Forget corned beef and “Danny Boy.” For me it’s brown bread and bodhrans.
The first time I heard a bodhran (pronounced bow, like cow, run), I was a young teenager. My Aunt Mary had brought me to a Chieftans’ concert. I didn’t know what to expect–maybe Danny Boy and Tour a Lour a Loura. With tin whistle and flute and these fabulous drums, the Chieftans filled the hall with a sound I’d never experienced. I’ve been a fan of the Chieftans and bodhrans ever since.
The Chieftans brought a whole new understanding of being Irish. Ancient. Pre-British rule. Pagan. The Chieftans paved the way for other bands. My favorites are two bands who earned their following in the Irish bars of NYC: the raucous, rebellious Black47 and the Prodigals with their intricate rhythms and impressive musical pedigrees. Of course, you can’t live in Massachusetts without giving the Dropkick Murphys their due as well.
When it came time to plan my wedding four years ago, I called up one of the most respected drummers, Mance Grady, master bodhran player and builder. He devised drumming sequences for both the groom and bride’s entry, without any more direction than: “Art’s entry should stand up to the bagpipe; mine should stand alone.” My man strode across the field to the thrumming of the bodhran, exactly as I had pictured. Mance’s drum tattoo for me matched the steady, proud beat of my heart.
“Bread and roses” was the call of the women factory workers — many of them Irish — in the early 1900s. Being Irish, for me, means brown bread and bodhrans. I bake scones and soda bread–but those were the fancier tea breads in the Irish countryside. The staple was, still is, brown bread (recipe below). It’s not the New England style steamed bread, but an unpretentious loaf of quick bread. When you slather it with great butter and lay on a wafer of smoked salmon, it is pure bliss. You can find mixes for it but there’s really no reason to do that. The recipe is as deceptively simple as the beat of the bodhran.
Cead Mile Failte …. from me to you
Recipe: Irish Brown Bread
- 2 cups whole wheat flour, King Arthur is the best!
- 1 cup all-purpose unbleached King Arthur flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup butter melted
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk (OR milk soured with 2 tsp vinegar)
- Grease a pie plate.
- Combine dry ingredients.
- Make a well in the center and pour in melted butter and buttermilk.
- Mix gently into a soft, but not wet, dough.
- Turn out on a floured surface and knead 8-10 times.
- Pat into a 2″ deep circle, about 8″ across.
- Place in pan and cut a cross about 1/4″ deep.
- Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped lightly on top.
Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 45-50 minutes
Mance Grady at the Fitzgerald-Campbell wedding/photo by Shannon Power
Brown Bread/photo by Art Campbell