought drinks for a local who claimed to have information in connection to the original Kenney forebears. He described them as gypsies and sheep stealers who placed curses on houses if the hospitality was not to their liking. We love that — beware the Kenney curse!

Our observances of St. Patrick’s Day include the usual corned beef, cabbage and Irish music — my favorite being that of the band Flogging Molly (their song, “The Worst Day Since Yesterday” should be the family anthem). My mother also made corned beef and cabbage; she and my stepfather would invite a crowd of people. There was always plenty of Guinness and live Irish music.

I spent time this week looking into the food and customs of Irish feast days; colcannon seems to be the unofficial national dish of Ireland. Corned beef and cabbage is one of the many dishes that are part of what is called plain cooking.

Colcannon is a mashup of boiled new potatoes, cabbage, leeks or onions and garlic. Like our own dishes here, there are many versions. The one I would like to try is from one of the books that I was reading in my research. The author asserts that St. Patrick was a ‘dour’ individual and seems to feel that other figures are more deserving of a feast day. In any case, all I have to go on are the present-day Irish-American ‘traditions’.

Colcannon

1 pound white cabbage (after core is removed)

1 teaspoon salt

2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and sliced, with skins left on (he suggests little red potatoes)

2 medium leeks, thoroughly washed and sliced

1 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon mace

Salt and pepper to taste

2 garlic cloves

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and boil cabbage until tender, 12-15 minutes. Drain cabbage and chop. Set aside. Bring another pot of water to a boil and boil potatoes until tender. Drain and set aside. Place leeks in a saucepan and cover with the milk; bring close to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer until tender. Set aside.

Add mace, salt, pepper and garlic to the pot with the potatoes; mash well with a hand masher. Add leeks and their milk, mash carefully so as not to break them down too much. Add cabbage, mash then add butter last. Aim for smooth, buttery with pieces of cabbage and leek well distributed. Transfer to baking dish, smooth with a fork, leaving furrows in surface and place under broiler to brown.

— Source: Adapted from “Malachi McCormick’s Irish Country Cooking.”

Lori Bowles was raised in Southern California. She is currently serving on the board of directors as the advertising and publicity chair for the Lodi Bowmen Inc. She lives in Lodi with her husband Jeff and has three children and five grandchildren. She enjoys cooking, reading about cooking and reading about cooking while eating.

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