My mother is Irish. She grew up in sleepy little Limerick, made famous by the story Angela’s Ashes. As children she always regaled my sister and I with stories from home and of our family that we were yet to meet. When I was six she decided to whisk us off to Ireland to meet our family and experience the reality of her tales.
At first it was truly foreign, a little daunting even. But with Irish hospitality it didn’t take long to feel truly at home. Whether it was my aunt bundling me up in a blanket and explaining to me why Puck the goat was on scaffolding three stories high in Killorglin, or my Gran telling my sister and I as we drove past Carrigogunnell to duck, as (according to my Gran) the sight of a beautiful girl would cause the ruins of the fortification to collapse. Even a boy terrifying me with a story of how he’d lost his thumb to the gutter by trying to catch a frog with a knife became a best friend in the space of an hour.
Something I couldn’t warm to was black pudding – no matter how my Gran and Mother assured me it was delicious and good for you. The food that did manage to get my approval was the apple pie my Aunt bought daily from the local bakery, and Irish soda bread. Irish soda bread had this amazing taste and seemed appropriate served any which way. Whether it was cold with butter, warm with stew, warm with butter and jam, even by itself, my sister and I lapped it up. We were bitterly disappointed that upon our return to NZ there was none to be found. Luckily every now and again Mum would make it with stew on miserable grey days.
Irish soda bread is very easy to make. It’s best to make it in the morning and let it sit for the day as the flavours develop more. You can make it with either buttermilk or milk that has soured, Mum used to use the latter; it made for some very flavoursome bread.