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St. Patrick’s Day arrives just before the dawn of spring. It’s a time for parades, the wearing of the green, and perhaps quaffing a dark brew or two. It’s a time for all people of Irish descent, or even those without a drop of Irish blood, to celebrate.
It is also a holy day. March 17 marks the death of St. Patrick, the man credited with spreading Christianity throughout Ireland during the early- to mid- 6th century.
Historical records show a variety of places where he may have been born, from the West Coast of Britain or Wales, to northern France. One thing is known, though, he was kidnapped as a young man and brought to Ireland as a slave. And although he came from a Christian family, he didn’t develop a deep Christian faith until his capture.
Eventually he received a proper education, returned to Ireland and helped establish Christian churches. He became a saint upon his death. That year, too, is in question. Historical sources range from 462 to 493.
Whenever he died, St. Patrick became a symbol for Ireland. When people celebrate all things Irish on March 17, they have his death date to thank.
For me, St. Patrick’s Day is a pre-spring celebration. The daylight hours have become longer, partially thanks to Daylight Saving Time starting earlier, the snow banks are melting, the trees are tapped, and summer birds are beginning to appear on my bird feeder.
My garden is being plotted out, and dreams of wonderfully fresh vegetables swirl around in my head.
But although spring is almost here, I know winter still has some fury to throw at us.
When I make the traditional corned beef and cabbage this year, one of the following Irish-inspired breads will accompany it.
The first recipe is a whole wheat-twist on the traditional Irish soda bread. The buttermilk oat “cakes” take a little advance planning as the oatmeal must be soaked the night before baking it.
Brown Irish Soda bread (1 large loaf)
2 and one-half cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 and one-half teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
one-quarter cup butter or butter substitute at room temperature
1 and one-quarter cups buttermilk or sour milk, at room temperature
In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Work in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. With your fist, make a well in the center.
In a separate, smaller bowl, lightly beat the egg and milk. Gradually pour the egg and milk mixture into the well.
Mix with a wooden spoon, then by hand, until a stiff dough is formed. Place dough on a lightly floured surface, then blend with your fingers until all ingredients are thoroughly blended. Shape into a round ball. Pat down the top slightly. Cut a cross into the top of the loaf.
Place on a lightly greased baking sheet that has been sprinkled with yellow cornmeal. Bake at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until browned and the cross is wide open. Cool slightly. This is best served while still warm.
Oats are a popular grain throughout the British Isles and Ireland. The following bread is full-bodied and provides lots of opportunity to satisfy the chewing desire. The recipe comes from County Cork, which is where my Grandfather Callahan’s relatives emigrated from. The flattened loaf is cut into wedge-shaped quarters, called farls. Begin this recipe the night before you plan to serve it.
Buttermilk Oat “Cakes” (1 large loaf)
2 cups uncooked old-fashioned oats
1 and one-quarter cups buttermilk or sour milk
2 and one-half cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
In a large bowl, combine the oatmeal and milk. Cover tightly and let stand overnight. The next day, in a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Work this mixture into the oatmeal mixture with a wooden spoon or your fingers. If the mixture seems a little dry, add a little more milk.
When the dough is smooth after working it, pat into a round loaf about one-inch thick. Cut the circle into four equal parts, or farls. Place the sections side-by-side on a baking sheet that has been generously greased and sprinkled with cornmeal. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the quarters are medium to dark brown. To test for doneness, tap one farl.
If it sounds hollow, it’s done. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. To serve, break farls open and slather with butter or butter substitute.
Either of these recipes are delightful accompaniments to a hot, homemade soup.
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