Please welcome guest blogger Kate Kerrigan, whose newest novel City of Hope is on sale today! The book follows an Irish immigrant as she is forced to leave Ireland for New York in the 1930s. Today, Kate reflects on the inspiration behind her novels – specifically, the delicious side of inspiration.
As a historical novelist, one of the ways that I love to connect with past generations is through food. While history shows how quickly customs change, some things never do – and while I love my sushi and tapas, the bottom line is that my favorite comfort food is always the simple, traditional Irish fare my grandmother introduced me to as a child. Thrift was the big thing in most houses in rural Ireland, and right up until the 1980s it was part of every housewife’s culture. That all changed in our Celtic Tiger years, but now those of us who remember our grandmothers’ skilled housekeeping are returning to form and using those canny matriarchs as our role models.
The traditional Irish boxty dish that was handed down to me from my Mayo grandmother is still my favorite “treat” food and it costs virtually nothing. It’s basically a potato pancake that I love to slather in butter, then homemade apple jelly – it’s highly indulgent fast food, 1920s style. When my granny was a young woman in the 1900s, there was no meeting in a local tapas bar for a Chardonnay-fueled girls’ night out. Instead, she and her cousins would gather in one of their kitchens, stick a hot pan on the open fire, and take turns frying up bite-size pancakes to stuff themselves stupid while they caught up on the latest gossip and town romances. When I have friends over, I often fire up the pan and find I can prepare the boxty, grating the raw potato and reaching for milk, egg, salt and flour, so easily that by the time the pan is hot the batter is ready to start sizzling. Then it’s a napkin in your hand, stand around the pan, and help yourselves to toppings: pesto and olive tapenade if we’re feeling posh, butter and jam if not.
Most weekends in this house start with a boxty breakfast on Saturday morning. I might throw in a few lardoons and an onion (cooked first) into the mix if I’m feeling adventurous. Although boxty is probably not the healthiest of foods, I am sentimental about it. Somehow, because it came from my granny and was so much a part of my wonderful Irish childhood holidays, it always feels like it’s doing me “good.” The butter and spuds aren’t great for my waistline but they are always good for my soul. And sometimes, most times surely, that’s what good home cooking is all about.
Kate’s Irish Boxty
The “fashion” now is to make boxty with mashed potato as well as raw, and while I am more of a traditionalist and prefer the raw boxty, it’s an excellent way of using up yesterday’s leftover mash. So as homage to thrift I have included the measurements for using cooked as well. If you use all raw potato, be sure to cook the boxty a little longer.
- 1 cup freshly grated raw potato, squeezed dry in a paper towel
- 1 cup mashed potato
- 1 cup flour ½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup milk
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Use your smarts – you’re basically looking for a thick-dropping pancake mix, so up/down the flour and milk as needed.
Oil and preheat a pan or griddle. Drop the mixture onto the hot surface like a regular pancake and cook until nicely browned, flipping once.