Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Prepositional Danger

As we draw closer to St. Patrick's Day there are a growing number of sites purporting to find you the music, clothes (t-shirts especially) parade sites, customs, foods and beverages you will "need" to have to support an authentically themed holiday celebration.

Many of these sites even claim they will help you "get your Irish up".

Problem. "Got your Irish up" means somebody has lost their temper and is now behaving in a noticeably angry way.

"Get your Irish on" might be what they meant to say, and what they mean to help you do, but it really matters little because here in the US it can be difficult to know what is authentically Irish to start with.

Take the case of Soda Bread. I wanted to make some authentic Irish Soda bread to have as part of our meal tomorrow. If you try to find a recipe for Soda Bread however, you will find nearly as many variations on how to make that as you will cases of Guinness in your upscale grocery store this week.

I decided to go with one site devoted to Soda Bread in its entirety, and supplement that with information from a site featuring recipes from a chef well regarded in Ireland.

This meant no raisins, no seeds, no add ins at all.Just four simple ingredients and one quick process.Authentic Irish Soda Bread, made daily in the very poorest households (which would have been the kind my Irish ancestors grew up in) consists of flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. You don't get much simpler than that.

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. (I used my dutch oven so I greased but didn't flour.)

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 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 if you aren't using a dutch oven). 

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

Authentically, Irish Soda Bread has a deep cross cut into the top of it. This is fancifully said to let the bread fairies out so they won't mess with your loaf, but probably was an early way to help serve the bread at table.It was the highest honor you could afford a guest, to give them fresh uncut bread. The round loaves baked daily in every household would have that deep score from the cross cut into the top which made it that much easier for a guest to tear apart one quarter of the loaf from which to serve themselves.This is not too dissimilar from a tradition of pre-scoring the communion loaves in a church I attended. We altar stewards were trained to slightly score the loaves crosswise so at the point in the liturgy when the pastor would hold the loaf aloft and speak about Jesus breaking the bread, even the pastors with the mildest grip strength would be able to tear the loaf into two reasonably even pieces for the liturgical assistants to distribute at communion.

I'd decided to try out my soda bread in a bastible pot (dutch oven). It is not known where the term "bastible" came from, although some sources speculated it was a bastardized form of the town name in Ireland where most iron pots were forged.

I followed the directions as given and am very pleased with the results. Clearly I did not cut as deep a cross in the top as I should have. Next time! The bread was extremely easy to make. If it lasts long enough to dry out (a problem with soda breads - they are not meant for long term storage) I will freeze what is left and see how it works in some sort of savory bread pudding. As long as it is mixed in with other types of bread I think it will work just fine in that eventual application.

Currently though I am doubtful we will have any leftovers past tomorrow when I debut this with some Irish Stew. I tried out just under a quarter of the loaf with some of our favorite Irish Butter (Kerrygold - try some immediately if you have access because although not organic, it is so delicious as to elevate everything it comes into contact with) and know I will be happy to sit and eat this bread with or without stew or soup to sop it into.It is so just what it is - a nice, everyday, softly delicious quick bread.

I did use ground sea salt rather than table salt in this. The flour was unbleached all purpose and organic to boot, but honestly. This recipe makes a simple loaf that serves as a good reminder of why bread is considered the staff of life.

So don't get your Irish up, hopefully, but do get your Irish on this year. Put on some van Morrison, make some authentic soda bread and know you are entering into a daily tradition that warmed Irish homes and graced Irish tables, through thick and thin, across the years.


Iris said...

My husband makes organic sourdough spelt bread every week and has been obessively perfecting it for several years. I, however, have never attempted to make a loaf of bread in my life--true confession.

However, this post has inspired me to try your recipe (even if my most of my ancestors were Scottish and English instead of Irish.) Thanks!

TexasDeb said...

I don't have much luck with baking typically. I could count the number of times I've tried to bake bread on both hands, including today.

This loaf must be practically foolproof I think...

I am proud of you for being willing to try it for yourself and hope you won't be disappointed. Let me know what you think!

PassivePastry said...

i want to know what you are using for your irish stew recipe!!
i am epicuriousing them now.... i think i am still hungry from my day of sleep!

TexasDeb said...

I am planning to use a recipe from Elise at Simply Recipes for the Irish Beef Stew that uses Guinness and red wine mixed in with beef stock for the liquids. Figured I wouldn't have any arguments with that as a starting point...although I may veer away from the directions at some point. Stews are very forgiving that way.

Flapjacks said...

very nice.

PassivePastry said...

That bread is crazy good!!! Mine ended up in a funkdified flower explosion- by I cannot stop eating it..... And as simple as it is to bake and so few ingredients- dangerous!!
I want to try those beer biscuits today, I had forgotten to get biscuit mix at the heb.....