When March rolls around and Spring begins peeking at us from behind the trees, I begin to long for fields of green. Soon enough the flowers begin to raise their heads from their long winter naps and the signs of the turn of the season become impossible to ignore. It is about this time that one of my favorite holiday’s rolls around, when everyone gets to put on the green and pretend that they are one of the blessed people, if only for a day. For me, St. Patrick‘s Day is not about drinking and carousing, although I have been known to do my fair share of that, it is really about the change of the year, a celebration that we have made it through another winter and that the time of bounty is ready to begin again, the polar opposite of Thanksgiving, if you will. A time to consider what lies ahead and what this new year will bring. Of course, if you would like to celebrate that with a raised pint, well as long as the beer is black and stout, then who am I too judge.
This time of year always makes me homesick as well, for a place I have never lived, but the place my family came from on the wild, western shores of Ireland. It is strange to visit a place and feel as if you have finally arrived where you have always belonged. Walking along fields that my ancestors plowed and harvested touched something deep in my soul, and I would give better than even odds that Laura and I will land and replant our roots there someday. But rather than try to tell you of my love of the rugged west coast of Hibernia, I will try my hand at what they call a photo essay.
One of the things I remember most fondly from this trip was waking up every morning to the scents of bread baking and then making our way down to a traditional Irish breakfast. Now Irish breakfast is no simple affair, it is a substantial meal that will keep you going all day. We typically began with a glass of juice and some oatmeal, followed up by rashers of bacon, sausages, a fried egg or two, both white and black puddings, a fried tomato and mushrooms, all the brown soda bread and butter you can eat, washed down with a pot of Irish Breakfast Tea. Now that is a breakfast that will keep you going all day. It is the scent of that bread that woke us up in the mornings and it is the taste that haunts me still. If you would like to try it yourself, here is a simple recipe adapted from Mary Kinsella’s excellent book, The Irish Country Kitchen. On the advice of an innkeeper, we picked up a copy at a small shop in the village of Terryglass, and we have found it an invaluable guide to Irish cooking.
Brown Soda Bread
2.5 cups of plain flour, not self-rising
pinch of salt
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 level teaspoon of breadsoda, we call it baking soda here.
1.25 cups of buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400°
Sieve flour and salt into a bowl, add the whole wheat flour and breadsoda, making sure to break up any lumps. Make a well in the centre and add almost all of the milk; mix to a loose dough. If necessary add more milk. Turn onto a floured board and knead for five minutes, until smooth. Shape dough into a circular loaf, make a cross-cut on the surface and place on a floured baking sheet. Bake for 40-45 minutes @ 400°, the bread is ready when it sounds hollow when tapped on. Remove from oven and place on rack to cool.
When cooled, slice and serve with a big dollop of Kerrygold butter. We sometimes add oats or bran to the recipe and we have even been known to throw raisins in there as well. I haven’t found a way to mess this great recipe up yet, but I will keep trying.
I hope you enjoyed this little pictorial stroll through my memories of Ireland. If you really want to learn some fascinating things about the contributions of this island nation and the real St. Patrick, pick up a copy of Thomas Cahill’s, How the Irish Saved Civilization, you will be glad you did.