Let me just start by saying I love all things Ireland related. Aside from my family heritage being Irish, I spent a summer just outside of Dublin when I was 17 studying Irish Literate and Culture, and how I ever managed to leave is still a mystery to me. My brother will very willingly tell you that every story I told in the years that followed would begin with “When I was in Ireland…” Yes in hindsight it was potentially annoying, but I was truly taken in my experience.
At that time, and given my palate and budget, the culinary experience of my summer in Ireland was limited but there were definitely some gems.
First and foremost there was tea. Being 17 I really had not drank tea that much before. Now and then yes, but not an everyday occurrence. I arrived in Dublin to discover that a cup of tea was like an institution, there was never the question if you wanted one it was just placed in front of you. At home, at school, visiting friends, at the cafe or the pub at lunch a cup of tea would appear as if by magic. It was how you started your day, finished a meal, or celebrated the end of a day. Most days when class ended I would go to a small cafe near the campus where I was studying for a cup of tea, to recap the day and to make plans for the evening with my new found friends, who felt more like long lost soul mates in that way that can only happen when you are young and exploring the world. I can still picture the small cafe with square tables and the pale blue tablecloths. Returning to Canada was a culture shock, if for no other reason than the lack of a good cup of tea.
Another revelation was the chip sandwich. Between two soft pieces of white bread were fresh homemade chips (french fries to us) and ketchup. Since I was in Ireland the bread was of course buttered. I was living with a family, not in a dorm, and every Saturday chip sandwiches were served for lunch. I was always home for Saturday lunch. Not to mention after a Friday night of late cultural discussions and tea drinking, the chip sandwich was a treasured treat. I haven’t had one since but writing about it now I think I may need to make one this weekend.
But my absolute favorite culinary experience was the soup and soda bread pub lunch. There is nothing better in the world than the vegetable soup and soda bread found in just about every pub in Ireland. The soup is usually a creamy root vegetable mixture and if you’re in a nicer pub – which mostly we were not – there would be a little dollop of cream on top. It is the quintessential Irish lunch – well at least to me. With the crisp crust and soft inside the dense bread is the perfect accompaniment for the soup. Perfect for dipping into the soup. I’d say that as a teen it was the best lunch cheap, tasty and filling but really at any age what more can you ask for?!? Plus it is relatively consistent, no matter how dodgy the pub the soup and soda bread was usually very good.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am no baker so to make bread seemed well outside of my realm of skill. Really do you want to attempt to make a favorite food only to have it fail?? I don’t. I was a little – or a lot leery of attempting to make soda bread. How could I not be? It would be up against the romanticized version of every soda bread I’ve ever eaten. Not to mention aside of using my bread machine I’ve never made bread before. Nothing like a challenge!
Using a traditional recipe with only 5 ingredients and my hands as the only tool, I could do this. I just kept telling myself this as I read and reread the directions. Directions that reference fairies, how hard could it be the fairies would be with me.
Well first attempt not so successful, BUT second attempt… success!! And the smell brought me right back to all those pub lunches with fresh soda bread. Heaven.
- ½ pound white flour
- ½ pound whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 16 oz buttermilk
- In a large mixing bowl add both flours, sift with your hands, fingers spread wide.
- Add salt and baking soda, sift with your hand. Make a well in the middle of the bowl.
- Slowly add buttermilk into the well in the flour.
- To mix, spread your fingers wide keeping them stiff, work in a circular motion starting around the well working to the outside of the bowl. The dough is now formed, do not overwork.
- Transfer to a floured surface, shape the dough and place on a baking sheet.
- Cut a deep cross on the bread to bless, and prick the four centre sections to let the fairies out.
- Bake at 450F for 15 mins, then reduce heat to 400F and bake for 15 mins. Remove bread from oven, turn upside down and bake for the further 5 - 10 mins. To check the bread, knock the bottom to hear a hollow sound.
- Allow to cool on a wire rack. Cut and serve.
I’m not actually sure if it is a good thing or bad I’ve taught myself how to make soda bread. But knowing that I can make fresh bread and a pot of soup all within an hour, seems like a great trick to have up my sleeve!
You may be thinking that I’ve talked a lot about soup and it did sneak into my pictures, so check back on Sunday and I will share my recipe for cream of asparagus and carrot soup.