At times I had the sensation that asking for a recipe for Irish soda bread was a little like asking for a recipe for American cupcakes. Which one are we talking about? Arlene Neddeau in Caribou started this conversation with her request after having scoured — to no avail — her old and new cookbooks for the recipe.
After a bit, a pattern did emerge: first, obviously, soda breads are raised with baking soda and sometimes baking powder too. Most of the time, but not always, they have oatmeal. All called for buttermilk and usually raisins or currants. Caraway seed did not occur in every recipe but a descendant of Irish Americans solemnly assured me that it wouldn’t taste right without the caraway. It appears that you can use plain all-purpose flour alone or use part whole wheat.
I heard from five of you on this recipe. Jean Anderson, here on Islesboro, gave me an ancient clipping from The Boston Globe that had a straightforward flour and whole-wheat flour soda bread in it. My sister Sally Vaster out in Somerville, a wonderful baker, sent along the one she uses every St. Patrick’s Day along with the reminder not to knead or handle the dough too much so it won’t get tough, the same advice we follow for biscuits.
Patricia Estabrook in Houlton checked in with a rich version calling for butter and an egg, currants but no caraway. Faithful correspondent Ruth Thurston in Machias sent along a hearty whole-wheat and flour version with butter in it. However, frequent contributor Ethel Pochocki sent along the recipe that found favor with the majority of tasters, though Jean and Ruth will be glad to hear that unsurprisingly my old granola husband liked best the one with the whole-wheat flour in it.
Ethel wrote, “This is my favorite recipe for Irish Soda Bread — it never fails. I’ve tried others with eggs, shortening, whole wheat flour — but I always go back to this one.” Please note that there is a step you have to take the night, or at least an hour, before you begin to make it.
I didn’t have quick oatmeal, so I threw my regular rolled oats into the food processor and pulsed it a few times to chop it finer and that seemed to work.
If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can curdle up some plain milk by putting a tablespoon of cider vinegar in a measuring cup and adding milk to the 1-cup line. If you use 2 tablespoons of lemon juice instead it will have more of a buttermilk flavor.
So here is the recipe, Arlene and everybody. We all hope you like it. Like most quick breads and biscuits, it is best warm and eaten the first day.
Looking for — something new in rhubarb recipes. Over the years we have done Apple Rhubarb Pie, Rhubarb Marmalade and Rhubarb Crisp. Besides good old rhubarb pie, what else can I do with rhubarb? Does anyone have a terrific and different way to use the stuff? Please share. If we don’t use all your suggestions this year, we’ll use them next year.
Send queries or answers to Sandy Oliver, 1061 Main Road, Islesboro 04848. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. For recipes, tell us where they came from. List ingredients, specify number of servings and do not abbreviate measurements. Include name, address and daytime phone number.
Irish Soda Bread
Yields one loaf
1½ cups quick oatmeal
1½ cups buttermilk or sour milk
1¾ cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup raisins or currants
1 tablespoon caraway seed
Mix the oatmeal and buttermilk together and let sit overnight, or for one hour if you are in a hurry.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Mix the ingredients together in a bowl, and add the oatmeal and buttermilk mixture. Knead quickly into a soft ball of dough. On a floured surface, roll or pat out into a round loaf 1½ inches thick and about 6 inches across. Using a floured knife, cut into quarters all the way through the loaf without separating the sections.
Slide onto a lightly floured baking sheet. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes until it is well browned and has a hollow sound when tapped.