We ate a lot of Irish soda bread when I was growing up. Breakfast, all through the winter, consisted of big bowls of porridge with milk and sugar, and thick slices of home made soda bread, washed down with gallons of strong hot tea.
My father started the porridge in the evening in the double boiler. There was no "quick" or "instant" in those days. Just as there was no mind-boggling array of sugar-coated dry cereals. Oh, they existed alright, just not at our house, much as we might have longed for them. My mother had fixed ideas about what was good for growing children. Sugary, dry cereals did not feature on her list. And in matters of nutrition, she was the boss, just as she was in the realm of shoe selection! You ate your porridge or you went to school hungry; you wore your brown, sensible [B.O.R.I.N.G ]lace up shoes or you went barefoot. Needless to say, I never went to school hungry or barefoot. Rebellion never entered my mind.....
Fortunately, we didn't only have porridge. When you had choked down a big bowl of the stuff, you could have as many slices of brown bread as you wanted. No holds barred on how much butter or marmalade you slathered on! The weather was damp and chilly in Winter, and often in Spring and Autumn too. My mother believed a big breakfast got us off to a healthy start. It was a given that we'd learn better on a full stomach. She would have scoffed to hear about all the time and money that is wasted on surveys and studies these days to find out what common sense told her.
Back then, brown bread was just part of the landscape. But now it's one of my favourite foods. The Lads [the OC and the Bean] can take it or leave it, but for me it's comfort food; conjures up memories of coming in from school on a chilly winter day to find the kitchen filled with the heavenly smell of baking bread. And it's so easy to make.........
It would sound romantic to say this recipe was handed down to me from my mother. But I was far from her when I became interested in baking bread myself. Many's the loaf of Irish bread I've baked along the way that could have been used to prop the door open, or to sink the body before the cops arrived....And then I found this recipe in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, one year, on St.Patrick's Day. Of all the Irish bread recipes I've tried, it's my favourite.
O'Brien Irish Bread
1 1/2 cups stone-ground whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour [I use 3/4 a.p. flour and 1/4 cup of wheat germ]
1/4 cup dry oat bran hot cereal
1/4 cup regular rolled oats
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp soft butter
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, divided
3 tbsp melted butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Dust a baking sheey with flour.
In a large bowl combine both flours, dry cereal, oats, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir with a whisk to blend well.
Cut in the soft butter.
Stir in 1 1/4 cups buttermilk. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk, kneading in the bowl as little as possible until dough is moist.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 7" round loaf. Place loaf on the floured baking sheet. With a sharp knife cut an "x" into the surface
Bake bread for 40-45 minutes,until it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped with a knife.
Remove bread from the oven and place on a wire rack. Brush loaf with melted butter and allow to cool at least one hour before slicing.
This bread is delicious with butter and marmalade for breakfast. Or maybe you have to be Irish to think so!