Tuesday, March 20, 2012

All Things Green (TWD Soda Bread)

There are many Irish exports that I admire. Pygmalion, a good sharp cheddar, step dancing, the McCourt brothers and Peter O’Toole – these are products that should inspire Irish national pride. On this list, you’ll notice a distinct absence of Irish Soda Bread and anything written by James Joyce (which I was forced to read in college and I still have nightmares about). Soda bread is the anti-Ulysses. It is mundane, straightforward, unadorned and mostly authentic. And quick. With all these down-to-earth qualities, I should be in baker's heaven. But let’s face it – soda bread is dull as an Irish sky.

How can a country with such a vibrant culture bake such a bland bread? And no, you can’t blame it completely on the famine. The concept of raising bread using soda started out much later in America and only flourished in Ireland due to the soft wheat that grows there. It’s true – read about it.

So when I heard that this week’s assignment for Tuesdays with Dorie was to bake Irish soda bread, my expectations were low. I’ve never had a real aversion to soda bread. It’s just -- Nothing. No pleasure, no sense of accomplishment. Nothing. My heart did not yearn for Glocca Morra when I bit into a slice of my very own making. There was so much blah, in fact, that I threw the first attempt straight into the garbage can. Round two fared a little better, and the Pie Guy and I had a few slices toasted with butter. (The Bean was too sick to face it, and the loaf was firmly rejected by the husband.)

It wasn’t until I turned a little Dr. Frankenstein with the recipe that it became truly enjoyable. I boiled up some raisins in molasses to sweeten and plump them, and threw the raisins into the bread with some orange zest. Even then, I was fully aware of breaking the rules. As every Irish cook will tell you, true Irish soda bread isn’t supposed to include fruit, sweetness, or anything that could make it the least bit appetizing.

And yet. Here is the kicker: I can’t reject it completely because of it’s magical healing properties. (Yes, and I spotted a Leprechaun today too.) 

Maybe it isn’t exactly magic, but when my daughter  acquired a vicious stomach bug this week, this soda bread was our culinary pot of gold. For one long night, I had watched helplessly as 36 hours' worth of previously digested food come hurtling headfirst into the toilet bowl. (This was not the green we had expected for St. Patrick's Day.)  Then, in the morning, she rallied. What a relief it was to hear my sweet daughter request, in a tiny exhausted voice, a simple slice of fresh baked soda bread. When the toast miraculously stayed in her body long enough to provide a little nutrition, my heart danced a great big joyful jig. We had finally turned the corner.

I now have a greater appreciation for this hefty loaf. I may even bake soda bread again next time the stomach bug hits. Who needs a labor-intensive matzah ball soup when you can whip up this puppy in an hour? (All right, I can't take it that far. But I did severely underestimate the therapeutic properties of Irish soda bread.)

I must give credit where credit is due: Julia Child and Marion Cunningham (with a nod to Dorie Greenspan), we thank you from the bottom of our intestines. You have nursed my daughter back to health after a very uncomfortable illness, and we will be indebted to you forever.

For the recipe, visit Cathy of My Culinary Mission  or Carla of Chocolate Moosey  or buy the book, Baking With Julia.


  1. So sorry for sick little ones, but glad it brought some much needed reprieve. Looks fabulous!

  2. I take offense to putting Irish Soda Bread in the same league as Joysce. ISB is SO much better. Honestly. I think you just have to keep throwing in the sweet little extras (molasses sounds great) to make it more palatable for everyone. So this is why your daughter got well. When you made the "X", the good fairies were able to escape. Rather than just flying away, they decided to stay put at Chez Vous and nurse your wee lassie back to health. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Love your Post. Mary Hirsch http://www.lightsonbrightnobrakes.com/

    1. Mary -- I think those fairies are working their magic on your tastebuds. But no matter -- I'm just relieved that someone got the Joyce reference. I lost sleep over that one.

      PS: Will you come write my blog for me forever?


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