Dancing Tomatoes

Begorrah.  Slainte.  Shite.  That’s about the sum of my Irish vocabulary, which I learned after spending a short week in the Ancient East coastal area of rolling green hills, gently capped waters, Celtic crosses, and gorgeous brown bread. It’s what you’d expect of Ireland and  it doesn’t disappoint.  But there’s so much more.

Take Ollie O’Neill.  Shy, with pale skin and blue eyes (he didn’t want his picture taken – too shy), a baker’s cap set carefully on his reddish-tinged hair, he moves with quiet precision in a warehouse-like bakery at the side of the road in the freckle-sized town of Annagasan.  He mixes brown bread dough, a blend of crushed whole wheat, white flour, bran, soda, salt and buttermilk, then plops fistfuls into blackened pans which will be slid into an enormous oven.  He talks while he works, his gestures automatic yet careful.  He probably inherited them along with his Irish DNA because his great grandfather started the bakery. Today, he works it with his brother, John, and his father Michael (Red Mick…everyone in Ireland has a nickname).

When I returned to France (with some wonderful flour and bran in my suitcase), I made brown bread forever.  And I still make it forever.  Especially for St. Patrick’s day when my family tradition – and that of all the Irish people I know – is to eat a few Irish specialties, wear something green, go to Mass if there is one nearby, and then settle into a great meal.  Mine is usually breakfast – Irish brown (soda) bread, butter, and lots of honey or homemade jam. 

So Happy St. Pat’s Day to you all, and please make this brown bread. You will love it; it’s the best in Ireland and beyond.


If you don't have buttermilk on hand you can make an excellent facsimile by adding 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice to each 1 cup (250ml) whole milk. Let it sit for 15 minutes and voila!
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Irish
Keyword: bran, butter, soda, whole wheat flour


  • 2-1/4 cups; 12 ounces;360g white unbleached flour
  • ¾ cup; 4 ounces; 120g wholemeal or whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup; 1 ounce;30g bran
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon white or brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons;30g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups;375ml buttermilk


  • Line a regular loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3-inches; 22.5 x 12.5 x 7.5cm) with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C).
  • Place all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix them together, using your fingers. Again, using your fingers work the butter into the dry ingredients until you really can’t notice it’s there. To do this, just rub the butter and the dry ingredients between your fingertips – it’s easy.
  • Add the butter milk and stir, either using a wooden spoon or your hands, to obtain a “porridge-like” dough. It will be quite wet, almost a batter.
  • Pour or spoon (or flap with your hand, the way Ollie does) the dough into the prepared baking pan. Spread it out gently so it is even, then slice down through the center of it, using a plastic scraper or a knife, so the bread will rise evenly.
  • Place on the center rack of the pre-heated oven and bake until the bread is golden and raised, which will take 40 to 45 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven, turn out of the pan onto a wire cooling rack, and let cool before eating.

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