Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. Younger folks like to celebrate that particular holiday by drinking to excess while wearing cheap green t-shirts made in China. Not me. For the past few years, I have invited my 100% Irish Da over for a traditional Irish dinner. And, no, that isn’t a six pack with a boiled potato. And not corned beef and cabbage, either — my Da hates the stuff. Shepherd’s Pie FTW.
When you grow up Irish, you hear a lot of humor revolving around the Irish propensity to drink. Except my Dad never drank. Was that a bit of an anomoly in my Irish Catholic circles? Yep. He was fond of telling the story that his immigrant father told him, the only boy with four sisters (two of whom would become nuns). His father advised him that if he could abstain from alcohol until age 18, he would realize he never needed it. Given that my grandfather died when my Dad was 18, I am guessing that played a large role in why he never drank.
So, no, drinking green beer has never been a large part of my Irish heritage. And, let’s be honest, Ireland is not especially known for its cuisine. Blood sausage?! No thank you! But the Irish soda bread, yes, that has been a favorite. My aunt, Sr. Mary Cecile (some of you may remember her as St. Iphielya) was well regarded for her recipe, but ssshhhh, don’t tell anyone — especially my Irish relatives, but I always found it a bit dry.
The first time I invited my Dad over for St. Patrick’s Day, I used the Internet to find a recipe. That was a mistake. No good. Too dense, too dry, even my Da didn’t like it. The next year I smartened up and called my Aunt Eileen. With two sisters who went into the convent, she compensated by having thirteen (13!) of her own children. Now, that is a good Irish Catholic! Rest assured, Aunt Eileen shared her recipe and it is a winner. Bain sult as!
Aunt Eileen’s Irish Soda Bread
3 cups sifted all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt (I use less)
5 and 1/3 Tablespoon melted butter
1 and 1/2 cup raisins (you can use dark or golden, but I prefer golden)
1 and 1/2 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease iron skillet. Sift flour (already sifted) with dry ingredients — salt, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Add butter (make sure it’s not hot!), egg, buttermilk, and raisins. Stir only to moisten. Turn into greased skillet (I like to double the recipe, so also use a deep dish pie plate). Bake for 40-45 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.
That’s it! So easy and you will amaze and impress both the Irish and Irish-for-a-day folks you serve it to. A word of advice, don’t get cute and skimp on the sifting, though. That process makes the bread less dense in texture and taste lighter. I hope you enjoy it as much as my dear old Da.
May joy and peace surround you,
contentment latch your door,
and happiness be with you now
and bless you evermore.
Happiest of St. Patrick’s Days to you from an Irish lass in Chicago!