Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Soda Bread and Cod Liver Oil

"God save us and protect us!" was a favorite phrase of my dear Irish grandmother. She had alot of things that have become touch stones for my siblings and I. One was her soda bread.

My first thoughts of soda bread find me at her chrome trimmed, Formica kitchen table on Prospect St. in Watsonville, CA, my hometown. Her Bakelite radio was tuned into KOMY-1240 where she could get local news, farm reports and weather. On-Air talent, Vic Rue, would sometimes read articlles from area newspapers or tell stories that made my grandmother snicker through her nose.

Grandma was old school, even in the 60s. She was born on a farm in Ardboe, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland in '18 and 90' as she would say. Her family lived in a one-room, thatched roofed cottage and worked as sharecroppers or tenant farmers on the larger property owned by non-Catholics. Cars hadn't been invented yet, nor had man learned to fly. Queen Victoria ruled over all of Ireland which would not see independence for another 30 years!

Although she emigrated to America at 16 years of age, she never lost her brogue nor the great pride of her Gaelic heritage.

Most weekends she would call down to our house and ask for a boy to help her with a few things. I loved spending time with her, so, would often volunteer.
After digging a few 'preities' and pulling some weeds, she'd call me in for a break. Her stories of the 'olden days' would captivate me as I sat there having a slice of soda bread with butter and a glass of milk.

I would be at a loss to think of a more genuine soul than this simple farm girl who shuffled about her kitchen in clothing that reflected the styling of 'Aunt Bea' from the Andy Griffith show. She had the clompy, black lace-up, thick healed shoes, leg wraps and support hose that made her legs look like those of a Dough Boy from WWI.

Nobody's grandma was like her.

She would retrieve her dishes from a sideboard and china cabinet. Each glass was there and stacks of differing plates neatly filled the lower shelf. She moved deliberately with each piece of dining ware and set them in front of you. A slight ridge in the center of the floor betrayed a faint sqeal as she walked over it.
This could take minutes; there was no wisking about closing doors with the bump of a hip or giving the knee to a drawer. No, each cabinet door creaked and every drawer screeched as she slowly opened and closed them. A cuckoo clock made the only other noise in the house, keeping a soft, yet, noticeable beat.

She was the real deal, the genuine article, broke-the-mold material.

"Darlin', woudjuz like a some marmelade on your bread?" she'd ask as you took a first bite of her carraway and current studded loaf. She kept her bread on a cake stand with a thin dish towel over it to keep from going stale too soon. I got up to get the marmelade from the fridge and there it was on the door with it's label secured by an 'elastic' as Grandma called it. We call them rubber bands.

It was her brown medicine bottle of 'Cod Liver Oil.' I grabbed the marmelade and quickly closed the door before she got a notion to do some 'healin'.

"Darlin', bring me the Cod Liver Oil and let's have a spoonful!" she enthusiastically called to me.

She would say it with certainty, like it was being dispensed to a farm animal and it was de-worming season.
Before you could say 'Art Linkletter', she deployed this spoon that must have come from the Army. She loaded up a dose, tilted your head and pinched your nose as she administered what was to become decades later, beneficial Omega-3, fatty acids.

It was disgusting.

The spoon rattled every tooth in my head as I instinctively bit down while she quickly drew it out of my mouth. Sometimes, I'd cry, especially if I fought it and blew some back into my sinuses.
Not fun; like somebody made you snort anchovies for some God-awful reason.

Anyhoo, the soda bread became even more tantalizing as a cleanser of the olfactory after the assault leveled by a loved one. When it was warmed, the butter would melt and fill the air pockets in the loaf. Marmelade had that sweet/acidity thing going on that I have come to treasure. I quickly forgave her country doctoring and focused on the reward of her homebaked treat. Her smiling eyes through thick glasses, her gentle and easy laugh, her simply expressed hospitality are as vivid today as 40 years ago.

There we would sit, this old lady from Ireland and her weed-pulling, potato digging grandson, sharing some soda bread with a whack of butter and chasing it with a glass of milk and a 'cuppa tay.'

Her soda bread lives on today; I'd just as soon keep the Cod Liver Oil as a memory.

Granny Quinn's Soda Bread (as dictated by her daughter, Sr. Anne Christine)

3C flour
1/2C Sugar
2t baking powder
1t baking soda
1t salt
1 1/2C raisins

2 eggs
2C buttermilk
2T oil
2T carraway seed

Sift dry ingredients and add raisins.
Combine eggs, buttermilk, oil and carraway. Add to dry and mix on low speed till a pancake batter consistency has been reached.
Pour into loaf pan (paper lined or sprayed/floured) and bake at 350 for approximately 1 hour (or until center of loaf springs back when gently touched).
Cool for 10 minutes and remove gently. If you use paper, like me, it lifts out without any hassle.

Serve warm with a generous knob of salted butter!

(**Note: I use about half the raisins and carraway seeds, but, suit your own taste.)

This loaf is super easy, everyone loves it and it maintains those cultural ties to Ireland on St. Paddy's day.

Take care, God bless and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"



Greg said...

Love it! I have my sainted Aunt Louise's soda bread recipe that was a St. Paddy's Day custom in my parents' household. In my home it has become much more of a staple than that, but we do love it with the Leg o'Lamb, prepared a la Boulangere (with apologies to Aunt Louise).

Tim said...

Thanks for sharing the stories. I've got my own soda bread recipe, but it's totally 1 dimensional without the stories you share here. I'm Irish, but we don't know much about our family heritage, so thanks for sharing! http://thesancarlosgarden.blogspot.com/search?q=soda+bread