first in line

if you’ve read this blog before, then you know that i am a member of the daring bakers and you want pies with that. when the members of these blog forums post about the latest baking endeavor, everyone makes an effort to read the blogs of other members.  since i have also done this, i have found a few other forums i would like to join and with this post, i am participating in the bread baking day #18 which is hosted by mansi at the fun and food blog this month.  the theme this time around was quick breads and i immediately knew what i wanted to bake, irish soda bread.  every year at this time, i look forward to a fresh loaf of irish soda bread.  thick slabs of bread, chock full of currants and warm from the oven.  butter isn’t necessary if you remember to plump the currants first.  but this bread also comes with memories and a story and every time i pull out the recipe, it all comes back to me, somewhat bittersweet but welcomed every year.

our mothers were sisters and they both had their first child within a few months of each other. since their mother had died when they were young, the two sisters spent a lot of time together which also meant that my cousin dennis and i spent a lot of time together too.  when my parents finally split up, my brother and i spent even more time with all of our cousins.  so many of my childhood memories are of time spent with them at their house or on group outings.

mom and joan were a lot a like but so different at the same time.  neither tolerated a whole lot of nonsense and we all learned the hard way.   and while mom could cook, pretty well if i must say, she did not do much baking.  if there was a cake to be baked, most likely joan was the one to do it.  this side of the family didn’t have a whole lot of ethnic family recipes  handed down from the elders.  all things considered,  for an irish family, there wasn’t much in the way of irish culinary specialties that we were familiar with except, irish soda bread.

my first memories of irish soda bread are those of an elderly irish neighbor, mrs. mulvahil.   every year as saint patrick’s day approached, she would bake a loaf for my mother.  i am not sure that i truly enjoyed it then but as i became an adult, i learned to appreciate a loaf of good irish soda bread.
when my husband and i opened our bakery and saint patrick’s day approached, i mentioned wanting a recipe for the bread to my mother and she told me that joan had a good recipe and that she made it every year.  being the sentimental person that i am, i asked mom to find out if joan would part with the recipe; i would make it and sell it at the bakery giving full credit to joan for the recipe.
not long after that conversation, i received an email from my cousin mary and in it was the recipe along with some helpful hints.  while it wasn’t the same as getting a hand written copy, it still meant a lot to me.  i printed out a copy of the recipe and took it to work.  i made notes on the copy for a much larger batch and some minor changes.
somehow, i have managed to save that copy of the recipe and 9 years later, i still have it and i still use it.  we closed our bakery almost 5 years ago and this year i pulled out that recipe and prepared it for the country market which is part of the restaurant i work in.  it sold well, very well and i didn’t get to eat any of it.  while i was home on my grand staycation last week, i pulled out the recipe again and made a loaf for me and in the process, i spent a little time with joan.

the loaf, warm from the oven

a thick slab for me

dennis in the pool and me on joan’s lap in the back yard at joan’s house.
we lost dennis to a drunk driver in 1997.  thankfully, mary, who was also in the car at the time, was not seriously hurt.  it was a tough blow to all and while time may have lessened the pain, none of us have forgotten.  joan passed away a few years ago and having the recipe is like having a special gift that i can make and share  each year.  i can hear her dictating the recipe to mary as i make the bread…

joan’s irish soda bread

4 cups all purpose flour
1/4cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1/4cup (4 tablespoons) butter
2 cups light or dark raisins or currants, soak them in hot water after measuring or they will dry       out the bread-drain out the excess water before adding them to the dough
1 egg
1-1/3cup buttermilk

preheat the oven to 375F.  combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda and the caraway seeds in a large bowl.  whisk them to combine them.  with a pastry blender or your hands, cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse corn meal.  stir in the raisins.  whisk the egg and buttermilk and stir it into the flour mix and until just moistened.  turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly until smooth.  shape into a ball and make a 4 inch cross, 1/4″ deep in the center with a knife.  place the loaf on a baking sheet that is lined with paper or in a greased 9″ cake pan.  brush the top of the loaf  with additional egg or some cream and bake for 1 hour and about 10 minutes.  to test for doneness, tap it on top and it should sound hollow or insert a cake tester and it should come out clean.  allow to cool completely before cutting.

special thanks to mansi at fun and food blog for letting me join in on the fun even if it is a little late!

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