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.
Labels: Irish soda bread