Saturday, March 19, 2011

Irish As Paddy's Pig

This year, St. Patrick's Day sneaked up on me and caught me ill-prepared. No spuds in the house, and no cabbage, except the purple kind which, as we all know, simply won't do when green is the color of the day. Not even a nice cut of corned beef, although they were for sale in all stores this week - I just somehow missed the boat. You'd think my Irish ancestors had missed that boat, too!

They didn't, bless their hearts. They sailed in the same enormous wave of immigration as so many others did, three from southern Ireland and one from the north. Only one of them had any education - my paternal grandmother's father had graduated from Trinity College in Dublin. (He was the only Protestant). They went to work in the woolen mills in western Massachusetts and we'd all still be there if my grandfather hadn't taken it into his head to join the Navy. He went to Annapolis, class of 1900. I have a photograph of him in his uniform, complete with exaggerated epaulets and fore-and-aft hat like Horatio Hornblower.

(By the way, whatever happened to Ioan Gruffudd? He was so charming in that role and I've never seen him again. Must look him up.)

Anyway, there I was at 4pm on St. Patrick's Day without a single Irish thing to eat in the house. Then, I remembered Irish Soda Bread and was saved! Just enough flour in the cupboard, just enough caraway seeds and - wonder of wonders! - we even had milk that had not yet soured. Raisins, baking soda, butter, salt. That's all you really need to make two fine cottage loaves of fragrant, crusty soda bread. I adapted this recipe from epicurious.com; I hate vegetable shortening and I love butter; did a quick substitute of the hated one for the loved one and the bread that emerged from my desperately dirty oven half an hour later was a true tribute to my Irish heritage. While it was still warm, I wrapped two of the halves in napkins, added a twist of silly shamrock ribbon and took them over to my neighbors so we wouldn't eat them all ourselves.

The half we kept was so homey, so simple that it just warmed the heart from the inside out. Crusty on the outside, we couldn't resist breaking off little bits here and there before it even cooled. The raisins made sweet, jammy pockets and the caraway seeds surprised us with the depth of the flavor they lend to the whole.

I had to search my closet for something green to wear to the St. Patrick's Day party our uphill neighbor gave. As I sipped my Irish coffee at the party and nibbled on a cookie shaped like a shamrock, I swapped stories of Irish heritage with the other guests. And I left that last half of soda bread for our hostess as a way of saying thanks for giving me a chance to remember my roots.

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7 Comments:

Blogger cookiecrumb said...

I was *thisclose* to making soda bread, or something like it. (I have a recipe for beer bread I'm dying to make.)
Your bread is so lumpy and lovely. Couldn't resist breaking off hunks.
I think you did all right for the day, Irish-wise.

Saturday, March 19, 2011  
Blogger Ms Brown Mouse said...

Still warm bread, mmmmmmm.
O, and Ioan starred in a couple of Fantastic 4 movies and never recovered from the shame :(

Saturday, March 19, 2011  
Blogger Pink Granite said...

Thank you for including the caraway seeds!
While lots of bakeries and grocers offer Irish Soda Bread this time of year, I'm dismayed at how few include the necessary and authentic seeds.
;o)
- Lee

P.S. I sometimes use golden raisins and dried cranberries in mine. I don't think any of my people would object!

Saturday, March 19, 2011  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

(PG: I know nothing of the truth about Irish Soda Bread, and the caraway with fruit strikes me as... Oh, I'll try it.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Cookiecrumb, yes, the lumpiness was the most appealing part and, actually, the bits we broke off were the tastiest, too.

Ms Mouse, sad for Ioan but life is long and I expect there are more fabulous parts for him in the future.

Pinkie, the caraway seeds are essential! Gotta have 'em.

Cookiecrumb, I was skeptical about the caraway seeds, too, the first time I made soda bread, but they are wonderful with the raisins and actually "make" the bread. Without them, it's just heavy raisin bread.

Sunday, March 20, 2011  
Blogger namastenancy said...

Erin go blaugh! My Irish ancestors were Protestant and came before the famine (as far as I can tell) but it looks like their descendants done good! I was going to make soda bread because I have a great recipe but my dinner plans fell through because of the rain - two of the guests couldn't make it. So, I decided not to have that bread temptation in the house but with a pat of good Irish butter ....delicious!

Sunday, March 20, 2011  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Nancy, sorry your dinner plans fell through and I'm impressed with your fortitude at not making the bread. :-)

Sunday, March 20, 2011  

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