Food & Wine

Irish roots season dishes with memory

Use a hot pan and a wooden spoon to bake soda bread in the family style.
Photo Courtesy of Christine Moore

My dad is from Ireland. The home in which he was born is older than the United States. I was a teenager when I first heard this extraordinary fact, and it sunk in with meaningful density. I was awestruck.

Thanks to technology, we are connected to friends and family around the globe in ways never before possible. But there is a web that existed long before the worldwide one – the genealogical link between our ancestors and us.

My brother, who recently visited Ireland, tells me that there is evidence the land my dad was raised on has been in our family for 500 years, perhaps longer. Knowing that members of my family have lived on this one plot of earth for such a great length of time is like imagining the depth of the ocean floor – overwhelming but fundamental.

In my dad’s youth, food was still cooked using the fireplace. They baked soda bread, similar to the recipe shared below, by placing hot coals onto the hearth and then resting the pan of doughy goodness atop.

When I eat traditional Irish foods, I enjoy the immediacy of the flavors but also receive deeper nourishment from the knowledge that they have been prepared by generations before me.

Serving corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick ’s Day may be a foregone conclusion here in the U.S., but it isn’t a traditional Irish meal. Instead, roast chicken or boiling bacon (Irish-style bacon made from the pork shoulder and similar to ham) are common meals for the day.

The following two recipes are traditionally Irish and would be welcome at any St. Patrick’s Day feast.

Soda bread

Soda bread takes varied forms: simple, hearty and sweet. Following is my mom’s recipe for raisin soda bread. Her mother and mother-in-law explained the necessity of buttermilk, whose acid reacts with the alkaline nature of baking soda, creating a fluffy loaf.

As is the case with many vital, cultural recipes, such as homemade pasta, this recipe is deceptively simple. I have yet to bake a truly successful one. I asked my mom to give me another lesson recently and tried to capture as best as possible her ad hoc preparation. She knows from instinct just how much of each ingredient is needed.

Joanne’s Raisin Soda Bread

• 1 tablespoon uncooked rolled oats

• 4 cups all-purpose flour (plus scant more for kneading)

• 3 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes

• 1/4 cup sugar

• 1 teaspoon baking soda

• 1 tablespoon baking powder

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 2 cups raisins

• 1 tablespoon caraway seeds (omit or add more depending on personal taste)

• 2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Butter and flour 12-inch-diameter cast-iron skillet. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon uncooked oats on bottom of pan. Add flour and butter to large bowl, using fingertips to combine until coarse crumbs form. Add sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Combine with hands. Using wooden spoon, fold in raisins and caraway seeds. Slowly add buttermilk and stir until just combined.

Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until fully incorporated. Transfer dough to prepared skillet and pat into place (should be approximately 1 1/2-inch thick). Using small, sharp knife dipped in flour, cut 1-inch-deep cross across dough.

Bake 30-35 minutes, checking doneness with toothpick.

Cool in skillet for 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack.

Tip: My mom said the cake should sound “hollow” when tapped on the bottom with your finger. If it does, you’ve baked it just right.


Creamy colcannon is as delicious as it is comforting. The potato-based dish has many variations but generally includes cabbage or kale along with butter and cream. The addition of leeks or scallions is tasty, and substituting ham for bacon is welcome, too.


• 2-3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and halved.

• 4-5 slices of bacon, finely chopped

• 1 small head Savoy cabbage, finely shredded

• 6 tablespoons butter

• 2/3 cup heavy cream

• Salt and pepper to taste

Add potatoes to large saucepan of water and bring to boil. Cook until fork tender (approximately 15 minutes).

While potatoes are boiling, fry chopped bacon and cabbage in skillet. When cooked, turn off heat and set aside.

Drain and mash potatoes until smooth.

Heat cream and butter in small saucepan, then add to mashed potatoes. Add bacon and cabbage and mix through.

Corned beef and wine

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef may be more Irish-American than a specialty traditionally served in Ireland, but I’m not complaining. I like everything about corned beef. Guinness is clearly a festive front-runner for a pairing, but wine works well, too. My recommendation is rosé.

Rosé goes perfectly with all the fatty deliciousness of the meal – a chilled glass of fruity pink rosé bursting with strawberry flavor will brighten everything on the plate. Try a Malbec Rosé from Argentina. Champagne and California Pinot Noir also pair nicely with corned beef.

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