If it’s March, then it’s time to start thinking of soda bread, one of Ireland’s most iconic foods.
It’s safe to say that every Irish cook has a recipe for it that’s been personalized by families either by name, ingredients, or method of baking. A few decades ago, I judged an Irish cooking contest and nearly one quarter of all the recipes submitted were for soda bread—Aunt Eileen’s, Grandma O’Hara’s, Auntie Maura’s, Cousin Terry’s—and not one was the same!
Two or three recipes were for the sweet white version that calls for raisins and caraway seeds and even these varied: one recipe suggested soaking the raisins in water or whiskey to plump up the fruit. Another one or two insisted kneading was essential. One added sour cream; another buttermilk.
I enjoyed them all, but this one—a brown bread flavored with Guinness—has become my favorite. It might become yours, too! If you can, use an Irish brand of coarse whole meal flour; if not, mix Irish oatmeal and oat or wheat bran. You’ll fine recipes like this in my cookbook Favorite Flavors of Ireland; signed copies available at www.irishcook.com.
You want to go where everybody knows your name. True. But McGillin’s bartender Tammy Rhodes got to know one patron so well, that she took his name.
Tammy met her future husband, construction worker Dusty Rhodes, in the bar about 17 years ago.
“He was a regular on the floor,” Tammy recalls, “but I got him to come up to the bar. He always sat at a table. One of his friends always used to mess around with me, joking, and one day he said to him, you should get her away from her boyfriend. He’s mean to her. Once he came up to the bar, we started talking.”
They haven’t stopped talking since. Three years ago, they were married at City Hall. “January was actually our third anniversary,” Tammy says. “We got married right around the corner, and after that we came back to McGillin’s. When we walked in, my bosses had given all my customers champagne. They were all cheering us. It was really nice.”
SERVES 14 TO 16
It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to love—love and Champagne, hearts, flowers and, of course, chocolate.
Try this yummy Irish cream-laced chocolate cheesecake (made with Philadelphia cream cheese) for a delicious Valentine’s Day treat.
You’ll find other recipes like this in my Favorite Flavors of Ireland cookbook. To order, visit www.irishcook.com
Onion soup is a surefire hit on anyone’s winter menu. Instead of using only yellow onions, this soup uses three — yellow, red, and shallots—adds Guinness to flavor the broth, and tops it with hearty, thick-cut croutons with melted blue cheese—Cashel Blue preferred! You can make the croutons ahead of time and store in an airtight container.
GUINNESS ONION SOUP WITH BLUE CHEESE CROUTONS
- 2 tablespoons. unsalted butter
- 3 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced
- 2 large red onions, peeled and sliced
- 4 shallots, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 3 cups homemade beef stock or canned low-sodium beef broth
- 1 cup Guinness
- Salt and ground pepper to taste
It’s not too surprising that Michael Higgins is a bartender at one of Philadelphia’s favorite Irish pubs.
“My family owned a pub in Galway for probably seven years,” he says, “and the first time I poured a pint of any kind was the night we opened. That’s how I was thrust into the pub world, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
After the pub sold, he moved to the United States. He’s been at Tir na nÓg for 10 years.
We caught up with him recently and asked him a few questions about his life behind the bar.
CREAMY CARROT-CLOVE SOUP
SERVES 6 TO 8
This is one of my all-time favorite soups, and with the chilly temperatures we’ve been having lately, it’s definitely time for another batch. The recipe has been in my soup repertoire since 1999 when it appeared in my first cookbook, “Irish Heritage Cookbook.” A few whole cloves add magic to it, and you can serve it “as is” or embellish it with Bacon Breadcrumbs (recipe follows), a later addition. For a thicker consistency add a chopped potato.
Mary Frances Fogg (a/k/a Frassee) tends bar at Paddy Whacks Irish Sports Pub, tucked away in a shopping center at Roosevelt Boulevard and Welsh Road in Northeast Philadelphia. She’s pretty much a fixture there at one of the best-known Irish pubs in the city, and she’s one of the most welcoming bartenders you’ll ever want to meet. She has a loyal clientele, and with her welcoming smile and gift for easy conversation, it’s easy to see why.
Frassee is also a member of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade Observance Association executive committee and a 2015 Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame honoree. It would be hard to think of anyone better known in the Philadelphia Irish community. When she’s not expertly pouring pint glasses of Guinness at Paddy Whacks, she also has a day job: director of Government Relations and Special Projects at the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.
We recently asked her a few questions about that bartending gig. Here’s what she had to say.
Often called “plum pudding”—despite the fact that it contains no plums whatsoever—steamed pudding was first recorded as “Christmas Pudding” in 1858 and later popularized in the carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
The name is probably derived from the substitution of raisins for dried plums as an ingredient in pies during medieval times. In the 16thand 17thcenturies, dishes made with raisins retained the term “plum,” and in the Victorian era, Christmas plum puddings became a well-loved dessert.
Curiously, plum pudding was a latecomer to Ireland, but it caught on quickly and replaced its plainer boiled pudding cousins; to this day it’s one of the most traditional of all Christmas dishes. Not to be confused with fruitcake, it’s actually more like a dense spice cake, and this recipe uses butter rather than the traditional suet.
Serve it warm with Brandy Hard Sauce. You’ll find more holiday recipes in my cookbook Christmas Flavors of Ireland; signed copies available on www.irishcook.com