Bakery Bulletin by Philippa Kelly: Enjoy St Patrick’s Day and a slice of soda bread

Soda bread by Heather Kennedy, on Wiki Commons
Soda bread by Heather Kennedy, on Wiki Commons

St Patrick’s Day is on the seventeenth of March. It’s always on the seventeenth of March.

t’s not like the holidays that are so up themselves that they insist on being held on a specific day of the week.

St Patrick’s Day has a more laissez-faire attitude than Mothering Sunday or Ash Wednesday.

That is unless the seventeenth falls during Holy Week (don’t know, don’t care, not a Christian) and then the date’s moved, but this has only ever happened twice.

The next time it will happen is in 143 years, by which time we’ll either have entered a new Ice Age, or succumbed to the zombies.

I’m hoping it’s the latter because I’ve totally got my game plan ready.

Once upon a time, there was an Irish guy called Patrick who beat a drum and rid Ireland of a plague of snakes, right?

Wrong. Shock horror - Patrick was British. I know, they keep that quiet, don’t they.

He was kidnapped by an Irish raiding party and kept as a slave. Forget the image of gladiatorial Rome, or Louisiana plantations, Patrick herded sheep. He found God and God told him to escape, so he did. Believable, isn’t it. Once free, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagans to Christianity. So Patrick’s snakes were pagans, just like Samuel L Jackson’s Snakes on a Plane were... No, sorry, there’s no connection to be made there - one is a legend, the other could have been a legend if he didn’t make films like Snakes on a Plane.

Patrick died on the seventeenth of March and was buried in Downpatrick.

That’s not insensitive when you know it means “Patrick’s stronghold” in Irish.

Rumour has it that Patrick used the three-leafed clover to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans, hence the Irish obsession with the little trifoliate plants.

Other Irish obsessions involve breweries and distilleries, but I need at least a tenuous link to a bakery. I’ll get there, bear with.

As a half-fledged member of the Irish diaspora (relax, it means my dad’s Irish), I narrowly escaped an unpronounceable name like Aibhlinn or Oonagh. As well as daft baby names, there’s an Irish tradition whereby your first-born daughter is named after their mother, and your second-born son is named after their father.

That’s why everybody’s Irish Nan is called Elizabeth. Or Mary. Or Kathleen. But that’s it - if your Nan isn’t called one of them then is she even your Nan?

So I escaped the first name thing, but my surname (Kelly - saves you scrolling) is like being called Smith in England, or Cohen in Israel.

Kelly is actually the second most common surname in Ireland. The most common surname is Murphy. I had a cat called Murphy. Murphy Williams. What a guy.

Another Irish tradition I didn’t escape is soda bread. See? I told you I could do it.

Whether you were born in Ireland, you’re part Irish, or you just had a little bit of Irish in you once, you will, at some point, have been force-fed soda bread.

It’s a quick bread made with baking powder instead of yeast.

It also has buttermilk in it (not vegan), or yoghurt (still not vegan, and they can’t pronounce it), or stout (probably not vegan and definitely not an improvement).

As it’s a quick bread, it’s made quickly (duh), so it’s not kneaded. It’s also not needed. Seriously, I swear even they don’t like it.

Happy St Patrick’s Day to you all, and if you’re one of the 80 million Irish people not actually living in Ireland, and that includes the 36 million in America (funny, I thought they were all Irish), then to you I say faol saol agat, gob fliuch, agus bas in Eirinn! Cheers, basically.

I would wish you the luck of the Irish, but I’m not sure you’d want it.