By Mandy Randolph
Here it is, March again. It certainly came in like a lion here on Orcas Island! I began thinking about the Lucky Irish as soon as my calendar turned. My Farm to Classroom students at Orcas Island Elementary got a baking lesson last week complete with some Irish history and basic chemistry.
Bread soda was introduced in the early 1800s and it suddenly meant that people who didn’t have an oven—and virtually nobody had an oven then—could make soda bread. They cooked the bread in what’s called a bastible—a big cast-iron pot with a lid on it that would have been put right onto the coals or onto the turf fire. The great thing about soda is that it was not as perishable as yeast and it would have been relatively inexpensive. The Irish people would have had buttermilk from the cows (old-fashioned buttermilk is a by-product of making butter) and they would have been growing wheat, so they would have had flour (whole wheat of course).
A very basic explanation of the reaction between the soda and the acidic buttermilk was followed by a classic demonstration of the concept using baking soda and vinegar.
Time to make the bread!
Traditionally a cross was cut into the bread before baking. Some people said it was to let the fairies out. Some said it was to keep the devil out. But most likely it was to help the bread bake evenly!
Add some rosemary or other herbs for a dash of flavor.
Bread is best when shared with friends!
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons caraway seeds or rosemary (optional)
1 teaspoon baking-soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (about) buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly flour baking sheet (or cast iron pan). Mix flour, caraway seeds, if using, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Mix in enough buttermilk to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball. Turn out onto lightly flour surfaced and knead just until dough holds together, about 1 minute. Shape dough into 6-inch-diameter by 2-inch-high round. Place in cast iron pan. Cut 1-inch-deep X across top of bread, extending almost to edges. Bake until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 35 minutes. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.