Irish brown bread or soda bread is so simple; yet so good. It’s the only kind of bread I can make because it doesn’t involve yeast, rising or kneading. Brown bread is the ubiquitous soda bread made with wholemeal flour that is on every table in every cafe, bakery, restaurant and home in Ireland. The first time I tried to make it, I think it weighed ten lbs. Then I tried to make it in New Zealand for our housemates and this horrible Canadian woman with a fake Kiwi accent told me it tasted like “fesh”. I don’t see how it could have tasted like fish but I admit it wasn’t great.
Everyone here has their own recipe for it even though it is relatively simple so I have tried many versions over the years. No eggs, buttermilk, wheat germ, honey, one egg, sugar, different ratios of flour, etc. It’s a common site to see women running into Spar for a pint of buttermilk in the afternoon so they can whip up a few loaves for the morning. I have spent at least three nights out with other women from around the village comparing brown bread recipes and their relative success or failures. This summer we started renting out a little cottage next to our house on AirBnB and I decided to leave scones for the guests but they are impractical to bake in small batches and don’t last for more than a day so I gave up that idea. I bought brown bread a couple of times and then inevitable ended up in a pinch with guests arriving and had to try my hand at baking a non-fishy loaf. Amazingly it has been a big hit – I was suspicious of the compliments at first. One guest asked me where I bought the bread because it was the best they tasted on their trip but their offended look when I burst out laughing convinced me they really liked it. So its official, I am probably going to win Calor Housewife of the Year in 2014 (this was a real contest on television here…google it if you don’t believe me. My husband casually dropped this brilliant title in reference to a woman who runs a B&B outside the village like you know Sheila Murphy, The Housewife of the Year and after many questions I finally confirmed this was not a joke!
I wonder is there an equally important recipe to brown bread in Maine?