Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Boxty – out of the laundry room and into the frying pan

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Out of the laundry room and into the frying pan
(the gorgeous bowl and jug are by my aunt, Patricia Casey, artist and potter extraordinaire)

Writing in The Medical Times and Gazette in 1865, Henry MacCormac M.D., of Belfast, mentions the preparation of Boxty or ‘poorhouse bread’.

“The country people prepare, for purposes of laundry, potato starch. Raw potatoes are peeled, grated and washed. The gratings from which the boxty cake is made remain in the colander. This boxty cake … has a peculiar but not unpleasant flavour. I remember having partaken of it… in one of the houses of the peasantry.”

Thanks Henry, I know there were particular reasons for such frugality at the time, but that sounds really, really grim. No wonder Boxty isn’t our national dish!

As if that weren’t bad enough, a traditional rhyme suggests that if you were a female at that time, and this concoction wasn’t in your repertoire, you were in big trouble: Boxty on the griddle /Boxty in the pan / If you can’t make boxty / You’ll never get a man. Yikes!

Mercifully, laundry methods, society, and potato cuisine have all moved on since the dark days of the nineteenth century. You'll find that Boxty can be a type of potato cake, a dumpling or a pancake. Today’s recipe is for the pancake. My preference is for the floury Rooster potato but any floury potato will do.

For approximately 12 boxty pancakes you will need…

350g freshly boiled and mashed potato
50g butter
250g raw potato, finely grated
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon fine table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon bread soda
350mls buttermilk

A little sunflower oil or extra virgin olive oil for frying

Mix the butter with the freshly made mashed potato while it is still hot. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile, wring the grated potato out in a clean tea towel to extract as much liquid as possible. (Discard the liquid.)  Add the grated potato to the cooked mashed potato along with the flour, salt, baking powder and bread soda and mix to combine.

Gradually mix in the buttermilk to form a thick batter.

Now, heat a frying pan over a medium heat. Wipe the hot pan with a wad of kitchen paper dipped in sunflower oil, giving the pan the barest sheen of oil. (Keep the oily paper to wipe the frying pan between cooking each pancake.)

Fry gently until the surface of the batter has set

Scoop about 80mls of batter into the pan and quickly smooth it out to form a circle. Fry gently until the surface of the batter has set, then flip the pancake over. Continue cooking for a further 30 seconds or so, or until the pancake is golden brown. Repeat until all the batter has been used up, keeping the cooked pancakes warm in a low oven.

Serve as part of a cooked breakfast or drizzled in maple syrup.

I make tiny versions of these as an alternative to blinis and serve with smoked salmon and crème fraiche.

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  1. I'm glad boxty has evolved! Could you use leftover mashed potatoes, or do they have to be freshly mashed. These pancakes look delicious!

  2. @ Kristi - You could use leftover mash. However, I prefer to use freshly mashed potato because I find leftover mash tends to have a flavour I don't like and also, fresh mash blends better in the batter.

  3. Bread soda? Bicarb? Just guessing :)

    These look yummy. When I read your rhyme I thought it would be great to skip rope to. :)

  4. Mmm, I would love to devour these pancakes, so fresh and brilliant :D


  5. @ Maureen - yes, bread soda is bicarb

    (Getting my skipping rope out of the attic although not sure I can still skip rope)

  6. Hi Hester, my wife has terrible memories of potatoes growing up in Ireland. I think too many out of those huge sacks presented as watery mash have taken its toll. I'm slowly getting her back into them and this is one version I haven't tried.

    The fact they have medicinal properties might like them even more(she's a doctor).

    Why the name "Boxty" though?

  7. Hester, this is the first I have heard of these traditional Irish potato pancakes and the they do look wonderful. What a fun and interesting post.
    Have a great weekend!

  8. @ David - Potatoes are like that childrens' rhyme "When they are good, they are very, very good, and when they are bad they are horrid!" You are right, they are quite good for you, unless loaded with cream and butter of course.

    Boxty comes from the Gaelic "aran bocht ti" (poor house bread) which became "bacstai", which became boxty.

  9. Hester, interesting note that people used potatoes to make starch for laundering clothes- when I run out of washing detergent, at least I know I can make up some of my own using potatoes!

  10. Whoa, boxty needs to get a new PR rep!!! They look yummy and I like the idea of using them as a blini substitute!

  11. Hester, if you were making these in the 19th century, I'm sure you'd have a long line of men wanting to be your husband! Love the look of these boxty pancakes for something different.

  12. I have never heard of boxty, but it looks delicious. So many countries have potato pancakes, but they are always prepared in a slightly different way. The humble potato has a myriad of possibilities!

  13. These look really wonderful. I do love potato pancakes and this is a new way to prepare them for me!

  14. Love that little snippet of history. Potato pancakes how good do they sound.

  15. This potato-loaded pancake idea is something different! Hester, I just love potatoes and pancakes, and you just combined both of them to create such a beautiful dish!!

  16. I'm dying to try this recipe! I have a thing about baking with potatoes, love it. So interesting!

  17. Ooh, this looks great! I have a lot of potatoes that need using, and I think I might want to make this!

  18. I've never heard of Boxty! But as usual, I love your stories!!! I hope you are well and greetings from Rwanda! HUGS!

  19. Never knew about the potato pancakes, Hester! They look so good - I love potatoes and I can imagine they taste delicious!

  20. I’m so loving this! These potato pancakes look so good and perfect for a substantial and satisfying breakfast :)

  21. Yum, I have a feeling it would be delicious with a topping of smoked bacon, rocket and crème fraiche. Will try the recipe, thank you!

  22. Tried the recipe yesterday, they were gorgeous, thanks. Will probably become a regular on our family menu plan.

  23. I really like the sound of these as I've not made anything similar before. Something a little different to do with potatoes!

  24. What an interesting bit of history. I'm unfamiliar with boxty, but I love this sort of peasant fare. My grandma makes potato pancakes, but nothing like these. I'll have to try them.


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