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Celebrate St. Patrick's Day with Irish soda bread

The traditional loaf calls for few ingredients, and is easy to make

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Celebrating St. Patrick's Day too often means wearing a lot tacky headgear made in China and consuming vast quantities of beer of any national origin. Even food choices have been reduced to the ridiculous: green bagels and grocery-store cupcakes slathered in green icing.

Some venues trot out a "traditional" loaf of Irish soda bread. But heed the ingredients list: Soda bread is classic "poor people's food," made from cheap, available ingredients, and designed primarily to be filling. Thus, traditional bread should not include such exotic ingredients as lemon flavoring, or chemistry-lab additives like high-fructose corn syrup.

A basic loaf is made from simply: flour, salt, baking soda and soured milk (or buttermilk). It was the advent of commercially available bicarbonate of soda in the 19th century made this yeast-less bread possible. Over the years, soda bread has migrated toward more of a tea cake, with the addition of currants (or raisins), caraway seeds, eggs and more luxurious add-ins such as lemon zest or sugary toppings.

There are myriad recipes out there, but a good starter recipe can be found at www.jamesbeard.org. Authenticity was important to the late cook and food historian James Beard, and his recipe doubles down on old-school by calling for whole-wheat flour. But he also allows for white flour, as well as the inclusion of fruit and nuts. This is an easy-to-make loaf — you only need a bowl, spoon and an oven. And if you must get blotto, this dry, salty, hearty bread is a good base.

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