Our senses play a pivotal role in our lives. A mother will test the temperature of a bottle on her hand to protect her baby. When you stay up late at night watching Netflix you transform into a superhero with heightened hearing, listening to every creak in the floor, afraid you woke up your parents. When you talk to those you love, you look into their eyes to encode their emotions and to savor the way they form an expression. Touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste all elicit unique emotions and even possess the power to awaken a memory we stowed away deep inside us. For example, whenever I smell a box of crayons, I am transported back to kindergarten, sitting at the craft station expressing my 5-year-old emotions with puff paint and construction paper. As St. Patrick’s Day approaches and bakeries bring out the saran wrapped Irish Soda Bread with four-leaf clovers printed across the top, it only takes a bite for me to remember my grandmother.
My grandmother was the type of person who believed that with hard work and kindness you could carry out a fulfilled life.
Whether through raising a family, pursuing education and a career, or even making a meal; no matter what you do, make sure you always put forth your greatest effort. Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, my grandma made Irish Soda bread and corned beef and cabbage because she loved taking part in the worldwide celebration. Regardless of your background, on St. Patrick’s Day, a bit of Irish awakens in us all. While some of you may plan to attend a parade, go to a local Irish Pub or stay in and to watch the Disney original Luck of the Irish, I encourage you all to find some time and join me as I make Irish Soda Bread for the very first time. Sure, you can go to the store and buy a loaf, but what’s the fun in that? Grab your mixing bowls and measuring spoons because we’re about to chef it up!
Before I get into the recipe, a quick background on the origins of this famous baked good.
Contrary to popular belief, soda bread originated from the Native Americans in the early 1800’s. Natives first used a substance known as “pearl ash”, a baking soda substitute, to make their bread rise. While a majority of the western world used yeast, by the 1830’s, Ireland adopted a similar method as the Native Americans and decided to use bicarbonate of soda along with soft wheat flour, resulting in the airy texture and slightly bitter taste we grew to love. Soda bread also became a cheaper alternative, so you got the best of both worlds: a cost-effective treat with a one-of-a-kind flavor. After making soda bread myself, I can also add that just about anyone can make this themselves so do not fear if you lack experience in the kitchen.
I started off by searching through my grandmother’s old recipe book.
After flipping through the faded and yellowing pages of her handwritten recipes, I felt her right beside me as if we were baking together like we used to do. I touched each page and reminisced on all the homey, comfort food she used to make. However, nostalgia soon turned to worry because the Irish soda bread recipe seemingly disappeared; until I looked back on the shelf and saw, hiding in plain sight, a folded-up page from a magazine with her famous Irish soda bread recipe. I gently grasped the fragile piece of paper, held it close to my heart and knew she would be proud to see me following in her footsteps.
I made a list of all the ingredients, ran to the store and even convinced my cousins to help along the way.
We all gathered around the kitchen table, sharing stories and jokes with flour covered faces. After attempting this recipe, I gained some advice for anyone who plans on making it at home. First off, I couldn’t find buttermilk in the dairy aisle, so I just used heavy cream. I’m aware that they aren’t the same thing. However, the heavy cream was the next best thing and the final product tasted just how I remembered. Second, the dough? Super thick, so I recommend you try your best to flatten it out evenly so when you put it in the oven it will cook all the way thorough. Third, Irish Soda bread tastes best served warm and with a slab of unsalted, creamy Irish butter
Even though our grandma has passed, she brought us all together with the help of one of her favorite dishes.
In this moment we knew, even though you may lose a loved one, they never truly disappear. They remain with you in everything you do and there will always be subtle, sweet reminders that make you think of them. For me, that just happens to be through food. I know, you may think I’m silly for making Irish soda bread to commemorate my grandma. After baking with my cousins and enjoying the finished product with my whole family, I understood why my grandmother loved cooking so much. She just wanted to bring together the people she cared about to enjoy a meal because food tastes better when you share it with those you hold near and dear.
I almost forgot to mention, the secret ingredient got left out of the written recipe. A dash of salt, a sprinkle of sugar, but most importantly, a hearty serving of love. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone reading and I hope this Irish Soda bread warms your heart and heals your soul.