Irish Soda Bread And A Food Legend

I’ve made a lot of bread in the last month. I am, again, working on my sourdough bread baking skills. Every few years I seem to give it another try. Right now, I’ve got a great starter going, and the crumb isn’t bad. But I’m still challenged by many of the frustrations that William Alexander describes in 52 Loaves  – not yet able to produce those wonderful, irregular holes that make good bread something great.

I’m working with three different flours, weighing the ingredients (most of the time), and struggling to master Baker’s Math.

So it was with great relief that I turned to this week’s Tuesday’s with Dorie challenge; Irish Soda bread. In spite of my ethnic heritage (my Dad’s parents were both born in Ireland), it wasn’t something I ever ate growing up.  Bread doesn’t get simpler that this – four ingredients, stir, bake and eat.

And linger – preferably with butter and marmalade. We ate the first loaf so quickly that I made a second for the photographs. I won’t wait till next St. Patrick’s day to make another.

I did change the recipe at bit. (You’ll find the original recipe on the blogs of our hosts for this week’s challenge, Cathleen of My Culinary Mission, and Carla of Chocolate Moosey.)  I replaced half the all-purpose flour with organic whole wheat flour, and I added some rum soaked raisins and preserved lemons.  My Irish Soda bread is really a tea cake – rather than the Farl bread my paternal grandmother most likely grew up with.

This recipe was contributed to Baking with Julia by Marion Cunningham – one of the legends of the last generation of American food chroniclers.  A protégé of James Beard, she came to food writing late in life, first published as the voice behind the 1980 revision of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.  The joy Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Child found in each other’s company comes through on camera for the series. This segment is clearly about more than Irish Soda bread.

Bits and pieces of Marion Cunningham’s life story are found in the biographies of her peers, and more completely in Kim Severson’s memoir Spoon Fed.  The more you read about Cunningham, the more it becomes clear what an influential figure she was to a whole generation.  And it seems so fitting that all the bakers involved in the Tuesday’s with Dorie group were making this recipe right around the time she celebrated her 90th birthday.  Marion Cunningham may not be active in the food world anymore, but her legacy remains strong.

I’m glad her Irish Soda bread is now a part of my repertoire.

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14 responses to this post.

  1. Your Bread looks Lovely … !!! Great job !!!! I never thought baking a bread can get that easy !!!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Piebird on March 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    lovely bread and post. thanks for sharing about Marion!

    Reply

  3. This is a gorgeous bit of baking–the bread looks so good. So far, this recipe is my favorite from “Baking with Julia.”

    Reply

  4. Wow. That’s really interesting information about Marion Cunningham! Thanks for sharing that.

    Reply

  5. It’s a keeper for me, too.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Piebird on March 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    BTW if you want to stretch your sourdough and bakers math legs with a group, check out the Mellow Bakers bread challenges starting this month and next (your choice)!

    Reply

  7. Posted by cookingjulia on March 21, 2012 at 3:32 am

    I made some similar alterations to mine. Your loaf looks great though. I think I’ll have to use some whole wheat flour n ext time.

    Reply

  8. it was really such a simple recipe..and yours came out beautifully!! And thank you so much for telling us so much about Marion.. I would have never known.. and it made your post such an interesting one!! 🙂 and thank you for dropping by my blog!

    Reply

  9. Posted by heathersbytes on March 21, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Your loaf is lovely! And I really enjoyed the info on Ms Cunningham.

    I’m also attempting to play with sourdough. I’ve had a starter going for the last week and hope to try my first loaf this weekend. Fingers crossed for both of us!

    Reply

  10. Posted by Teresa on March 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Great post! Thanks for the link to the soda bread information and for the information about Marion Cunningham, too. Nice to know we were celebrating her a little around her 90th. Love the look of your loaf.

    Reply

  11. Your additions look like they worked about beautifully.

    Good luck on your quest for “holey” loaves.

    Reply

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