thebutterchronicles

filling the empty nest with food

Soda Bread for the St. Patrick’s Day Irish

On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone gets to be Irish.  It’s big of the real Irish not to scorn us 5th or 6th generation mongrel Irish descendants when we put on our green sweaters and our “Kiss Me I’m Irish” buttons and parade down the city streets in a happily inebriated state every March 17.  (Or if they do, I’m fortunately out of earshot.) Because their poetry and music and easy way with telling a story and hearty beers are so compelling, we want to be like them. Well, at least I do at times.

I’m descended from William Mullen and Margaret Mattimore of the west of Ireland, who immigrated to St. Paul with so many other Irish families during the potato famine of the mid-19th century.  I would have liked to know so much more about them, but my grandmother (William and Margaret’s granddaughter) was ashamed of her Irish relatives and wouldn’t talk about them much.  I once got her to tell me a little about her eight aunts and uncles on her father’s side, so I have names with which to paint pictures of those daring and possibly desperate folks newly arrived and making their lives in the snowy-muddy streets of the Mississippi River town of St. Paul, Minnesota.

James J. Hill House, St. Paul MN

James J. Hill House, St. Paul MN

My great-great Aunt Mary was a cook in the kitchen of the railroad baron James J. Hill.  I imagine her in the early mornings mixing up some traditional Irish soda bread in that massive stone Victorian-era house.

James J. Hill House Kitchen

James J. Hill House Kitchen

She works at a long table in the spacious basement kitchen and with her strong hands, stirs tart buttermilk into wheat flour mixed with a little baking soda and salt.  Nothing fancy–no sugar, no raisins, no eggs, no butter. Well, a couple of tablespoons of butter if you like for a chilly March morning.  She’s made this bread so often, she needs no recipe and can mix it up with her eyes closed.  Perhaps Mr. Hill likes it with his morning coffee or maybe she only makes it for the house staff, serving it slathered with butter and honey.

If she would reach down through the years to a 21st-century descendent worried about the healthfulness of so much gluten and dairy in her food, Aunt Mary would be puzzled no doubt.  I then imagine her advising me to eat what I like, enjoy my food, and only be sure to make it yourself, my love, and you’ll have no worries a’tall.

Thanks, Aunt Mary. My soda bread this month is dedicated to you–and thank you to the folks at the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread.  The recipes below are from their site.

And for the wannabe Irish among us who don’t have it in our blood to adhere to tradition, I also like this much-doctored-up version of Irish Soda Bread, which I use from The New Basics cookbook.

Traditional Irish Soda Bread (underneath the butter!)

Traditional Irish Soda Bread (underneath the butter!)

"American" Irish Soda Bread

American “Irish” Soda Bread

Brown Bread

3 cups (12 oz) of wheat flour

1 cup (4 oz) of white flour (do not use self-rising as it already contains baking powder and salt)
14 ounces of buttermilk (pour in a bit at a time until the dough is moist)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.

2 ounces of butter if you want to deviate a bit.

Method:

Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees.  Lightly grease and flour a cake pan.  In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients. Rub in the butter until the flour is crumbly.

Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough.  Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape)

Shape into a round flat shape in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.

Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible pot).  Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped to show it is done.

Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.

White Soda Bread

4 cups (16 oz) of all purpose flour.
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Teaspoon salt
14 oz of buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees.  Lightly grease and flour a cake pan.

In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients.

Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough.  Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape)

Shape into a round flat shape in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.

Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible pot).  Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped so show it is done.

Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.

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7 comments on “Soda Bread for the St. Patrick’s Day Irish

  1. Mary
    March 15, 2013

    My family came about the same time – O’Neill’s from Tipperary, Dixon and McCormick from County Mayo/Galway area. My blood is still nearly pure Irish, but I am afraid my children have been tainted (grin). I usually make an Irish Soda Bread recipe from a Martha Stewart recipe that is very delicious. I may try one of your suggestions.

    • Catherine
      March 15, 2013

      Then we’ll have to have a pint and make some soda bread some time! I find that many Americanized soda breads are delicious, even if they’re far from traditional!

  2. allison
    March 15, 2013

    This is my kind of blog, Catherine – good food and good music! Thanks for sharing it with me. – Allison

    • Catherine
      March 16, 2013

      I’m glad you like it. Thanks for reading!

  3. Mary Finley
    March 16, 2013

    Great blog, Kate! Happy St. Paddy’s day to you and Shawn tomorrow!

    • Catherine
      March 16, 2013

      Happy day to you, too! Thanks for reading.

  4. Mom
    March 16, 2013

    My grandmother was the next-to-the-youngest orphan of the couple from Ireland; she loved to dance and sing and had a kind, lively spirit. Her mashed potatoes were so light, she said, they’d “fly out the window!” But she was filled with superstition and I remember her having us leave a saucer of milk for the leprechaun. We’d look for the ring of dancing faries and “if you wished to live and thrive, let a spider stay alive.” So Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all with the Irish genes.

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This entry was posted on March 9, 2013 by in Bread, Recipes and tagged , , , .

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