A recent assignment in England gave us plenty of opportunity to enjoy this classic appetizer of smoked salmon, cornichons and brown bread. We often make it at home paired with regular Irish Soda Bread, but Irish Brown Bread, made with a mix of regular and whole wheat flour, sweetened with a little molasses or honey is a great balance to the salmon and tart pickles. To make chive butter, chop some chives into some softened butter and allow to chill and firm up again before serving. Decorate the plate with some microgreens to add a touch of spring and enjoy this as a St. Patrick’s Day or Easter appetizer.
Every St. Patrick’s Day many folks in the US are compelled to make traditional “Irish” food, with corned beef and cabbage often being the featured dish, though this is more of an Irish-American tradition. Irish Soda Bread however actually has historical roots in Ireland dating back to the mid-1800’s. Quick breads at this time were prevalent as the soft wheat flour available was more easily leavened with baking soda (or bread soda), than yeast. Bread soda was also less perishable and more available than yeast, and quick breads themselves could be baked right in a dutch oven, or a “bastable,” over coals. This was a great convenience since many households did not have ovens.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread, according to history and to those dedicated to preserving its integrity, is made with flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. The end. That’s all. No raisins, no currants, no yeast, no sugar, no butter, no egg, no whiskey, no stout, no Lucky Charms, no caraway seeds, no nuts, no nuttin’. The passion that so many people have regarding the authenticity of such a simple recipe is in itself worthy of celebration at least once a year, and on what better day than March 17th.
The fortunate timing of this holiday in early Spring means that our chives have just started springing up in the herb garden, and that means fresh chive butter as a perfect accompaniment to this bread. If you’re going to make chive butter, then you may as well top your bread slices with some folds of smoked salmon, sprinkled with sprigs of fresh dill. Grab your Guinness and you’re all set.
For lots of great Irish Soda Bread information, history and recipes, visit The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread.