my ancestral irish blessing, slathered with butter.
he came to me, as all sprites always do, when i wasn’t looking. just popped up one day inside the gremlin-filled flat-box that is my 21st-century laptop. it’s as good a place to find an enchanted character as ever there was.
he’s my sprite of an irish cousin — third cousin, in fact (i let him do the math) — and he came to me out of the ether, and filled me ever since with doggerels and ballads and pictures and stories, all thick with a brogue. he’s filled in — as much as he possibly can — the wide and deep vacuum of history on my papa’s side of the family. the straight-from-ireland side. the side i knew least about, but wondered most about, because it’s the side i see when i peek in the mirror, and it’s the side that belonged to my pa. and, well, it’s mythic to me.
it’s a tale filled with ocean crossings, and childbirth deaths, and heartbreak hard upon heartbreak. one uncle was struck by lightning, when he ran to hide in his kentucky tobacco barn from a midsummer storm of biblical proportion. (the uncle who found him — his kid brother — might have drowned his sorrows, dying of liver disease years later.) another was slashed in his tent in a midnight attack on the japanese island of iwo jima. before he shipped off to war, that uncle — danny was his name, my dad’s oldest half-brother — ran the legendary calumet (horse) farm, just outside lexington, kentucky. and the triple-crown champion, whirlaway, was one of his stable.
in my cousin paddy’s telling, there is plenty, too, to make your chest swell. and your eyes grow misty. and some that just plain raises your eyebrows. among the latter: there’s the uncle who served as a jailer in a wee kentucky town, and while trying to lock up one of the infamous hatfields or mcCoys found himself bit in the head by the rascal. (no fool, that uncle up and hightailed it to the california coast, far as he could get from hillbilly feuds).
a few months back, dear paddy sent along a treasure in the form of a slip from the ancestral recipe tin: the very irish soda bread served at the family homestead hard by the bridge in kildimo south, in the county of clare, in the west of the great verdant isle.
if you’ve poked around here for more than a minute or two, you know that i consider the kitchen a mystical magical place, a room where you can bring old souls into your midst through the simple stirring or sifting of flour and soda and sugar.
so it was that i found myself the other afternoon with fists deep in the pillowy mound of flour, soda, salt, and buttermilk that is the beginning and end of the true irish soda bread. no sugar! no raisins! paddy exclaimed, shaking his fist at the kitchen profanity.
as i brushed the mound with the last dabs of buttermilk, and, not an hour later, pulled the golden loaf from my sputtering oven, i good as felt my grandma mae peeking over my shoulder, her breath on the back of my neck. close as i’ve ever felt to the one whose genes are mine (in a rare moment of heart-baring, my pa once told me how much of her he saw in me — she’d died years before i was born; and i sensed over all the years that he said very, very little because it hurt too, too much).
because paddy himself is inimitable — and purely lovable in his unfiltered tongue — i’m unfurling the recipe just as he wrote it, swear words and all. his vernacular spice takes it up more than a notch in my book; a soda bread with swears is the way it should — and ever will — be.
be sure to slather with good irish butter.
Paddy’s Irish Soda Bread
(West Clare Recipe)
There are only (4) four ingredients in Traditional Irish Soda Bread, Flour, Baking Soda, Salt, and Buttermilk. No More No less. I don’t give a tinkers hoot in hell what you’ve read, eaten, or heard! You put anything else in it you are not making Irish Soda Bread. I first had this bread served by Great Aunt Katherine Ni Shannon Marrinan at the Anna Bridge House in Kildimo South, Clare in 1970. She baked it over the turf fire. Yep had the Irish Butter and the Orange Marmalade for the first time as well with strong cups of Irish Tae. Kitty Ni Shannon Downes also made it for me at the Half Door in Miltown Malbay and it was just as grand. It’s especially good after a night of drinkin’ the porter…….settles the stomach before ya go to bed.
(Use a Dry Cup Measure for the flour – Not a Liquid Measure)
4 cups(16oz) of Gold Medal Bread flour
1 Tablespoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
14 Oz of Buttermilk
- Heat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk. Using a spatula or your hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be soft but not wet and sticky.
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Wash and dry your hands. Knead the dough lightly for a few seconds, then pat the dough into a round, about 1 1⁄2 inches thick. Place it on a baking sheet and using a sharp knife, cut a deep cross in the center of the dough reaching out all the way to the sides. Then brush over the loaf with a bit more of the buttermilk.
3. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees, and continue to bake until the top is golden brown and the bottom of the bread sounds hollow when tapped, about 30 minutes longer. Serve warm. Cut in semi-thick wedges.
4. Now then get yourself a couple slabs of Kerry Gold Irish Butter. Yes it really does make the difference when eatin’ Irish Soda Bread. And I don’t want to hear from any Mick blatherskite goin’ on about it being too “Dear”. Shut the hell up Paddy and cough up the shillings.
5. Orange Marmalade. King Kelly was the best. Came out of California. I used it for over 30 years. However, Smuckers bought them out then discontinued the King Kelly Brand and Recipe. My friend from the County Mayo likes the “Dundee” brand but what the hell does a bitter ole Mayo Man know about anyting? If ya like the bitter side of tings then get it. I suppose I’m stuck with Smuckers until I can find something even vaguely close to King Kelly….Jayzus…..Dundee Indeed…..
6. Now go buy some Irish Tae. Barry’s Irish Breakfast Tea or Plain Barry’s Irish Tea. I like Barry’s Irish Breakfast but sometimes it’s just not available. I’ve been known to drink Tetley’s Englash Breakfast Tea but keep your gob shut about it. I may be a Traitorous gobshite but you’d be an Informer!
Bonny Petute Paddy Shannon
may your days be filled with the swirls of long-ago tales, and homespun heroes. and this:
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
what’s your family heirloom, of the kitchen variety?
this one’s for paddy, who has unfurled his heart and filled mine. much love from your ol’ cousin babs…
This was perfectly lovely and adding it verbatim to my recipe list. I have not yet found a satisfactory Irish Soda Bread so happy to give it a whirl, opinions and all. Oddly, our family “go to” is my mother’s spaghetti sauce and meat balls and there is not one drop of Italian blood in all the generations! But the smell of it always conjures my mom. Pure Comfort Food.
In honor of the “high holy day”, I am sharing a video to augment the history of the baking the bread over a turf fire. This video will do even more than that to bring a bit of Ireland into your home this weekend. It is a lovely story about a woman who found her path and vocation in the most remarkable way. I think you will find heartwarming. Get your tea, your slice of slathered bread (let us know about the orange marmalade results) and settle in. It is about a half hour. Slainte! https://www.youtube.com/attribution_link?a=4hPebrBXp7U&u=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DlRL9iIN3R8s%26feature%3Dshare&fbclid=IwAR3cHOvyyfLDLHqCZXg6_nZ-lzTiAPb7jEWW1JTg9Yz9tzXPDFxJuyW5EQo
Quick note: Margaret is still going strong. I was worried she had “moved on”. You can google her and see her today.
She’s heavenly, as is the escape to the land of turf fires and gentle lilts. I’ve been immersed, bathed over here. A misty irishmorning. Get me a plane ticket!!!!
oh, dear gracious! the bit about turf was one of the most enticing bits in paddy’s recipe, and i naturally wanted to home in on that, and here you go giving me viewing for the weekend. i’ll be sitting down to watch any minute now. bless your heart, my irish mate. and go figure with the italian red sauce……?!?!?!
bam, I’m leaving work now for a slice of your bread! Was kind of sorry to hear Dundee disparaged, however. I’ve loved it for more than three decades. But maybe I’ve just never had the good stuff. The original printed ceramic pots are pretty cool, though.
Family heirloom recipes? Probably Christmas cookies in the spattered little book that came with the early-’50s cookie press. I finally photocopied the ones we always used and tucked the page into a protective plastic sheet. The aroma of spritz cookies–one of my dad’s favorites–always flashes me back to the oval kitchen table covered in reams of waxed paper, the 1947 MixMaster (still have it–know anyone who restores them?), assorted colored sugars and sprinkles spilled all over, carols playing on the stereo in the living room as my mom wrote the cards and maybe a football game on the little kitchen TV as we filled tin after tin and the afternoon gave way to dusk.
How lucky you and Paddy are to have connected! And how lucky we are to have that recipe. Just realized that I can’t leave early, so I’m going to try baking it myself!
oh dear gracious, you have me in the kitchen with you — the crinkling of the wax paper, the 1947(!!!!!!!) mixer, the rainbow spills, the oval table, the butter…..
i too love the dundee jars — and was amazed that my store doesn’t have (tried and true treasure island, now gone, certainly would have had every marmalade under the sun!). one of my favorite parts of paddy is his capacity to zip from cranky to heart melting in about three seconds flat. his disparagement of dundee is in fact an endorsement of what he deems the realest real deal. xoxox
i promise you the soda bread is something of a miracle. it seems to want to be a cumulus cloud of deliciousness — i could hardly get in its way…..
Soda Bread with Swears is going to have to go down as my new favorite recipe!! Marvels of the ether, that you have found this delightful Irish cousin, his gripping ancestral stories and deletable recipes! This post is a true treasure trove! I happen to be a bona fide member of the American melting pot, but the part of me that’s Irish (and that might just be my green eyes) is smiling! Cannot wait to try baking this cumulus cloud of deliciousness. Peace be to you, as Fulton Sheen loved to say. xoxoxoxo
**delectable, not deletable!! xxoo
indeed, henceforth this recipe should OFFICIALLY be so named: Soda Bread with Swears. an honorable title, and one that flashes to mind the inimitable originator thereof.
a fine thing to be an american melting pot.
peace be to you, too, dear A. xoxox