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Irish Soda Bread and Irish Favorites

Irish Favorites for St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day is coming soon and one of our favorites has long been the traditional Irish Soda Bread (the kind one finds in Ireland, not the white raisin caraway seed variety one sees in the stores).  Alongside the bread, we often enjoy corned beef and cabbage, but are just as likely to enjoy colcannon (Cal ceannann) with peas and oakcakes (Bonnoga aran coerce), the more traditional Irish fare one might encounter if eating with the average Irishman or woman.  The soda bread I usually make comes from James Beard’s text simply entitled, Beard on Bread.  Traditionally, it is baked over a peat fire in a three legged iron pot, but a conventional oven will do just as well in a pinch.  It is a hearty bread, meant to be sliced thin and is scrumptious as toast in the morning.  Enjoy!
Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 level teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon double acting baking powder
1 ½ to 2 cups buttermilk
Combine dry ingredients and mix thoroughly to distribute the soda and baking powder, then add enough buttermilk to make a soft dough, but firm enough to hold its shape.  Knead on a lightly floured board for 2-3 minutes, until quite smooth and velvety.  Form into a round loaf and place in a well buttered 8 inch cake pan or on a well buttered cookie sheet.  Cut a cross on top of the loaf with a very sharp floured knife.  Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the loaf is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped.   Let the loaf cool before slicing very thin; soda bread must never be cut thick.
Colcannon with Peas
The basic colcannon recipe I use is from Theodora Fitzgibbon’s Irish Traditional Food cookbook, but I add the peas.  It is traditionally made with cooked chopped kale, but can be made with white cabbage as well.
1 pound kale or cabbage, finely chopped
1 pound potatoes
2 small leeks or green onion tops
½ cup milk or cream
½ cup butter 
pinch of mace
salt and pepper
1 cup frozen peas
Cook chopped kale or cabbage in boiling salt water until tender; do not overcook.   Drain and set aside.   Cook potatoes in salted water and while they are cooking chop the onions.  Simmer the onions in the milk or cream, covered, for about 7 minutes.  Cook 1 cup frozen peas in small amount of water 3-4 minutes.  Drain the potatoes, season and mash them well.  Stir in cooked leeks and milk or cream, adding more milk if needed.  Add the chopped kale or cabbage and stir thoroughly.  Drain the peas and add to the mixture.  Serve piping hot with oak cakes.
Oat Cakes
Among the most traditional of all Irish foods, the oatcake goes back many centuries.  A seventeenth century traveler to Ireland once wrote: 
     Their general food is a thin oatcake which they bake upon a broad flat stone  
     made hot, a little sheep’s milk cheese or goat’s milk, boiled leeks and some
After cooking on a griddle like surface these little cakes were hardened in front of a fire, resting against a three legged stand, which was made by blacksmiths and called a ‘hardening’ or  ‘harnen’ stand.  Originally only oatmeal was used in making oatcakes, but a firmer oatcake results if a little flour is added.
1 cup of oatmeal, plus a little more
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 heaping tablespoons butter, lard or bacon drippings
In a bowl, sift flour into oatmeal, add salt and baking powder and mix well.  Make a well at the bottom of the bowl.  Heat about ¼ cup of water and then add the fat and bring to a boil.  Pour into the well of the flour bowl, and mix rapidly.  Knead bread lightly and may add a bit more water if needed to form a stiffish dough.  Sprinkle the surface with more oatmeal and roll out thinly.  Cut into 3 inch rounds and cook on both sides on hot griddle, or bake on a lightly greased tray at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until pale gold in color.  Makes about 16 rounds.  Serve warm.  Excellent with cheese, butter or jam.

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