St. Patricks Day Food: Granny’s Boxty

I don’t think my Granny Hunt will mind me telling you that she’s in her 92nd year.   She announces it proudly herself these days.  Her 25 grandchildren all remember the smell and taste of potato cakes & boxty in her house growing up.  Potato cakes are the traditional Irish tea (evening meal) where leftover potatoes from dinner (middle of the day) are mashed up with flour, salt and made into ‘cakes’ that are fried in butter until golden.  There was always a plate of potato cakes in granny’s house!  There are few people who would say they don’t like potato cakes.

A few of years ago Katie, my sister, took lots of photos of Granny Hunt making her potato cakes.  We watched diligently trying to soak up the proper method of making the perfect potato cake.  I do not succeed in replicating them.  There’s something in the hand that makes them – the no-weighing, the feel, the no-fuss, the years of turning out the right potato cake!

Over the last few years Granny hasn’t been making so many potato cakes.  Her husband of almost 60 years died, she broke her hip (and recovered) and there aren’t as many leftover, cooked potatoes.  But in the last couple of weeks a familiar smell returned to the house.  A faint whiff of frying lingered in the kitchen.  Granny produced a plate of boxty from the oven!   The taste is as good as ever.

Boxty is a little different – it’s grated raw potato mixed with flour and milk to make a batter that’s then fried until golden on both sides.  Sounds simple.

“I want to learn Granny’s boxty”, I said to my mother.  “Bring her a big potato, she’ll really want to make boxty if she sees a big potato.”  Now I don’t want to put a 92 year old lady under too much pressure so I needed to approach this right.  I also wanted to share photos and tell you all how to make good boxty.

Large potatoes

So I rummage around the potato sack for a decent spud and head down to Grannys (a 2 minute walk from my office – how lucky am I?).  I ask her if she’s in the mood to make boxty and show her the big spud.  I explain that we didn’t grow up making these kinds of things every day and it’s important we know how to make this delicious national dish.  She smiles and agrees.  I tell her I’m going to put the recipe and photos on the internet – she says I should have given her more notice but I don’t think she minds.  The flour, milk and salt are out and that’s all we need.

As I mentioned making good potato cakes or boxty (and soda bread) is all about the no-weighing technique.  In my silliness I tried to sneak a digital scales under Grannys mixing bowl to quantify the magic.  She looked at me and said “What’s this?” before taking it away.  So back to basics.  I did however weigh the potatoes before giving them to her and most of the flour went in before she took the scales away so I have a rough idea of what happened.  I know I shouldn’t want to weigh it but these ladies grew up making it every day!  They wouldn’t dream of measuring….but me, well I want to make the boxty taste like hers.

First we peeled the potatoes (450g) and Granny grated them into a mixing bowl while she looked out the window.

Potato Peelings

Boxty by the Window

Grating Raw Potato

She then threw in some self-raising flour (about 135g) and salt (about 1 teaspoon), followed by milk (now here I’m guessing but maybe 100-150ml).  She started to mix it with a wooden spoon and added the milk gradually until the grated potato is suspended in a thick-ish batter.

Adding salt & flour

Adding Milk

And Mix

And Mix 2

Final Mix

Cooking……..

You might be surprised when I tell you this but Granny does not fry her potato cakes or boxty in butter anymore – she uses olive oil.   I have to say they still taste as good and you get a nice crispy outside.  She keeps up to date on health and food and this is one of the changes she has made to her diet over the years.  (Other possible secrets to long and healthy life – lots of salmon in recent years, no alcohol, not too much stress, crosswords).

She then spooned the batter to make individual boxty cakes into the hot oil and fried them on both sides until they were golden.   So if you’re wondering if you have the right consistency, the batter should not spread out or ‘leak’ over the pan.  It’s like making a drop scone almost.  They did puff up nicely and the potato cooked perfectly.

Adding to Pan

Cooking Begins

Flipping

Here’s the first one – I ate it straight away and was delicious.

First Boxty

The cooking continues.

Cooking Continues

Cooking Continues

They pile up (if not too many people around).

Pile Begins

They are finished and the kettle is on.

The grater goes back behind the pipes on the stove.

A nice cup of milky tea with Boxty.

Cuppa

Granny – go raibh míle maith agat.

Happy Saint Patricks Day!

 

 

 

 

 

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tara Beirne on March 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Ah that’s fab, well done – makes me nostalgic for my own Granny who used to make potato cake by much the same method (a pinch of this, a fistful of that). I’ve forwarded this to a friend of mine in America who I know will love it. Happy St Patricks day to you too.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Una on March 17, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Best post yet!!

    Reply

  3. What a lovely post, great pics too.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Maureen Hayden on March 18, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    My Mum is in her 98th year and she also used to make boxty.
    She was a farmer’s daughter and she used to tell us when they were digging the potatoes in the harvest they used to have boxty parties. The young people would gather in each others houses. The girls would make the boxty over the open fire and the men would play the fife,violin and melodian or whatever other instrument they had.
    They danced around the kitchen.No electricity only oil lamps. Your Gran is marvelous! Well done to have a recorded her boxty making skills and passed them on. I follow your blog all the time !

    Kind Regards,
    Maureen.

    Reply

  5. awwwwwwwwwwwwwww that is sooooo cute I love it :O)

    Reply

  6. Hey Cousin!

    In the area of Germany where I now live (the Rheinland, no longer North Hesse where you visited me all those years ago :-)), people make a lot of Boxty – or, as they call it here Reibekuchen.

    To my shame, i must admit that I usually buy them ready made – just fry them for a few minutes on each side. But one gournet variation I’ve developed is to take 2 or 3 per person (hot), spread a herbal Quark (or sour cream with herbs if you’re not too worried about fat) on each and then put a slice of smoked salmon on top.

    After all, your Granny (my Aunt Tessie) swears by salmon too! Lovely to see the photos here and wnat a lovely blog you’ve got … 🙂

    Reply

  7. […] Oh so Irish: grate, mix with flour and milk, then pan fry for boxty. Sarah Browne’s charming recipe shows her Granny Hunt in […]

    Reply

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