this is the sweet memory of warm Irish bread
*Though I am not even remotely Irish, the Irish culture holds a special place in my heart. I spent two of my high school summers in Northern Ireland (as distinguished from the Republic of Ireland). I lived in small towns: the first summer, in a farm town called Fivemiletown, which is famous for their cheese and is called Fivemiletown because it is located approximately five miles from the nearest town; and the second summer, in a small town called Dromore, about half an hour outside of Belfast.
*Of all things in Northern Ireland, I remember the people the most—their thick, friendly accents, the way they joked and teased and made you feel at home, the crazy pranks they would pull—I remember that the most and I miss that. But I also remember the lush green landscape and the plushy grass and most of all, U remember the enchanted forests, which were like the forests of storybooks. I'm not sure whether it was the types of plants and trees that were growing or the way the sunlight shone through the branches and brambles, but those forests began to convince me that perhaps elfin creatures and leprechauns did exist. At least I could understand why Irish folklore was so full of magic and woodland life.
*I remember the food too. Irish food isn't known for being particularly refined or delicate, but I remember it being good. The first summer I was there, I was introduced to McVities digestives, jaffa cakes, timtams, and hobnobs, which we ate all day with black tea. We ate butter with everything, and I remember hating butter-tuna sandwiches, which were so strange to me. Portions were huge and filling, and we really did eat a lot of potatoes. The two things I remember most though about Irish cuisine were the Banoffee Pie and the Ulster Fry.
*Up until I went to Northern Ireland, I had never eaten any kind of pie with fruit in it. The only pie i enjoyed was pumpkin pie. Growing up, any kind of cooked fruit or fruit dessert grossed me out, so I wouldn't touch it—and to this very day, I still hesitate to eat either. But the banoffee pie —oh banoffee pie—it was an exception to the rule, and it tasted good. A McVities digestives crust —crushed, with butter—a thick layer of dulce de leche, bananas, whipped cream, and more McVities crumbled on top. perfect.
*Then you have the Ulster Fry: a monster of a breakfast, in which all components of the Fry are fried in bacon fat, rendered by the obscene amount of bacon that is fried first before the rest of the breakfast. Then you have the mushrooms and the ham and the potato bread and the eggs. then the baked beans and the soda bread and the tomatoes. It was worth the heart attack.
*Funny enough, I never did remember eating what we call "Irish soda bread" in America while i was in Northern Ireland. The version of soda bread that we ate in the morning was fried in the pan, so I guess it was more of a farl, or skillet scone. Still, in my mind, I'd like to think that "Irish soda bread" has its roots in Ireland and Northern Ireland, places with which I am connected, and in that way, when I eat soda bread, I can flicker through memories of the past. The best kind of food is memorable food, food tied strongly to emotions and people and moments.
*So this morning, upon waking up, I ran into the kitchen and made this Irish soda bread. mainly, I wanted to be able to eat freshly-baked bread for breakfast, which is a luxury I can enjoy only when I have the time (I'm on spring break) and when I'm at home (ditto). Whole wheat flour, oat bran, buttermilk, and baking soda were mixed together, then rolled into a ball, flattened, slashed, and baked. By 9 am I was happily eating two thick slices of this warm bread—I could barely wait 10 minutes to let it cool. Spread with goat cheese butter and a whole lot of honey, it was perfect and crumbly and warm. My favorite kind of freshly baked bread is the kind without much yeast or gluten (which makes for better toast), so this soda bread was just right. I had a cup of milk tea alongside.
*As i was about to put my plate into the sink and clean up, I had to cut myself another slice—and eat it with almond butter and bananas—which, like this version of soda bread, may not be so genuinely and natively Irish—but is so good and satisfying that it is worth it after all.