Saint Patrick’s Day

How fortunate we are in Ireland to have a national feast day that is known and celebrated all over the world. St Patricks Day brings not only the Irish but the friends of the Irish, descendants of the Irish and the ‘wanna be’ Irish onto the streets and into the pubs to eat, drink, sing and be very merry on the 17th of March every year.

Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening initiative will light up iconic buildings in over 30 sites all over the world on every continent to focus attention on the Emerald Isle.

For months before St Patricks Day every year I get requests for traditional Irish recipes from travel and food writers filing their copy for the March issue of their magazines and newspapers. Often they are looking for the old favourites but I use every opportunity to tell people not just about our traditional food culture but about the vibrant Irish food scene and to remind them that we don’t actually live on corned beef and cabbage in Ireland.

Sad fact is in Ireland most Irish people don’t really believe we have a food culture – try asking the people around you now to name ten Irish dishes, most will make an enthusiastic start with Irish stew, bacon and cabbage, corned beef and cabbage, maybe colcannon and champ perhaps soda bread but after that the stuttering starts.

I recently gave a prize during a lecture in one of our catering colleges for any student who could spontaneously name ten dishes, one person did but with difficulty – I gave them a present of my Irish Traditional Cooking book!

We’ve got tons to be proud of, there’s no point in arguing that Ireland has one of the great cuisines of the world.  There’s a wealth of information out there, from medieval times to the present day – food of farmers, fishing communities, the islands and monasteries. Food of the small houses, food of the great houses all reflecting our food heritage, through the ages. Over the years I’ve collected and researched traditional food. My first Irish Traditional Food  book was published in 1995 and the revised edition came onto the shelves in 2012.

More recently we have started a website of Irish recipes, a resource for those you want to find and rediscover some of our traditional foods, share with family and friends or particularly showcase Irish food on their menu in the year of The Gathering. The web address is www.irishrecipes.ie check it out and have fun. If you have family recipes that you would like included or food memories we’d love to hear them, send them to darina.bcs@gmail.com.

Here are some recipes from our rich baking tradition for you to share with family, friends and customers not only on St Patrick’s weekend but throughout the year.

Spotted Dog

 

At times of the year when the men were working particularly hard in the fields, the farmer’s wife would go out of her way to reward them with a richer bread than usual for tea. According to her means she might throw in a fistful of currants or raisins, some sugar and an egg, if there was one to spare. The resulting bread, the traditional Irish ‘sweet cake’, had different names in different parts of the country – spotted dog, curnie cake, railway cake and so on. Currant bread was not just for haymaking and threshing, but was also a treat for Sundays and special occasions.

 

Makes 1 loaf

 

450g (1lb) plain white flour

1–2 tablespoons sugar

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda), sieved

75–110g (3–4oz) sultanas, raisins or currants

300ml (10fl oz) sour milk or buttermilk

1 egg, free-range if possible (optional – you may not need all the milk if you use the egg)

 

Preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8.

 

Sieve the dry ingredients, add the fruit and mix well. Make a well in the center and pour most of the milk in at once with the egg. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out on to a floured board and knead it lightly for a few seconds, just enough to tidy it up. Pat the dough into a round, about 4cm (1 1/2 inch) deep and cut a deep cross on it. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 and continue to cook for approximately 30 minutes. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom: if it is cooked, it will sound hollow.

 

Serve spotted dog freshly baked, cut into thick slices and generously slathered with butter. Simply delicious!

 

 

Porter Cake  

 

Porter cake, made with the black stout of Ireland, is now an established Irish cake, rich and moist with ‘plenty of cutting’. Either Guinness, Murphys, Beamish or some of the fine stouts from the growing number of new artisan breweries can be used, depending on where your loyalties lie.

 

450g (1lb) plain white flour

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

225g (8oz) caster or brown sugar

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon mixed spice

225g (8oz) butter

450g (1lb) sultanas

55g (2oz) chopped peel

55g (2oz) crystalized cherries

300ml (10fl oz) porter or stout

2 eggs, free-range if possible

 

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4. Line the bottom and sides of a 20cm (8in) cake tin, 7.5cm (3in) deep, with greaseproof paper.

Sieve the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl. Add the sugar, freshly grated nutmeg and mixed spice. Rub in the butter. Add the fruit, then mix the porter with the beaten eggs. Pour into the other ingredients and mix well. Turn into the lined tin and bake for about 2½ hours. Cool in the tin, then store in an airtight tin.


Traditional Porter Cake

 

This recipe is adapted from the manuscript cookbook of Eliza Helena Odell.

 

350g (12oz) butter

450g (1lb) flour

300ml (10fl oz) porter

1 tablespoon bread soda

450g (1lb) currants

450g (1lb) raisins

450g (1lb) brown sugar

225g (8oz) citron

4 eggs, broken into the cake, not beaten

rind of 1 lemon

half 1 package of mixed spice and some nutmeg
Rub the butter into the flour. Heat the porter and pour over the soda, then pour the
porter mixure over the butter and flour. Add the remaining ingredients, mix by hand for
15 minutes then transfer to a tin and bake as for the Christmas Cake on pages 284–285.

 

 

Seedy Bread

 

Many Americans are convinced that Irish soda bread traditionally contains caraway seeds. I was baffled by this assumption until I discovered that seedy bread was certainly made in Donegal and Leitrim. The tradition of putting caraway seeds in bread must have been taken to the United States by Irish emigrants.

 

50g (1lb) plain white flour

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

55g (2oz) butter (optional)

300–350ml (10–12fl oz) buttermilk

 

First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/gas mark 8.

Sift all the dry ingredients and add the caraway seeds. Rub in the butter, if using. Make a well in the centre and pour in most of the milk at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more buttermilk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out on to a floured board and knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Pat the dough into a round about 2.5cm (1in) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! (Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this.) Bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6 for 30 minutes or until just cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

 

Kerry Treacle Bread

 

This recipe was described to me by Mrs. McGillycuddy from Glencar in Co. Kerry, who still makes it occasionally. A richer treacle bread, closer to gingerbread, was and still is widely made in Ulster.

 

1–2 tablespoons treacle

1 egg (optional), free-range if possible

300ml (10fl oz) approx, sour milk or buttermilk to mix

450g (1lb) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

 

First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8.

 

Heat the treacle until it begins to run. Whisk the egg, if you are using it, add to the treacle and mix well. Then add the buttermilk.

 

Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the liquid all at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more liquid if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it comes together, turn it out on to a floured board. Tidy it up and flip over the edges with a floured hand. Pat the dough into a round about 2.5cm (1 inch) deep and cut a cross on it. The cuts should go over the sides of the bread. Bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread, it will sound hollow if cooked. Cool on a wire rack.