St. Patrick’s Day is on Sunday but my brain is already far away in the land of rolling hills and dramatic seaside cliffs. Without even closing my eyes I conjure images of endless stone walls and flocks of woolly sheep in emerald pastures. It has been 7 years since I had my feet on Irish soil; to say they were itching to be back is a laughable understatement. Last year I filled most of March with tales of my extended visits to Ireland and the recipes those stories inspired. I enjoyed the mental vacation. I have been looking forward to revisiting the theme again this week.
During the summer of 2002 my cousin and I were on Achill Island, County Mayo in the west of Ireland. We were in the middle of a fantastic road trip around the perimeter of the country. The previous day we boarded the only bus onto the island then spent the night drinking whiskey in a grand house turned hostel. In the morning we walked down a lane flanked by fuchsias blooming on bushes that soared over our heads. It was an incredible sight. To catch the only bus off the island we had to wait at the intersection of two roads we were assured was the bus stop. There were no markers to confirm the bus would be stopping. There were few if any cars passing.
Each corner of the intersection offered a unique view. Directly across the road was a large fenced-in area of overgrown farmland. Opposite the acreage was a tidy cottage. A clean white fence surrounded a cheerful garden. Near the gate a large rhododendron displayed its blossoms over the top of the pickets. Behind us was the lane of fuchsias and beyond them the bay. Peering down the road in the other direction a group of four cows was making its way toward us.
We stood and waited. And waited. And waited. We began to wonder if we had the correct time or perhaps misunderstood the location of the bus stop. While we waited the cows worked their way toward us. They nibbled a bit of a grass and then crossed the road to lean over the ditch to snack on the bushes. I was getting a little nervous as they approached. I have no experience with cows up close. They are big, slightly imposing creatures, with extremely drippy mouths. I tried to play it cool.
Suddenly the serene quiet was disrupted by a great crashing sound. My cousin and I whipped our heads around just in time to see one of the massive animals clambering out of the ditch! Like a 2-ton ballet dancer the clumsy bovine was a flurry of dainty feet. When the was cow back on the road our shock turned to chest-heaving laughter. Three of the cows, who only moments before looked ominous and menacing, seemed confused while the fourth was clearly embarrassed. At this point they were right up next to us but they didn’t make a move to investigate the giggling tourists. The group simply made their way around the corner toward the the little cottage and its garden. It was probably just me but when the stumbling cow leaned in to grab a mouthful of rhododendron I am pretty sure I heard it snort indignantly.
Shortly after the cows passed, the bus arrived. We found seats and spent the ride engaged in some of the best eavesdropping I have ever been able to do. The bus was filled with women going into the big town to do their shopping. Neatly dressed in sensible no-frills shoes and coats, they used the time on the bus to do their weekly catching up. I listened to one woman go on about her greedy grandchildren. Her son’s children would come to visit and not use the same drinking glass throughout the day — the cheek of some people! She was beyond frustrated by this wasteful and thoughtless behavior. I was entranced. Later the conversation made its way to the neighbors. Apparently another woman in their community did not turn her peat in time for it to dry properly. They were extremely critical of this laziness. (Peat is a combination of moss and decayed vegetation that is commonly used as heating fuel in Ireland.) Seated in different parts of the bus, my cousin and I both spent an hour or more soaking up every bit of gossip while pretending to read our books.
The women on the bus would probably balk at the extra ingredients in these Soda Bread Oat Scones. I think they are a wonderful way to put a little Irish-American twist on your Sainted-Grandmother’s traditional soda bread. A very traditional soda bread is not sweet; it is made simply from flour, soda, salt, and buttermilk. These are almost as simple to make but would be far too fussy for those sensible women on the Achill Island bus.
Soda Bread Oat Scones
Soda Bread Oat Scones are a humble rustic pastry you can quickly make for breakfast on a cozy morning. Almost a biscuit with toasted oats around the edges. They are just sweet enough to feel like a treat especially with the currents and bits of orange zest that find their way into each bite. Don’t forget to wrap one up for a special mid-morning snack.
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup dried currants
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
- Optional finishing touch: brush tops with a tiny bit of buttermilk and sprinkle a pinch of turbinado sugar over each scone before baking.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.
Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and use a fork to blend them together. Make a small well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the maple syrup and half of the buttermilk. Use the fork to begin blending the dry ingredients into the buttermilk. When the puddle has been mixed in, add half of the remaining buttermilk and continue mixing. Add the remaining buttermilk slowly until a soft dough has formed; use your hands if needed. It should be moist but not too sticky to pick up with your hands.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and shape into a disc about 10 inches across and 1 inch thick. Use a 2-inch round biscuit cutter to cut the scones. Begin at the edge and draw the dough toward the center as you cut to get all 12 formed without reshaping the dough. If needed reshape the dough into a disc to finish cutting the scones. To form the scones without a biscuit cutter, shape the dough into three small discs and cut each disc into 4 wedges.
Place scones on the prepared cookie sheet leaving a few inches on all sides to give them room to expand. Optional: Use a pastry brush to the tops of each scone with a thin layer of buttermilk and sprinkle a pinch of sugar over the tops.
Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes until the tops are a deep golden color.
Approximate Per Scone: calories 116, fat 1.2 g., carbohydrates 24 g., fiber 3 g., protein 3.7 g., PP=3