My daughter called recently to ask for her grandmother's recipe for Irish soda bread. She wants to send a loaf to her daughter's teacher on March 17, just as I had done more than 30 years ago, when my daughter was in kindergarten.
Her request stirred up memories of my mother-in-law baking Irish soda bread, wrapping the loaves in foil, tying them with green ribbon and sending them to work with her husband or to school with the kids. Once I had children, I did the same and sent loaves to each of their teachers at the Glenwood Landing Elementary School.
As I thought about our St. Patrick's Day tradition, one memory stood out loud and clear -- the day my own daughter was 6 years old and took two loaves of soda bread to school, one for her principal and one for her teacher.
As a thank-you, she received a school logo pencil from the principal. A few days later she got a lovely note from her teacher. Although receiving a pencil from the principal rocked my daughter's world, it was the teacher's note that provided me with some fun.
The teacher wrote, "Thank you so much for the delicious Irish soda bread! Having been born a McTighe, I really appreciated tasting this Irish delicacy once again."
I stared at the note -- my mother-in-law's maiden name was McTighe -- and wondered if there was a connection.
I called up my mother-in-law, who, like me, loved a good story. She thought a bit and figured out the connection. The teacher's father was a brother of my mother-in-law's uncle. This was a little too convoluted for me to think twice about, until my mother-in-law went through old pictures and found one of this teacher in a family photo with my husband, who was then 6 years old. So as a teenager, this woman, who was my 6-year-old daughter's teacher, actually interacted with my husband when he was 6!
Now this was a fascinating bit of coincidence and I couldn't wait to burst through the school doors the next day and blurt out the connection to the teacher. I pictured her hugging me exuberantly, riddling me with questions, and wanting to keep the good times rolling over tea.
My mother-in-law quickly brought me out of my reverie by suggesting that perhaps I should not rush in just yet. She said that there was a little more to the story (isn't there always?), something about hard feelings between brothers, a will that caused a rift, etc. Perhaps the teacher wouldn't appreciate rediscovering clan members.
"But aren't you at all curious about what she would say if she knew she was teaching a distant relative?" I asked. What if she liked the Irish soda bread mainly because a McTighe made it and she recognized the recipe? My imagination knew no bounds.
Long story short, my mother-in-law's wisdom prevailed and I never did tell the teacher, not that year or all the years after when she taught my other children.
And now, here I am giving the family recipe to my daughter for her daughter. Who knows? Maybe there's another little bit of coincidence in some future loaf of soda bread. If so, this time I'm not keeping any secrets!
Jane McGilloway lives in Sea Cliff.GRANDMA KAY'S IRISH SODA BREAD
4 cups white flour, plus more for kneading
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold
1 cup raisins
¼ cup caraway seeds
1 egg, lightly beaten
1½ cups buttermilk
1.Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, salt and baking soda.
2.Cut butter into thin slices, toss slices with flour mixture. With fingers, work butter into flour until mixture is crumbly. Add raisins and caraway seeds and stir to distribute them evenly.
3.Make a well in the mixture and pour the beaten egg into it, followed by the buttermilk in half-cup increments. Mix with a wooden spoon just until dough comes together. Turn dough out onto a well-floured board, knead briefly (adding a little more flour if dough is too sticky) and form into a large ball.
4.Place dough onto a lightly baking sheet and with a serrated knife, cut an "X" into the top. Bake until the top of the bread is hard and lightly golden, about 40 minutes. Let bread cool for nearly an hour before serving. To serve, cut loaf in half, turn cut surface onto the cutting board, then slice. Provides about eight slices.