Did you ever take potato cake and boxty to the school
Tucked underneath your oxter with your books, your slate and rule
And when teacher wasn’t looking sure a great big bite you’d take
Of the creamy flavoured soft and melting sweet potato cake.
Stephen Hennessy offered him a sample of his boxty loaf, and after one bite, the man started to cry. “I don’t know how you’ve done it,” he said, “but that’s my grandmother.”
It’s no surprise then that the recipe Stephen uses is the one his own grandmother made. His only tweak has been to introduce a flavoured boxty made with bacon. “The recipe for our loaf boxty was learned from my mother, and she learned by watching and helping her mother as a girl,” he says. “At that time boxty loaves were baked in a baking pot and put into the open fire and surrounded with the hot coals. I vaguely remember the open hearth and the crook over the fire in Granny’s – a world lost forever.”
It’s no secret that the Irish love their spuds, so it’s surprising no one has thought of making boxty on a commercial scale before, even though it’s mostly eaten in counties Cavan and Leitrim as well as Northern Ireland. “Visitors to our home as I grew up always marvelled at this strange potato-derived boxty and requests for bringing some with us when we visited were frequent,” Stephen recalls. “I had dragged kilos of it through airports visiting cousins in the UK and US and it got me thinking that there is a huge untapped market outside of the traditional core region for boxty.”
Stephen took a stand at Bloom 2010 to test his theory and was met by “a sea of enthusiasm”. Since then, they’ve been hard at work developing pack formats, trying to get the product into stores and talking to chefs about their food service options.
When you consider how popular other, more highly processed potato products are, looking at the list of ingredients on Stephen’s boxty is refreshing – potatoes, flour, salt. That’s it. “Kids love the taste, and with it being completely natural in ingredients and so low in fat and salt, parents are delighted to serve it instead of other over-processed potato products.” That was one of my first thoughts when I first tasted Stephen’s boxty at the Sheridans food fair – that it would make a perfect light supper for the kids, and sure enough, they devoured it when I served it alongside some eggs, sausages and baked beans.
Stephen is in the process of meeting with all the large retailers on foot of his success at Bloom in 2010 and again in 2011. For now, though, you can find his boxty at Tesco in Longford, Roscommon, Ballina, Castlebar and Westport as well as The Village Food Fare in Collooney, County Sligo, just off the roundabout on the N4.
Photos courtesy of The Boxty Bakers