Friday, March 12, 2010

No Penny Whistles--just soda bread and whisky, please...

I don't know how Irish I really am. My dad is pretty thoroughly Irish, but he always claimed that there was French-Canadian in his family. My maiden name is Blanck, which is really Dutch. There are only two things I know for sure about my heritage: a) I'm an Irish/German/English mutt, for the most part and b) I couldn't be a bigger WASP unless my first name were Muffie. Although my friend Tom (Randoradio's Logovore) says Irish people don't count as WASPS. He's probably right--Irish folks are Celts-- but you can't pronounce WCPS. And that doesn't even get into the whole Protestant/Catholic thing...

It's complicated, as they say on Feetsbook.

I do like St. Patrick's Day, though. I don't like the barroom version, where folks put sequined shamrock glasses on and start drinking at 9AM. Nor do I especially love the penny-whistled drenched, misty moisty green public TV version. I like a dinner party with a few friends and family, and I put the cocktail shaker away for this one. Jamesons and water or Guiness to drink, corned beef and cabbage, soda bread, and some simple sweet for dessert. This year I'm thinking of a chocolate cake from the French housewife classic I Know How To Cook. A French cake on St. Pat's is fine, I think. I've actually had terrific French food in Dublin. Anyway: a few Irish cheese and some crackers and fig jam before hand.

Corned beef is something I've loved for years, even the nasty commercial stuff, but if you shop around a little, you can often find butchers who brine their own at this time of year. It's worth the extra effort to do so. DiCicco's in Rockland and Westchester Counties (downstate NY) usually has a barrel of the stuff out.

Here, by the way, is my genuine family recipe for Soda Bread. Notice that it does use white flour, caraway, and raisins or currents. It's Irish-American, not trad Irish. But we've been making the stuff for fifty years anyway, and it's good: neither too sweet nor too crumbly. Toasts up great for days, too. I standardized some (but not all) of my great-aunt's eyeball-it measurements:

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups flour (unbleached is best)

1 to 2 tablespoons caraway seeds (to taste)

1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons sugar

a generous 1/2 stick (4 and 1/2--5 tablespoons) melted butter--use the frying pan you will bake this in to melt the butter

about 1/2 medium box of raisins (can mix golden and brown, or use currents)

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

Greased cast iron fry pan to bake it in.

Preheat oven to 325.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the salt, sugar, and baking soda. Beat the eggs in a smaller bowl and add to them the buttermilk and the melted butter. Mix wet ingredients well. Sprinkle half the seeds and the raisins into the dry mixture and begin to add the wet mixture on top of it, mixing with a rubbermaid spatula. When you’ve given it a few turns, add the rest of the seeds and raisins, and the rest of the wet ingredients. Gently mix the dough until wet and dry mixtures are combined. Do not overmix. You want a folding motion, and a few lumps are OK as long as everything is moistened and holding together. Dough will be stiff--perhaps like drop biscuits. You may need a tablespoon or two more buttermilk on a dry day.

Put dough into frying pan in which you have melted the butter (you will also have wiped the extra butter up the sides of it, so the dough won’t stick).

Bake at 325 for about an hour. To check for doneness, take the bread out of the oven and gently invert the fry pan, catching the bread in your other (hot gloved!!!) hand. Insert a roasting thermometer. Properly cooked soda bread should be 190 to 195 degrees, and the top will be golden brown.

Eat warm or cool, with butter. This is also good toasted, and will keep in a plastic bag for two or three days.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I'm on today--Friday the 12th--at 4 PM, as always.


Sherry O'Keefe said...

i'm late in letting you know i shared your soda bread recipe with my mom. although she is technically not irish, this does not stop her five children from stating they themselves are all irish. it's all in attitude, i guess.

a cousin of mine in ireland tells me that the thing to do is to eat cheese with one's fruit cake. what do you know about that?


come visit me at

i've linked your site on my page (is that ok?)

chrispy said...

I don't know about that cheese and fruitcake thing, Sherry. I've only spent a little time in Ireland, and I didn't get too far out of Dublin.

PLEASE link my site. I should really promote this blog more since I bother to keep it up. It's technically for my radio show, but I find I write lots of other stuff...