By: Ryan Doyle
Think of a traditional Irish dish, one that would be served on St. Patrick’s Day or in front of an Irish family at home. What you are picturing is likely no more Irish than spaghetti and meatballs is Italian. Most dishes that Americans associate with the Irish are just that, American, or at least Irish-American. Now, explore the real history behind some “Irish” dishes and figure out fact from fiction.
Start with a simple one: soda bread. Soda bread in and of itself is a very Irish tradition, borne of the fact that Ireland was a fairly poor country for a long time. Soda bread is unique among breads in that it is leavened not by yeast, as is typical, but rather by the action of baking soda, usually in conjunction with the acidity of buttermilk. Traditionally, soda bread is comprised of only four ingredients: salt, baking soda, buttermilk and flour. These characteristics of soda bread make it ideal for a poorer family to make, it requires only the bare minimum of ingredients for bread and none of the truly expensive ones, salt here is only added for flavor and could be taken out if the family were impoverished. This makes the bread cheap, filling and adaptable; things can be added to the bread in times of plenty and reduced to a bare minimum as needed. While similar in construction, American soda bread seems to belie the fact that America has a lot more resources readily available to the average consumer. Looking at current American recipes for soda bread, we see additions like butter, eggs, sugar and more exotic things like dates and caraway seeds. This comprises something the Irish call “foreigner’s bread,” demonstrating that Americans may not be as connected to their roots as they might like to think. Indeed, the caraway seeds may be derived from the traditional Jewish-American recipes for rye bread, calling for caraway seeds to lend flavor to the loaf. Continue reading