All of the St. Patrick’s day celebrations last week got me thinking about Ireland. I did my study abroad at the School of Irish Studies in Dublin, and it’s hard to believe, in retrospect, how many extraordinary experiences were packed into that semester. The Chieftains visited our class to discuss Irish music and play a few songs. Seamus Heaney visited our class to read and discuss his poetry. We studied James Joyce’s Ulysses and then tracked Leopold Bloom’s progress throughout Dublin. We all took a ferry to Wales, hitchhiked (for the first and last time), bought cable-knit sweaters in the Aran Islands, visited Yeats’ tower, and generally basked in the glow of the Emerald Isle.
All this, plus the rollicking pubs (our favorite was called The Foggy Dew); live Irish music every night; fresh, hot sugar donuts near the O’Connell bridge; tea and pastries at Bewley’s; crispy fish and chips, sprinkled with vinegar, served in newspaper; Harp and Guinness.
At the end of the semester, we left Dublin to spend two weeks on the west coast of Ireland, in a town called Balleyvaughan. The students all stayed together in thatched-roof cottages and we were to make our own dinners every evening. You might expect this arrangement called for Ramen noodles or spaghetti with ketchup, but you’d be wrong. My roommate, born in Belgium, had an incredible talent for cooking and she whipped up first-rate dinners at our little cottage just about every night.
She owned a sweet little Irish cookbook and of all the recipes she tried, griddle bread stands out in my memory. And yet, I’m well aware that this memory is now twenty years old. Those two weeks on the west coast of Ireland were defined by long nights of live Irish music, many rounds of Guinness, and even more rounds of “The Wild Rover (No, Nay, Never)” sung at the top of our lungs all the way back home through the lush green fields. My roommate may have been a top-notch chef, but she was also very clumsy, and I recall several prolonged late-night adventures untangling her from barbed-wire fence or scraping cow flop off her shins, but that’s another story. At that time, this breakfast was a revelation: slathered with fresh Irish butter and jam, it was hearty, quick, and delicious. Twenty years later, I had to find out: would it stand the test of time?
Oh, man. It’s exactly as I remember.
Irish griddle bread is a little less fluffy than a biscuit, not quite as crumbly as a scone, and, unlike biscuits and scones, it requires no technique whatsoever. There’s no chilling, rolling, or shaping the dough with a feathery touch. You just mix together the ingredients and fry it in a cast iron skillet. Nothing could be simpler. Eaten warm from the pan, spread thick with good butter and jam, it’s absolutely delicious.
Irish griddle bread
Adapted from The Irish Country Kitchen
* 2 cups flour
* a pinch of salt
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1½ tablespoons sugar
* 1½ tablespoon melted butter
* ¾ milk
* 1 beaten egg
Lightly grease a heavy cast iron pan.
Sieve flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl; add in the sugar. Add butter, milk and eggs to the dry ingredients and mix well. Heat the greased pan and cook the bread for 7-8 minutes on each side over low to moderate heat. Divide into 6 triangular shapes and serve hot with plenty of butter, jam and honey.