My Irish heritage startled me quite suddenly when I made a personal pilgrimage to the ancient cemetery in Ardpatrick, Ireland last summer. My ancestors are buried there and our trip to Ireland purposely included a visit to this remote crossroad in the Irish countryside, population 400. I felt quite foolish and disappointed at arrival. I'd paid a driver to get us there but we found only a fairly modern church (early 20th century) left wide open and, thankfully, a public restroom but no one on the premises or any cemetery in view. There was no sign of commerce, just a long since closed tea room, an abandoned "hotel" and a driveway or two with no houses within site from the road. Our fortune changed when I spyed an older man walking his dog and asked if he knew where the old cemetery was. He pointed up a road and said "half an hour, up that road". I assumed he meant a 30 minute drive but a short drive lead us to a dead end and old iron gates with a historic marker detailing the history of what lay ahead. It pointed us up a dirt foot path and a 30 minute, difficult, steep climb past grazing cows and sheep to the top of a very high hill. Saint Patrick is said to have established the church there. The cemetery and bell tower ruins date back to the 8th century. The climb left me winded but the dramatic, sweeping view of the horizon was quite moving and I'm grateful to my aunt who'd done all that research to pinpoint the obscure location of my roots. Whoa, I thought, here are MY peeps and, as far as I know, I'm the only kin to have made the journey to the spot. Just two stone walls of the church still stand and even though the Celtic crosses and head stones are too worn to read, I felt a sobering connection realizing the poor things starved to death during the potato famine except for the one who made it to a boat bound for Charleston, South Carolina where my father's family hails from. Ireland is dotted with deserted stone "famine cottages" reminding us of those who died during the 9 years of potato blight. Without going into history, it wasn't England's best moment. I have a little this and that in my blood but every look in the mirror tells me the Roman soldiers never visited Ardpatrick. I don't need one of those genealogical saliva DNA tests to tell me this is where the red hair, pale skin and green eyes comes from. I seem to be one of those who manifests some very concentrated and distinctly Irish features versus the Anglo/European genes. You really have to pause and take a deep breath at a moment like that.
|Cooked potatoes, cabbage & onion|
|Combine potatoes and cabbage|
I'm reminded of Scarlett O'Hara's anguished scene in Gone With the Wind as she experiences the Civil War's devastation on her family and life swearing neither she nor any of her family will every be hungry again. Her fictitious father was an Irish immigrant who might have fled his homeland due to hunger. I don't want anyone, much less my family, to be hungry but it's a brutal fact hunger does exist even at our door step. I was frequently reminded by my elders, when I was growing up, there where hungry people in other countries and that was not a good thing. Hunger makes people sick, mean and crazy.
In one of my early blogs titled "A Room Full of Mashed Potatoes", I recalled my affection for mashed potatoes as a child. Nothing has changed my opinion for this version of potatoes, except what they do to my waist line. I'm remembering our vacation last summer in Ireland and the delicious colcannon served at a superb restaurant called Packey's in Kenmare. Its pares Ireland's two traditional crops - potatoes and cabbage as a hearty and satisfying dish. This is a terrific side at Thanksgiving and is easy to prepare for an Irish spin on mashed potatoes.
Thanksgiving is the time to celebrate family and the bounty of food and blessings we enjoy. My visit to Ardpatrick punctuated the contrast between feast and famine and the twist of fate that allows me to celebrate this annual event with my loved ones.
3 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled
2 cups cabbage sliced thin
1 cup diced onion
1 cup milk (more if needed)
4 tbls butter
salt & pepper
Peel and dice potatoes. Cover with cold water by 1 inch, bring water to the boil, reduce to simmer and cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. In the mean time, melt 2 tbls butter and sauté the cabbage and onion until wilted and tender but not brown. Season with salt & pepper. Heat the milk and remaining butter until butter is just melted. Drain the potatoes, mash or rice, then add the heated milk and butter. Salt & pepper to taste. Combine mashed potatoes and cabbage and serve immediately. Can be reheated over steam.