Monday, March 17, 2014

Éirinn go Brách - Memories of Maude and the Day the River Ran Green

Last week,  the folks at American Food Roots included Maude's story as part of their St. Patrick's Day feature. While I was happy to share those memories with their readers, I belatedly realized that many of you were not following my blog at the time Maude's story was first published. I thought I'd remedy that today. I hope you enjoy it and have a grand celebration while you create memories of your own. Éirinn go Brách!

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...I was born to the green, but it's been years since my family celebrated St. Patrick's Day in an overt way. Those celebrations ended when my paternal grandmother, Maude, passed away. Maude was the grandchild of Irish immigrants, and was born here thirty years after the Great Hunger had ended. She was, however, raised in a community so insular that she spoke with a soft lilting brogue and retained that curious fusion of religion and superstition that some immigrants never put behind them. She attended Mass every day of her adult life and thought that the "Lives of the Saints", with it's graphic depictions of martyrdom, was the perfect picture book for children. She spoke of banshees, told of sin eaters and warned of the Dark Man's terrible wrath, but she wove these fiercesome creatures into lyrical tales of such beauty and redemption they'd make even the Irish poets weep. We learned about the "Hunger," the "Troubles," the "Drink" and the coffin ships that carried famine Irish to their deaths in the depths of an ocean they probably could not name. Only Christmas and Easter were more important than St. Patrick's Day to her. If she was staying with us for the holiday, we were expected to attend Mass before traveling downtown to see the parade and watch the Chicago river run green. There would, of course, be soda bread and colcannon and a bread pudding so soaked in Jamesons, that sobriety tests would probably be failed. Once she was gone, we put aside the trappings of St. Patrick's Day, and made a conscious decision to, instead, celebrate the Irish, and by extension, all immigrants, who braved the coffin ships to make new homes across the sea. Seven million people were driven from that island in the Irish Sea. Another million died of starvation in a passive genocide of which no one speaks. They spread across the continents and wrested something from nothing. It took some time, but they were successful where ever they chose to settle. They survived, "Irish need not apply." They endured, "Irish keep the pigs in the parlor." They triumphed and did indeed hang "lace curtains" at their windows. They even managed to put "a fine Irish lad" in the White House. In our house, St. Patrick's Day serves as a reminder of cruelty in the extreme and the capability of the human spirit to overcome, endure and triumph. Over the course of the year, I've shared many Irish recipes with you. It's fitting that the last comes on St. Patrick's Day. Four Farls is the simplest of all the Irish breads to make. I recommend it to you as an oddity that serves as a reminder of how far immigrant communities have come. I hope a few of you will try it. The Irish peasant kitchen would have used whole meal to make the bread. I recommend using cake flour should you decide to make farls. For the record, they taste a great deal like a biscuit made without shortening. They really are not bad. Here's the recipe.

Four Farls Soda Bread...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite


3-1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/4 cups buttermilk


1) Preheat a heavy based flat griddle, skillet or frying pan over medium to low heat.
2) Whisk flour,salt and baking soda together in a medium pan. Make a well shape in center of flour mixture and pour in buttermilk.
3) Quickly mix ingredients to form a dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead to form a ball. Pat into an 8-inch circle about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into 4 pieces with a floured knife.
4) Sprinkle some flour over base of a hot pan and cook farls for 10 to 15 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Be careful not to overcook. Serve warm. Yield: 4 servings.

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bellini said...

Maude and many like her are a testament to the nature of the human spirit to overcome adversity. She would have been someone to know.

From the Kitchen said...

I'm pleased to make "Maude's" acquaintance this St. Patrick's day morning. The area of Virginia where I grew up was home to many Irish immigrants. I do believe they were better welcomed there than in the large cities--at least I hope so. The Chicago River still runs green and thousands turn out to view that "greening" to this day.


Susan Lindquist said...

What a terrific post, Mary! What a gift your Maude gave you! Knowing the stories of the elders and the trials and tribulations that cause emigration makes this land all the sweeter.

Kath said...

Thank you for repeating your post about Maude; I'm one of the ones who missed it the first time around. Your grandmother Maude sounds very much like my grandmother Mamie, who was the granddaughter of immigrants from County Cork. Thank you for the reminder of the true significance of St. Patrick's Day!

David said...

Mary, We spent many, many years living in Chicago during St. Patrick's Day. My office was on the river...and, as you know, it's a 'big' day in the city! We now live in East area which counts the Irish immigrants among it's early and important settlers. Have a great St. Patrick's Day! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

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