The magic of Irish grannies’ kitchens…

By Shannon Peare

16 April 2018

Shannon Peare, one of Easy Food’s resident food stylists, captures the magic of Irish grannies’ kitchens..

I love nothing more than the smell of my Granny Redmond’s freshly baked brown bread or Granny Peare’s apple tart. I began my baking journey at the age of three in my granny’s kitchen, where getting to lick the wooden spoon was the reward for a job well done, and getting smacked with the wooden spoon was often the punishment for a mess made! From freshly baked scones to warm homemade bread, there really is nothing better than the classic bakes that defined our grannies’ kitchens. I’m here to take a look at some of these traditional bakes that our grannies always seemed to have ready to serve to unexpected guests (or grandchildren!) with a hot cup of tea.

“How’s it scone?”
I believe scones should be a wonder of the world! They are made from a mix of flour, milk, sugar, margarine/butter and raisins/sultanas (if you like the fruit-filled varieties). To make the perfect scone, your butter must be cold, your touch must be light and your oven must be hot! While they bake, put on the kettle, whip the cream and have the butter and jam ready. My Granny Peare always kept scones in the freezer so she could have one at a moment’s notice — they’re perfect when reheated in a moderate oven for just a few minutes. 

Brown bread for tea
My Granny Redmond has been baking her brown bread recipe for years and still bakes it twice a week, two loaves at a time! Her bread is made with flour, wholemeal, bran, wheat germ, bicarbonate of soda, salt, buttermilk, milk, oil and treacle. The wholemeal flour, bran and wheat germ give the bread a nutty texture and flavour, while the treacle adds sweetness. After baking, she keeps one loaf in the bread bin and stores the second in the freezer or fridge, always on hand for when the first loaf runs low! Brown bread is one of the easiest breads to make because it requires no kneading or proving as yeast breads do. We like to enjoy the bread at tea time with ham and some of Uncle Anthony’s home grown tomatoes in the summer.

I heart apple tart!
The smell of homemade apple tarts evokes childhood memories of my Granny Peare’s kitchen. She makes her pastry with flour, margarine, Cookeen (vegetable fat) and cold water. This pastry is not for the faint hearted! She weighs out the dough into four equal pieces, wraps and freezes them. She always has pastry on hand for an emergency tart! She would fill the tart case with peeled and chopped cooking apples and top them with sugar. Any leftover pastry would be used to make a jam tart… the best part, in my opinion! The pastry was flaky and the apples hit the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Even after a big dinner, there was always room for apple tart and ice cream!

Nice buns!
Queen cakes or fairy cakes are a classic for both kids and adults, as it’s a simple recipe that is perfect for budding bakers of any age. It is known as an all-in-one mix: flour, sugar, butter/margarine, eggs and water/milk are beaten together using a wooden spoon and some elbow grease. Decorated with some white water icing and maybe with sprinkles, fairy cakes were always a firm favourite at home and at the school cake sales. When in doubt, just make fairy cakes!

Soda bread
Soda bread in Ireland first appeared in the kitchens of our great great grannies, dating back to the 19th century. It is made with a basic mixture of flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk, but — as with all great bakes — every granny has her own variation of the recipe. Traditionally, the bread was baked over the fire in a cast iron pot. The dough takes minutes to mix, the and secret to the perfect soda loaf is to go easy and don’t handle it too much. The dough is shaped into a round with a cross cut into the top, mystically warding off evil spirits. Granny would have her silver tea pot whistling away on the gas hob as we’d smother the warm bread — fresh from the oven — with good Irish butter and watch it melt: the epitome of home comforts!

Although some of our grannies may no longer be with us, we can keep their memories alive and the wonderful sense of home they created by preserving these precious kitchen traditions. I’d like you all to raise your cups of tea and say cheers to all the wonderful grannies in the world!

Try make this soda bread with whiskey-soaked raisins and this whiskey marmalade.