In my house, Irish Soda Bread is a tradition on St. Patrick’s Day and fond memories of Nana Bradley come to mind. Not a blood relative, Anne Bradley was a family friend who was Irish to the core. When I was a child, I remember visiting her in a studio apartment in Oakland.
Nana Bradley’s tiny living space was teeming with potted plants in every size and shape. Some stood tall and straight with pointy tips, others trailed from hanging pots, and crawly vines crept up the walls and around the ceiling. There was also a birdcage, housing two yellow canaries whose songs filled the room with cheerful twitter.
When Nana Bradley had guests, she always served homemade Irish Soda Bread. Walking into her apartment, the aroma was enticing. She served the bread on bone china plates trimmed with small green shamrocks. A tiny shiny silver teaspoon and small curved butter knife for spreading rich clotted cream, tangy lemon curd, and assorted preserves completed each place setting along with a folded white Irish linen napkin.
With our bread, Nana Bradley poured each of us a cup of tea, from a teapot with the same shamrock décor in matching cups and saucers. I watched intently as she held her finger on the lid to keep it secure. The tea came out black and piping hot. I always added two sugar cubes and cream from a small crystal pitcher to my tea, making it more kid friendly.
Nana Bradley expertly sliced the round crusty loaf with the big “X” carved into the top, in straight even pieces right at the table. When everyone had been served, I carefully dipped my knife in the cream spreading it evenly across the bread, topping it with a thick layer of strawberry preserves. The first bite was heavenly and I savored not only the delightful taste but in the joy of knowing that when I finished, I would be offered another piece.
At the end of our visit, as we said goodbyes, Nana Bradley grabbed a good-sized package, wrapped in brown paper, bound in white string from a small table next to her rocking chair. She handed me the parcel and said, “Here, Bernadine, this is for you to take home.” I did not even have to guess what was inside. I knew by the round shape and the weight of the bundle, it was a loaf of Nana Bradley’s Irish Soda Bread just for me.
Unfortunately, Anne Bradley’s recipe for Irish Soda Bread is gone forever, but every St. Patrick’s Day, I have continued her tasty tradition. However, since beginning my vegan journey, I adapted a recipe from “The Happy Herbivore.” My Irish Soda bread is whole wheat, sweet, nutritious, yummy and vegan. Nonetheless, it retains that same special ingredient Nana Bradley put in her bread — a sprinkling of Irish love, kindness and friendship. Enjoy!
Whole wheat vegan Irish soda bread
2 cups soy milk
2 teaspoons white vinegar
4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon light salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons coconut sugar
1 cup raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine milk and vinegar in a medium size bowl and set aside. In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Stir until dry ingredients are mixed well. Add raisins. Pour in milk and stir until consistency of sticky dough. Knead dough three or four times on floured surface. Shape into round loaf and place on non-stick cookie sheet.
With a knife, cut an “X” on the top of the loaf before baking. Bake approximately 30-45 minutes. Check for doneness with thin metal tine. Check frequently to prevent burning.
— Recipe adapted by “Happy Herbivore Blog.”
Bernadine Chapman-Cruz is a contributing writer for Big Monkey Group Publications. Raised in Stockton, she lives in Lodi with her husband, a cat named "L" and dog, "Forest." She enjoys writing, cooking and dining out.