March 14th 2016 Blog   Becky Emerson Carlberg Spring is here, temporarily.  I spent some time today wandering about taking pictures of peaches, mushrooms sprouting up under the red cedars, redbuds and elm seeds.   The wasps, bees and other insects are out taking advantage of the super warm weather.   The resident Leopard frog actually spent [...]

March 14th 2016 Blog

Peach Blossom being visited by Honeybee

 

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Spring is here, temporarily.  I spent some time today wandering about taking pictures of peaches, mushrooms sprouting up under the red cedars, redbuds and elm seeds.   The wasps, bees and other insects are out taking advantage of the super warm weather.   The resident Leopard frog actually spent the 'winter' in the water-filled whiskey barrel half on the side patio, exposed to the world.   As I walked by, the amphibian was perched on a large piece of wood sticking out of the water, but quickly darted below the aluminum pan positioned to cut the sunlight. Last year it provided protection for tadpoles.

The redbuds and plums have such sweet intense scents and are in peak bloom.   There are varying shades of green everywhere you look.   Back to more typical winter/early spring weather next weekend.   Be prepared.

Speaking of shades of green.   You do know that St. Patrick's Day is soon to arrive.   Thursday, March 17th to be exact.   Time for me to put my Blarney Castle replica on the lazy Susan in the middle of the table and make some tasty soda bread.

Blarney Castle

And speaking of soda bread.   I found a site on-line published by the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread.   They want to encourage modern bakers to get in touch with their Irish roots and only use the traditional ingredients of flour, buttermilk, baking soda and salt.  It is to remind us of how far the Irish have come from the days when soda bread was the only thing on the table to eat during the famine years.   Earliest references to soda bread date to the early 1800's.

Soda bread also became famous for its wonderful health-giving properties.   In 1836, a writer to the Newry Telegraph, a newspaper in Northern Ireland put it this way:     Soda Bread will invigorate the body, promote digestion, strengthen the stomach and improve the state of the bowels.

His recipe: Take 1 ½ pounds good wheaten meal in a large bowl, mix in 2 teaspoons finely-powdered salt,   and add one large teaspoonful of super-carbonate of soda dissolved in half a teacupful of cold water to the meal. Rub up all intimately together and pour in very sour buttermilk to make the whole into soft dough.   Form a cake about one inch thick, put it into a frying pan with a cover and cook over moderate heat for 20 minutes.   Lay some live coals on the lid and cook for a half an hour longer while letting the heat underneath fall off gradually.  When cooled and buttered, it's as wholesome as ever entered a man's stomach.

The Irish were not the first to use a chemical reaction to make bread.   Native Americans had figured out that soda ash could leaven bread well before the Europeans arrived.   The Irish eventually claimed soda bread through necessity, as it required few ingredients and was the least expensive bread to put on the table.   They appreciated the soft wheat from America as well, since the British wheat was hard with higher gluten content.

Soda bread was not only prepared in a heavy skillet but also cooked over a fire inside an open hearth in a bastible pot, very similar to a wide-mouthed Dutch oven with heavy lid.   The bastible was also cast-iron and could be put directly on top of hot coals or hung over the fire.   Some bastibles had legs.   Even the poorest of Irish could cook soda bread despite the lack of a kitchen or stove.

So, if you find an Irish soda bread with sugar, eggs, butter or raisins, it's probably the American version, not the real O'Dempsey (the McCoys tend to be Scots.)

At this point, my Irish meal will have potatoes, carrots and soda bread.   Haven't decided on the main protein yet, but if I locate some Guinness extra Stout, I could assemble a decent Irish beef stew.   Yes, the traditional stew has mutton or lamb, but I part company here with the stronger flavor of something that goes BAAAA and prefer a grass-raised, organic cut of beef that may have gone MOOOO.

Be weather aware for the rest of this week.   We are at  the Ides of March, or the midpoint of the month that falls on the 15th.   Picnics and festivals for the Roman deity Anna Perenna, the goddess honored for the returning New Year of the Roman calendar (which began in March) and first full moon were held at this time. Later, this was the day Gaius Julius Caesar, dictator of Rome, was stabbed to death by a group of 60 Senate conspirators inside the Roman Senate House in 44 B.C.   He should have listened to his wife, Calpurnia.   She had been having bad dreams about him attending the Senate meeting.   This assassination resulted in civil wars and the transition of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.

The Romans never conquered Ireland.

Interested in soda bread history?   Go to:   http://www.sodabread.info