My great-grandmother, Margaret Mulligan née Cummins, emigrated from Ireland when (as family lore has it) she was 14. She left her parents, never to see them again, crossed the Atlantic, went through Ellis Island and resided with some not-so-nice family members in New York. She got married to an Irishman in New York who –yes– owned a bar, drank like a fish, and ran around on her. They had five children before he up and left all of them, leaving my great-grandmother the burden of it all.
Really, it was enough to make anyone bitter, but that just wasn’t in Grammie. By the time I came around, she was 86 and the nicest person on the planet. Perhaps she worried from time to time, but she was always kind, sweet and gentle.
Aside from the fuzzy memories I have to remember her by (she died when I was nine) I have her recipe for Irish soda bread. I am not exaggerating when I say it is the most fantastic Irish soda bread in existence. It does not go stale because it is gobbled up too quickly.
But for whatever reason, I’m not really ready to share the recipe — or as i think of it, family secret. I have given it to one or two people in the past, which I regret. I’m not entirely sure why I’m so attached to it, or why I want to guard so much, but I do and until that changes, I’m going to honor that.
Having said all this, the NYT this week published a recipe for Irish soda bread and, though not exact, it’s close to my great-grandmother’s recipe (her’s is simpler). Both recipes yield something much closer to a cake or quick bread than traditional bread. Plus, as the article points out, “any soda bread [the author has] tasted has been from within the five boroughs of New York,” so it’s entirely possible that Grammie got the recipe from a newspaper clipping or magazine article. Maybe it didn’t sail over the Atlantic with her but still, I am fiercely protective of it.
So if you’re looking for a recipe, give the NYT’s a try, but know that it’s not what my grandmother would have baked. For that, you’ll have to visit me in person so I can hand you a slice of the good stuff.
Bring some quality Irish tea.
NYT’s recipe for Irish Soda bread
Butter for greasing pan plus 1/4 cup unsalted butter melted
3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, well beaten
1 1/2 cups raisins or currants
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)
Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Grease a 10-inch oven-proof skillet and line with parchment or waxed paper.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Do not overmix. Stir in the raisins or currants and caraway seeds.
Pour batter into skillet. Brush top with remaining butter. Bake until golden and firm to touch, about 1 hour.
Yield: 1 10-inch loaf.