A ‘colleen’ remembers Saint Patrick’s Day

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 03-14-2023 7:18 PM

Barbara Ann Veal of Sunderland has nothing but happy memories of Saint Patrick’s Day. They come from two different times in her life.

One of those times was her childhood. Her Swedish-American father loved to bake Irish soda bread. Despite his ethnic background, Barb told me recently, Charles Kebbon “was in his head a pure New Englander. The New England boiled dinner was his favorite meal.”

She explained that her father traveled a lot for work. He was a valve salesman and away from home for at least one week out of each month. When he was home, he could be found in the kitchen creating simple, hearty fare like biscuits, chili and pancakes.

At this time of year, he invariably made Irish soda bread. Barb said she didn’t recall where the recipe came from. She has the original recipe card, written in her mother’s handwriting. She speculates that it probably came from one of her mother’s friends, since that group often exchanged recipes.

Nevertheless, she associates the recipe with her tall, “very, very handsome” father. It was he who made it for the family, after all. And Barb makes it every year to remember him — and because she loves the flavor.

She also loves the simplicity of the recipe. “It takes me five minutes to make this thing,” she smiled. (Note to readers: the five minutes are for the preparation. The bread still needs to bake!)

Barb’s other happy Saint Patrick’s Day memories come from Puerto Rico, she told me. I was surprised to hear it. One doesn’t associate a traditional Irish holiday with a tropical archipelago. She said she was surprised at first herself.

For years beginning in 2008, she and her husband rented a home for several weeks each winter in Luquillo, a beach community about 30 miles from San Juan that is known as the Riviera of Puerto Rico. They originally visited the area for a wedding and liked it so much they returned again and again.

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It didn’t take Barb long to discover that Saint Patrick’s Day was a major event in Puerto Rico in general and Luquillo in particular. She was conscripted by friends to help peel potatoes for the celebration.

“You would not believe how big Saint Patrick’s Day is in Puerto Rico!” she laughed. “One of the girls asked me if I wanted to be a ‘colleen’ in the parade. They took me under their wing.”

Her friends rummaged through a costume trunk and found her a green dress to wear, along with a tiara (which every colleen apparently needs) and sunglasses. She grabbed a parasol and strolled along the parade route.

“It was hotter than hell,” she recalled. Nevertheless, she clearly relished the experience. She described the bagpipes and the dancers along the way with glee.

The parade route originated in the middle of town and ended up at a tent where a corned-beef dinner was simmering in huge pots. Those gathered dined together and ended the evening with seasonal songs.

When Barb showed off her soda bread to me last week, she felt obliged to wear her tiara, as well as a pair of shamrock socks. She hopes to return to Puerto Rico for the holiday next year.

She and I encourage any of you who make the recipe to dress in green, don appropriate headgear if it happens to be handy, sing a chorus or two of “Danny Boy,” and pretend you are in a tropical paradise. If you have bagpipes to serenade you, so much the better.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day from both of us to all of you!

Swedish Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients:

■3½ cups flour

■4½ teaspoons baking powder

■1 teaspoon salt

■1 egg

■1 tablespoon softened shortening or butter

■1½ cups milk (Barb most recently used 2%)

■1 cup raisins, plumped up by pouring water over them, microwaving them briefly, and then draining them

■½ cup sugar

■1 tablespoon caraway seed

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch layer-cake pan.

In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients in the order given. Shape the dough into a rounded loaf in the prepared pan.

It is traditional to use a bread knife to cut a cross on the top of soda bread, both to let the dough breathe and to ward off evil. Barb often does this, but this year she didn’t bother. Happily, the bread turned out just fine, and no evil consequences ensued.

Bake until the loaf turns golden brown in spots and is firm to the touch, 45 to 60 minutes.

Serve the soda bread warm or cooled by cutting it in triangular wedges. Softened, salted Irish butter such as Kerrygold brand is delicious on this bread. Makes 1 large loaf.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her most recent book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.

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