The song begins the moment first guests arrive, a ditty all four Keefes learned by heart one summer when an Irish singalong CD was our soundtrack while driving backroads from Dublin to Shannon.
(Go ahead, click play and listen while you read.)
At our house on March 17, “there’s a welcome there for you” regardless of where you hail from. We invite the intrepid and seasoned St. Patrick Day’s revelers in for a taste of tradition dating beyond our family trip to the homeland, beyond the Backyard Sisters’ mom making corned beef, back, back to the maternal and paternal grandmothers who couldn’t let a March 17 pass without corned beef and a haunting round of “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That’s an Irish Lullaby) sung a capella in the kitchen.
At the O’Keefe’s Hooley on St. Patrick’s Day, “whoever you are you’re one us,” ’tis true. But there are three hard and fast rules for being a good guest.
And kick off your shoes to kitchen jig.
We take care of the rest by creating a feast based on updated versions of the Irish classics of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes; some sort of green vegetable, an ancient green jello salad recipe, and Irish soda bread.
The corned beef is boiled in the conventional manner, then treated with a catsup, horseradish, mustard, brown sugar, and melted butter glaze which is brushed over the beef, then oven roasted for 30 minutes at 350 to create a savory, almost caramelized coating. Cabbage is oven roasted in olive oil so it browns and remains more crisp than its boiled cousin. Potatoes are mashed, country style with roasted garlic and laced with parsley. Usually by the time I’m finished making all of this, enthusiasm and time left to make soda bread have waned.
And honestly, up until last year, for me Irish Soda Bread wasn’t anything worth troubling over. Some years I whipped up Bisquick biscuits; other times I called Pop ‘N Fresh biscuits Irish, or better yet, I passed out bread duty to guests. As the luck of the Irish would have it, last year my friend Maureen brought the bread that changed my mind about it being a second class citizen at the feast. And wouldn’t you know, this recipe is straight from Ireland by way of her mother.
Eileen Shea’s Irish Soda Bread. Photo Credit: James Keefe
Here’s the story behind the bread, in Maureen’s words.
The Irish soda bread is a very fond memory from my mom, Eileen Shea. Her parents came over from Ireland and met in buffalo NY , settled in an Irish neighborhood there. My mom had been making the bread for many years, always on St. Paddy’s day, along with corned beef and cabbage if course! I began making the bread when I had our daughters and wanted to keep the Irish tradition alive for them…. I make it every St. Paddy’s…I hope the girls will carry on the recipe when they have their own families….
It’s funny because I am out here in the desert with my Buffalo cousins , who have kept up the same tradition and actually brought us a wonderful loaf of soda bread on the plane …we have been eating it as we speak, the same recipe that our moms have shared ….
So cheers to you and cheers to Eileen and Maureen and the Buffalo cousins. “Whoever you are, you’re one of us.”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Eileen Shea’s Irish Soda Bread
Preheat oven to 350
- 4 Cups flour (scant)
- 1 T baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2/3 Cup sugar
- 3/4 Cup butter (chilled)
- 1 Cup raisins
- 2 tsp. caraway seeds
- 1 1/3 Cups buttermilk
Mix dry ingredients in large bowl. Cut in butter. Add raisins, caraway seeds, and milk. Turn out on a floured board. Knead about one minute. (Maureen divides dough in half and makes two small round loaves.)
Bake on cookie sheet for 50-60 minutes until brown and crackled.