LYNNE IRELAND Columnist
We know things are not always what they seem. Especially in a pandemic, it is easy to draw conclusions based on limited or circumstantial evidence.
So it was in the days of youth that we assumed that our last name, “Ireland”, must of course mean that our family came from the old turf. Immigration visions of the Potato Famine in the United States, the family slowly moving west. The most obvious and easiest conclusion.
Then the facts intervened. The crack family genealogist discovered that our ancestor, surname Ireland, did not come in the 1840s but in the 1640s. Not from Ireland, but from England. Where the family had been for at least two centuries. So what seemed so obvious was actually completely wrong.
But that doesn’t stifle our interest in St. Patrick’s Day. It just reminds us that the majority of “Irish” food coming out on March 17 is, like some of us, Irish in name only.
One thing that rings a little truer than awful green bagels is a soda bread that hasn’t been weighed down with all the butter, sugar, currants and nuts that creates more of a giant scone than a loaf of bread. We treasure our dear late Katherine’s handwritten soda bread recipe, likely from an extended stay in the west of Ireland. It gives us a quick and easy alternative to the sugary, heavy breads piled high on the grocer’s shelves.
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This bread goes together and bakes in no time, simple enough that even young bakers can be part of the mix. Although we mainly followed the simple instructions and placed the loaves on a baking sheet, we also found that you can get a slightly crispier result by placing the dough in cast iron pans. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, then let cool for about half an hour before slicing. Best eaten the day it is baked, the bread will keep well covered and stored at room temperature for a day or two. Butter or Irish cheese are “lovely” additions, but a slice is a thing of beauty in itself.
Whether you’re Irish or not, this bread will actually be as it appears: delicious!
Soda bread – 2 loaves
2½ cups whole wheat flour
Heat the oven to 400 degrees and place the rack in the middle position. Sift the flour, salt and club soda into a large mixing bowl. Add whole wheat flour. Add the butter and cut (with a pastry blender, two table knives or simply with your fingers) until it is completely incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and add most of the buttermilk. Work the liquid into the flour mixture using a fork until the dough comes together in large chunks. (It may not take the full 2 cups.) Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead a few times until the loose flour is just moistened. The dough will be sticky and you can add a small amount of flour as you knead. The dough will always be loose and uneven.
Shape the dough into two round loaves. Place on a baking sheet (or in cast iron skillets). Cut with a sharp knife to score a deep cross on top of each loaf. Bake until golden brown and a tester comes out clean when inserted into the center of the loaf, about 40 to 45 minutes.
Lynne Ireland lives to eat and welcomes feedback and questions from others who do (or don’t). Contact her at [email protected]