My mum would arrive home from my Nanny’s with a loaf of soda bread wrapped in a candy striped flannel pillow case. The type everyone’s grandparents seemed to have an endless supply of. I remember them on my own bed as a child and they remain linked in my mind to the smell of freshly baked bread. If you were lucky, and many times we were, the bread was still warm, which in turned heated the pillow case. I can’t count the amount of times we gathered around the kitchen table to unwrap the treasure which lay inside.
Nanny’s soda bread wasn’t like any you would find in the shops. It was a large, misshapen, shallow slab of flour dusted bread. The crust, the colour of dried mud was firm, almost hard to the touch, with a series of criss-cross patterns slashed across it. When the bread knife sawed across it, it bowed under its jagged edge revealing the warm, almost golden colour beneath.Every fresh loaf was beautifully moist yet slightly crumbly and when cut the perfect canvas for lashings of butter. It had to be ‘real’ butter as my Nanny would call it. Butter wrapped in gold foil which she always kept in the drawer rather than the fridge; that way it glided easily across the bread without tearing it. I can still recall it clear as day how we eagerly devoured it with butter and jam, munching silently with grinning faces.
While the soda bread always tasted best fresh out of the pillow case, the remainder never went to waste. It toasted like a dream under the grill and absorbed butter like a dry sponge till it seeped golden liquid at the edges when you pressed on it. Toasted it felt larger in your mouth, almost a meal in each slice with a satisfying chew compliments of the thick crust.
As she got older her sight deteriorated but it made no difference to bread making. I remember her making it on the flour dusted kitchen table. There was no recipe in front of her. It was all done by touch, a pinch of this and a scattering of that, a splash of buttermilk. She knew when the dough was ready and she shaped it by hand. How she did it I’ll never know, but she instinctively knew when the bread was done, opening the oven door at just the right time, every time.
Only one person in the family knew the recipe and that was my Nanny. It’s only now, years after she passed, that I wished I had paid more attention to how she made it. The recollection of that soda bread will forever transport me back to a time and place filled with fond memories.