Sunday, March 6, 2011

Real Food for St. Patrick's Day

I have something to get off my chest about St. Patrick's Day in America. We Irish people do not eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patricks Day, or any other day for that matter. Nor was it a tradition to do so in years gone by. One of the most traditional meals eaten is "bacon and cabbage" but the corned beef was substituted when the Irish emigrated to America and (like me) could not readily locate or afford back bacon.

And another thing; the soda bread masquerading in your local Supermarket as Irish, is nothing like real soda bread. To me it tastes like a huge, stale, oversweetened scone. Eucchh! Real soda bread is not sweet and rarely has raisins in it. It's a simple bread made of flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt. Thats it!  There, I feel better now!

So, in honor of these facts, I am offering a few alternatives that really are Irish. I have been poring over Darina Allen's book, Irish Traditional Cooking and Malachi McCormick's, Irish Country cooking.  Straight bacon and cabbage is just not my favorite, but if you want a good authentic recipe here's a great link to the Winner of the Best Irish Food Blog 2010; Donal Skehan and his version of the classic:

I also would encourage you to refer to my posts on Iris's Wheaten Bread or Irish Lasagna .

As usual my obsession with baking got the better of me, so my contribution to your St. Patrick's Day, is a Brown Soda Bread recipe. I just couldn't bring myself to use all white flour or all purpose flour so I made the wholegrain or brown soda bread. I should add though, that the brown soda bread is equally authentic. I also learned from Darina Allen, that traditionally the bread would have been cooked in a pot oven, called a bastible, beside an open fire.

I realise, after researching the food of Ireland a little more, that my love of simple, unpretentious food is in my genes. I hadn't thought of it this way before, but Irish food relies on good quality, fresh ingredients. Historically, however, there was not a huge variety of ingredients available. Sometimes too, basics were scarce; even flour at times was scarce. Hence the love of the versatile potato; making it into breads, soups and everything in between.

Anyway, this bread is a prime example of simplicity. 4 ingredients and 10 minutes are all that is needed to get a tasty wholesome bread in the oven. Be warned, do not over handle this dough; it needs a light hand and as soon as it pulls together, get it in the oven. Overworking it will surely give you a tough bread.

Brown Soda Bread
adapted from Darina Allen's book Irish Traditional Cooking

random note: notice our snow is finally almost gone!!! It's been over 2 months since we've seen grass here. This week, the girls and I have been searching the garden, for evidence of the Spring fairy, in vain yet.

The recipe yields 2 loaves as seen.


4 cups wholewheat flour
4 cups all purpose flour
3 heaping teaspoons salt
2 heaping teaspoons baking soda
3- 3 1/4 cups sour milk


  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper
  3. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  4. Make a well in the center and add most of the buttermilk.
  5. With clean hands, mix the dough together, starting from the center.
  6. Add more milk as needed to achieve a dough that is soft but not sticky.
  7. On a floured board or using cleaned, then floured hands, form the dough into 2 flattened discs about 2" thick. Don't be too concerned if it's not completely mixed together; if you overhandle it the result will be tough bread. Just blob it together and plop on the cookie sheet.
  8. Place the dough on the cookie sheet with a little space between them for growing
  9. Take a large knife and cut a cross almost through to the bottom of the dough
  10. Place in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes then reduce the heat to 400°F for a further 25 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  11. Enjoy this bread warm with butter and jam; ours was gobbled up at snacktime today by 2 hungry monsters and their parents.

A couple of notes:
  • This is a very flexible recipe; traditional wholewheat flour in Ireland is coarser than ours in the US so feel free to add a bit more fiber; perhaps wheat germ, bran, oat bran, or ground flax seed.
  • You could also make these into scones by simply patting the discs to 1" and cutting out wedges. Bake for less time.


  1. That soda bread looks great--butter and jam sounds like an Excellent idea!

    As to corned beef and cabbage, it seems entirely appropriate that we eat it in America to celebrate. It's a perfect example of how no ethnic cuisine can exist in a vacuum. The Irish immigrants had to use what was on hand. It doesn't make it less Irish. It makes it Irish American. :)

  2. Thanks Jenni and you make a great point! I must research how Irish food has evolved in other countries...could be some tasty recipes out there.