STATEN ISLAND, NY – Annadale’s Kathleen Gorman presents her Irish Soda Bread recipe to curious cooks, a formula that incorporates raisins and optional caraway seeds.
Truth be told, it’s not a formula she normally shares. But these days, post-COVID quarantines, the Borough Grand Marshal for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade along Forest Avenue feels celebratory and especially magnanimous. There’s a story to preface this easy-to-make Irish treat.
At 14, Kathleen decided to learn the recipes her father loved so much from the Old Country. Born to Margaret and Jim Brick in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Kathleen remembers the days when mom and dad talked about Ireland.
She said: ‘When they arrived my mum was only 7 or 8 so my dad was talking about Ireland all the time. He missed it terribly, you know. So I would go to the Bronx with him to the uncles – and they only talked about Ireland.
Kathleen’s determination to learn authentic cooking brought her to Kerry, Ireland in the early 1960s. There, in a cabin nestled in the mountains, her Aunt Sheila guided her through the kitchen. There was a dirt floor and a window overlooking the mountains.
“You could look out of that window all day and, like I said, it was a small kitchen. On the other side, a cow had its face against the glass,” Kathleen said.
“It was like a painting, almost – and the mist would fall in the morning and you would wait for it to rise. And you’d be like, ‘Wow, how high are those mountains?’ the girl from Brooklyn says, awestruck by the lovely surroundings.
“We had to say the Rosary every night. Aunt Sheila would have extra prayer beads hanging on the nails in case anyone came through the door. And every night after dinner, you turn your chair around, kneel down and say the rosary,” Kathleen said.
During cooking class, she described flour flying around the kitchen and Aunt Sheila flipping the bread.
And there were the lighter moments of being a teenager away from home.
Kathleen said: ‘Wise guy, I brought cigarettes with me. . . Aunt Sheila and I, before we went to bed, she would come out of Jameson’s and they were smoking.
These are all necessary steps to fall asleep.
“When you went to bed, the sheets were wet from the dampness. But Aunt Sheila would bring a brick wrapped in flannel and lay it on the bottom of the bed. That and a shot of Jameson, that kept you warm,” Kathleen said firmly with a smile.
Just as the sight of the Kingdom of Kerry swelled his heart, so did the view from his kitchen of Annadale – Raritan’s choppy bay.
RECIPE: EASY IRISH SODA BREAD
(Makes 1 loaf)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons of yeast
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon allspice, (Cook’s note: that’s how my aunt in Kerry taught me.)
1 stick of butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup caraway seeds, optional
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Use a spatula to combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, sugar and allspice. Add the melted butter and the egg to the mixture. Add the raisins and mix with your hands. Do not use a mixer or whisk.
Shape the dough into a round mound on a baking dish. Take a large, wet knife and carve a cross at the top of the mound. (When Kathleen does this, she says, “God bless everyone who eats this bread.” She also taught this to Kerry.) Bake for about 50 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the middle and when it comes out clean, it’s ready.
Pamela Silvestri is editor-in-chief of Advance Food. She can be reached at [email protected].