Irish Brown Bread

Those who know me know. I. Don’t. Cook. I haven’t joined the national mania for baking bread. I tend to live on open face cheese sandwiches on toasted Indian NAN or flatbread. Or on whatever my husband cooks – something he has learned to do really well during the pandemic. As he says, protectively. To stay alive.

My local supermarket is part of a chain owned by Ahold Delhaize – the huge European company which owns so many supermarket chains. And in my small suburb – my Ahold outpost has a UK section. A bunch of shelves with all kinds of wonderful  (to an American) everyday British and Scottish and Irish foods. Including I discovered – an Irish Brown Bread mix to which you only add water, knead a bit and bake.  Actually it’s a soda bread but close enough.  I grabbed it.

So. It was supposed to snow – again – the next day. A lot. Like maybe 30 inches. We’d already gotten the pre-storm call from the power company.  I know it by heart now. “We have you listed as a well water customer. A (fill in the type)storm is forecast for tomorrow.  You may lose power. Collect extra water in bottles. etc.” OK, fine. I’d better bake my brown bread tonight.I got out my mother’s big old yellow crockery mixing bowl. Poured in the flour mix. Added water as directed. Stirred with a wooden spoon. Sprinkled some ordinary flour (I had to buy it also) on the cutting board. Scraped out the bread dough. Kneaded (strangely I  know what that word means). And kneaded.  But the box said not too much. How much is too much??? I made an uneducated guess, shaped the mess into a ROUND mess in a cake pan and put it in the pre-heated oven. Set the timer for 45 minutes. Washed up. Did my email. Wondered if I should remove the bread 5 minutes early. It looked – well – like a rock. But I left it in anyhow.

I couldn’t find a metal rack which the directions required. So I used the throw-away cookie sheet we reheat the pizza on. Burned-on cheese and all. I found it in the bottom of the oven. And left the bread to cool, wrapping it in a dish towel to soften the crust as the directions suggested.

So OK -I’m not exactly Irish.  Although I did grow up in Boston which was almost Irish (where it wasn’t Italian) in those days. But some years ago my husband and I stayed for a week at a holiday house in Ireland near Limerick. On the craggy coast of Quilty. There was one general store in Quilty, one pub and one gigantic brick Catholic church.  I don’t recall anything else except farms and small houses. But almost every morning we ended our run at that general store – and bought a fresh loaf of brown bread for breakfast. With Irish butter and coffee it was heaven. I have longed for it ever since.

Well – as you may have guessed – the brown SODA bread wasn’t anywhere near as good as plain brown bread. And it WAS a bit – um – crisp? But with my husband’s bean soup and a bit of butter – it was close enough. As it snowed and snowed outside the next day we feasted. We DID get about 30 inches. I shoveled for days. But we didn’t lose power.  And I can now call myself a baker. Well – sort of.

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