Every year around March 17 I go to my little green index card box—which is my oldest recipe file—and dig out my Cousin’s Aggie’s recipe for Irish Soda Bread. Somehow, that just feels right.
My mom was of Irish and my dad of German decent. When I was growing up in East Norwich there was never soda bread on the table at any time of the year. Corned beef & cabbage, yes, but that is really an American dish, rightfully called a New England Boiled Dinner. Mom was from Boston. We didn’t get any German food, either. My dad liked herring in cream sauce, “S- – t on a Shingle,” Motorman’s Glove, and plain old yellow cake with chocolate frosting (which Mom and I dubbed “Army Cake”). I think he fondly remembered the Mess in WWII (what does that say about my Mom’s culinary skills?).
We moved to Westbury, and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day became a thing. Eventually, I decided to embrace my heritage and join the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, listen to WFUV’s Ceol na NGael on Sundays, march in NYC and Glen Cove’s St. Patrick Parade, visit Eire and Deutschland, buy a t-shirt which boasts: “Warning Irish Temper, and German Stubbornness,” wear green on St. Patty’s Day and my dirndl to Plattdeutsch Park and the Steuben Day Parade.
Chuck and I have had people to dinner around this time of year; serving Cock-a-leekie soup (somehow the Celtic Scotts chimed in), Chuck’s Corned Beef & Cabbage, Cottage Pie, Cousin Aggie’s bread with Kerrygold butter, salad, gluten-free chocolate cake, and Chuck’s Irish Coffee! That bread is always a big hit.
My only memory of Cousin Aggie was when she came to visit us in Westbury when I was in high school and gave my Mom that Irish Soda Bread recipe. Cousin Aggie started me on collecting ethnic recipes. As I write this, I have more than 15 recipes for soda bread: the one from Joan Boes that was in the Westbury Times a few years back, the one from co-worker Trish McCoy, “authentic” ones from the web arguing that there is nothing in soda bread but flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt, ones for making it in a bread machine!, St. Brigid’s oatcake (bless the bread with a deep-cut cross in the center, then prick it in the center of the four sections to let the fairies out of the bread, else it be ruined), and ones adding sugar, molasses, vanilla, yeast and butter.
To pay tribute to Cousin Aggie, I’m sharing her recipe which is still the best. I hope you’ll pay homage to your traditions and family every time you take a bite of any soda bread. Sláinte mhaith!
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sift together into a large bowl:
4 cups flour
¾ cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
Mix in with your fingers ½ cup raisins. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.
In another bowl, whisk together 2 cups buttermilk and 1 egg and add to the well in the flour mixture and mix with a claw-like hand in concentric circles from middle to outside until all flour is incorporated. Don’t overmix or over knead. Turn out onto a floured board and gently shape into a ball. Put the ball into a greased cake pan and bake about 1 hour, until bottom sounds hollow when tapped and top is golden brown.