One of my favorite all-time memories of Ireland involves food, if you can believe it. And one of my favorite all time food memories is the same one.
I was 17. I was living in Castlederg, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. The woman I refer to as my Irish mother, Mary Brigid Arkinson, is a phenomenal cook. I mean full Sunday dinners every day.
One afternoon I came flying down the stairs, well, because I was 17 and didn't do anything gracefully. It was a typical gray and damp day, no surprise.
My speed is relevant because I remember stopping abruptly as if I had sound effects, ka-toing! There I was in the kitchen with Mary B. She was lathering homemade, from-the-garden rhubarb preserves on just-out-of-the-oven scones. They were like warm, sweet biscuits on a yucky day.
I am salivating just remembering it.
Many scones have tried, but none match the quality of that grandma's kitchen. As they would say in Ireland, it was lovely.
That particular memory is about the scone. Its kissing cousin, soda bread, is also typically Irish.
The first time I made either was right here in Will County. Family friend Margie Plunk, a County Kerry native, invited us over for a lesson. I was with my older sister, Shenon.
It's a good thing I learned something that night, because I mangled mom's car on the Plunk's mailbox heading in. Turned out to be a very expensive lesson.
One thing I learned is that soda bread is round. We baked it in a cast iron skillet.
By the way, Margie makes great soda bread.
Another thing is that the round loaves have a cross marked on the top. If you're needing a little extra religion, you can read something into that, being a Catholic country, and all. But cookbooks reveal the cross is to promote even baking.
What makes soda bread and scones unusual is the leavening agent: baking soda instead of yeast. Don't tell my Irish brethren that I find the soda bread rather dry and bland. I'm a traitor, I know, for thinking the stuff is boring.
It's easy to jazz up scones with sugar, currants, berries or other razzle-dazzle ingredients. But soda bread? Nah.
I've read tons of magazines celebrating the joys and mysteries of the gourmet Irish soda bread. I've tried hundreds of samples. I've made it myself. I've experienced the authentic versions over there. And I'm here to tell ya, those articles are whack. The stuff is dry and boring. No way around it.
Just like you have to appreciate linen trousers for their winkle-tude, so do you have to appreciate soda bread for its boredom.
So once you know what to expect, eating soda bread can be quite a pleasant experience.
There are may ways to eat soda bread. For example, you can slice off a hunk and put it in your mouth. Or, you can lather it with Ireland's Kerry Gold pure butter. My mom toasts it. Jam helps. Great for breakfast with coffee. Even better with hot tea. Sometimes there are raisins in it. I don't like raisins, so that kind still bores me.
Soda bread even can be eaten with dinner to mop up the gravy.
Scones are pretty easy to find. And there are plenty of Chicagoland bakeries that offer soda bread. However, Shorewood residents can buy Irish soda bread this time of year at both Dominick's and Jewel. The cost is a couple bucks for a round loaf.
That's not nearly as expensive as the loaves we made at Margie's when I had to get mom's car repainted.
Another nice thing about getting the soda bread at these stores is that you can always pick up a jar of rhubarb preserves while you're there.
Just make sure you don't hit the mailbox on the way home.