As a kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, March 17th was one of the best days of the year. I would skip school, go to either Saint Colman’s or St. Patrick’s for Mass with my family, head downtown for the parade, at times walk in the parade with my Dad (my best friend, Courtney, even walked with us one year), eat lots of soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, and get dressed up in all green clothes and accoutrements (being mindful not to wear orange!). My favorite thing to wear was a tiny little top hat proclaiming I was the world’s largest Leprechaun with a string that would go around my neck. Wearing St. Patrick’s Day buttons were a must. As I got a little older, everything remained the same except after the parade my friends and I would go down to a small area in The Flats of Cleveland known as Settler’s Landing to imbibe cheap beer that was never truly Irish. And as I got even older, the day remained the same, but instead, my friends and I would go to places like The Treehouse in Tremont.
Living in San Diego and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is different. I try to hold onto some of the things I grew up doing. One of the major things I continue to do, not surprisingly, is keep the food traditions alive. I always make corned beef and cabbage. One thing I’ve never done, I’m embarrassed to write, is make Irish Soda Bread. My mom would always make it and still does. I asked her for her recipe and I will share it with you below. I did a little research on Irish Soda Bread. I never really thought about it before. It was just there! I’d slather some butter on it, and chow it down!
On epicurious.com, there is a great article about this particular item of food (http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/holidays/stpatricks/sodabread). Did you know there’s a Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread? Well, there is. Here’s its website: http://sodabread.us/ This is why I love food! People care so much!! I love it! And the Society has a blog: http://sodabreadsociety.blogspot.com/ My suggestion: read as much as you can, and sound really smart when you head out to a bar on Saturday! They lay down the law on what is NOT Irish Soda Bread.
Directly from the website, it is clearly noted what is NOT Irish Soda Bread:
- zest, orange or any other kind
- Irish Whiskey. (talk about stereotyping!!!)
- Honey (substitute for sugar)
- Sugar (see definition of “cake”)
- eggs (see definition of “cake”)
- Garlic (not common in English/Irish dishes)
- Shortening (hydrogenated vegetable oil – Crisco introduced to the US in 1911. Not in the 19th century)
- Double Cream (British term for “Heavy Cream” but a little thicker. Not much chance Irish peasants would be using this.)
- Sour Cream (traditional in Eastern European dishes. Became popular in the US and European kitchens during the past 50 years, not 150 years ago. see http://www.ochef.com/516.htm
- Yogurt (prior to 1900 a staple in Central Europe and Asia. Introduced to the US after WWII by Isaac Carasso who started Dannon in NY City. Not a 19th century Irish baking item.)
- Chiles/Jalapenos (Right! Ireland is well-known for using these in its traditional food!! )
- Fruit (Only in Christmas/Easter cakes and other special occasions.)
Phew! After having read that, I don’t think I’ve ever had Irish Soda Bread except when I went to the San Diego Museum of Man for the Tower After Hours – Ireland event last month. The Field Irish Pub and Restaurant served “Wheaten Bread” tastes like the real deal. It was delicious! However, I’ve always enjoyed my Mom’s Soda Bread, but she uses eggs, raisins, butter, and baking powder. According to the Society, what she, and most people, serve is called “Spotted Dog” or “Railway Cake”. Also, it’s a cake, not a bread.
I appreciate the Society’s thorough research on the subject. Like I said, this is why I love food and why I love talking to others who love food like I do! However, I will go ahead and make my Mom’s “Soda Bread”. It might not be 100% Irish, but it’s 100% a family tradition. I’ll make a traditional one, as well, next week. Why not?
Joan Gill’s Irish Soda Bread
3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons butter
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup raisins (My Mom prefers white. I’m not a huge fan of raisins, so I go light – about 1/4 cup or so.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift all dry ingredients together (flour though sugar). Melt butter on stove, and stir in egg and buttermilk. Combine the dry and wet mixtures together. Add raisins. Stir ingredients until they come together. Place into a buttered, standard size loaf pan. Bake for 40 minutes, or until top begins to brown slightly and toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with a few crumbs on it.
The Most Traditional Recipe: White Soda Bread (Bon Appétit May 1996)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional)
1 teaspoon baking-soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (about) buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly flour baking sheet. Mix flour, caraway seeds, if using, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Mix in enough buttermilk to form moist clumps.
Gather dough into ball. Turn out onto lightly flour surfaced and knead just until dough holds together, about 1 minute. Shape dough into 6-inch-diameter by 2-inch-high round. Place on prepared baking sheet. Cut 1-inch-deep X across top of bread, extending almost to edges. Bake until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 35 minutes. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Happy Eating!