Recently I watched a special on Food Network called Bobby’s Ireland. I’ve seen various specials on the food and culture of Ireland. For years Ireland has been among the cultures we’ve discussed as a part of our family culture. It’s a piece of our heritage, and although I don’t know much about the true Irish culture, I’m learning as I go. Last year around this time my husband was fortunate enough to actually visit the great country of Ireland. I’ve kind of picked his brain some. During his stay he was able to visit the Guinness brewery, see the city of Dublin and of course visit pubs. What I learned is that most people in Ireland do not actually care much about St. Patrick’s day, they prefer celebrating Arthur’s day which celebrates Arthur Guinness. Essentially its a day to appreciate the great iconic beer of Ireland. I think that it makes perfect sense, skip all the B-S, let’s get straight to the drinking! Although I was not as fortunate to take this great trip, I think in the past few years I’ve really gotten a bit more of a grasp on the food and culture of the Irish. It’s a really up and coming cuisine thats changing every day, it’s no longer just bangers and mash. There’s a bit more to it than just Sheperd’s Pie.
Bobby’ Flay’s Ireland really approached how diverse Ireland’s food has become over the past few years. Although most of their food scene is not unique to the country (culturally speaking), currently they are going through a foodie revolution. They are making more creative foods, not distinctively “Irish foods” but most importantly they are using locally sourced, high quality ingredients. Local fresh produce, responsibly raised meat, high quality dairy products and of course great beer including a sprouting micro-brewing scene. I truly envy this concept, although it may seem basic its really wonderful. In this country I feel like we are furthering ourselves from real food and instead we are embracing short cuts and chemicals. To see a culture embrace good quality locally sourced food is wonderful. I barely leave my house let alone travel, so I taste food through whatever I make at home. I’ve only ever had a baby sitter once in seven years (twice if you count being in labor with #2) , my life’s unique adventures are always through food. I like to try and share this with the kids as much as I can. I want them to have a taste of new places now and again. I feel that food is the single most important and significant part of any culture so sharing the food of a culture with my family is like taking our own little family journey.
Some foods we share are absolutely unique, others are really just modified variations of something else we’ve had before. Trying to convince a seven year old to eat curry, well its usually not quite a successful food journey. Bread and cakes are always an easy win, top them with jam or jelly that we made ourselves, with fruit we picked ourselves and theres an immediate sense of ease. It can’t be that bad if you can put jam on it right? During Bobby’s visit to Ballymaloe cooking school the founder Darina Allen made a wonderful looking meal with roasted lamb, potatoes cooked in sea water and this very basic type of Irish brown bread. I believe her recipe was vastly different than mine, I did not remember her using yeast or even making quite as much as this recipe called for. She did make it with her hands and in an instant. The simple idea of using your hands to mix the bread was just so nice. You can not get more “hand made” than using your hands instead of utensils. It creates a great sense of closeness to your meal. I wanted a classic, fairly traditional Irish Soda Bread that was easy and simple. So that’s just what I made. I’ve made brown bread in the past and its something near and dear to me because it’s a New England classic. I can recall seeing bread in a can in stores for as long as I can remember. Bread in a can is different than this type of recipe, its usually steamed for 2 hours, it contains corn meal and raisins and has a rich molasses flavor.
Irish Brown Bread, Brown Irish Soda Bread
This recipe is literally hand made, its delicious, nutty and absolutely wonderful with homemade jam. It’s similar to New England brown bread however its a much milder less intense flavor. Although dense it is perfectly flavorful. My secret weapon, sea salt. I used coarse sea salt that really worked well with the very slight sweetness from brown sugar and molasses.
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons toasted wheat germ
3 tablespoons rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons molasses
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease a standard loaf pan with butter or spray with cooking spray, I used an 8 or 9″ ceramic pan.
In a bowl combine all dry ingredients. Mix together until its well combined. Create a well in the middle and place the egg and molasses in the middle. Pour 1 cup of the buttermilk into the bowl and combine ingredients until smooth. I used my hands, you can use a spoon if you insist. (by using your hands you get a feel for how much milk you may or may not need to add.) Add remaining buttermilk and combine. You want a thick batter, but not too thick. Use additional buttermilk to thin if desired.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Smooth the top and place in the oven ASAP. The faster it gets in the oven the better. Bake for 45-55 minutes. In my oven it took 48-50 minutes.
Allow to cool in the pan only about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and place on a cooling rack. This will prevent it from becoming soggy in the pan. Serve at room temperature or toasted with homemade jam, or maybe some good quality Irish butter.
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