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Irish roots
Discover this traditional potato cake from the Emerald Isle

By Michelle Sessions DiFranco | Photography by Philip Shippert

I discovered quite a bit on my recent trip to Ireland. First, traveling overseas with a toddler and an infant is a great workout (which was a good way to counteract the calorie-laden Guinness on tap). Second, the Irish are excellent conversationalists with their quick wit and jovial nature. And finally, I learned that no other country serves the potato in so many different ways.

    Yes, this beautiful green landscape, where quiet sheep graze and old castles stand, offers perfect growing conditions for the Irish staple. Since the late 1600s, potatoes have thrived here – except during the great potato famine of 1845, when a devastating blight wiped out most of Ireland’s potato crop and caused thousands of Irish to starve or emigrate. The blight came at a time when persecution of the Catholic faith was also bearing down on the Irish people. Many who came to our country in those days equated the potato famine with their struggle against religious oppression. Many starving immigrants to the U.S. found a land of bounty – one that provided safety and nourishment, both physically and spiritually. For the Irish who were displaced from their country, the potato famine was a nightmare. But it was also a critical part of their history that pushed them to a land where they could celebrate their faith freely.
    Today, the blight is a distant chapter in Irish history, and the potato is still a staple of the country’s cuisine. Many traditional Irish recipes survive today, and they are delicious. One of my favorites is the potato cake, or boxty. Let me tell you, it appeared on menus at a lot of restaurants and pubs in the smaller villages of Ireland. Fittingly, this dish is traditionally prepared on the feast day of Ireland’s own patron, Saint Brigid, which is celebrated Feb.1.
    Thankfully, you don’t have to visit the Emerald Isle to enjoy this tasty treat. In fact, it is among the hundreds of other potato recipes our Catholic Irish immigrants brought to our country. So, gather the ingredients and get ready to throw a few boxty in the frying pan. They are a great addition to almost any main course and they are also a great snack when curled up with a book of William Butler Yeats on a cold overcast day.

Irish Boxty:
1 cup (8 oz) mashed potatoes
1 cup (8 oz) finely grated raw potatoes
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon butter (for the pan)

 In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the mashed potatoes with the raw potatoes. Add the flour mixture and gently stir. Slowly add the buttermilk to make a stiff batter (similar to that of cookie batter). Do not over mix. Scoop out batter with a large spoon and slightly flatten in the palm of hand. Place into a heated pan with melted butter and cook until crispy and golden brown on both sides.

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