Hooray for the Irish. Éirinn go Brách. Those are just a couple of the things my grandma used to say. She had a succinct phrase or an expression she’d use to fit just about any situation. Her maiden name was Hennessey, and she liked to remind everyone of that by ordering an after dinner cognac of the brand she shared a surname with anytime our family was out at a restaurant. “My name is Hennessey, with an -EY,” she’d remind us all, while we all tried to remind her that she didn’t actually like the drink. She’d go for it anyway, and the liquor would arrive, neat. She’d take the teeniest, tiniest sip before crinkling up her face and saying “Oh, I don’t like that,” which was accompanied by a sharp, swift elbow poke to the ribs of whoever was sitting next to her along with the command “Here, you drink it.”
This happened on many, many occasions. We would all experience the same involuntary crinkling up of our faces while passing the glass around the table in an almost cult-like manner for each member to take a sip, and I remember it making me feel like I could breathe fire. I never did acquire a taste for it, and I shudder to think of it even now, splech. Nevertheless, I dutifully did my part, as did we all, because with Depression era grandparents waste was not an option, but also because when my grandma—a former one-room-schoolhouse teacher— told you to do something, you did it.
Of the many memories shared at family gatherings when I was growing up, there was one in particular that bestowed my grandma with legendary status in my young mind: The time my uncle let her drive his brand-new Corvette—a convertible, nonetheless. “Boy, she took off like a rocket in that thing!” the story went. “Well, we got pulled over ‘cause she was speeding, and the cop wrote her a ticket but she just looked at him, handed it back to him, and said ‘Here, you can have this, I don’t want it.’ before driving away while the cop just stood there looking stunned!” Different times, but I can totally picture her doing that, and as my uncle would tell the tale with a slight smile of incredulity, it seemed to me that even all these years later, he still couldn’t believe she got away with it. But that was the kind of woman she was, an incomprehensible force to be reckoned with.
I often wonder about aging, and how despite probably having the most to say, that older people are commonly the ones sitting in silence and looking on from the sidelines, sometimes glossed over, or overlooked. It reminds me of the phrase associated with this month, that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. That always seemed a bit sad to me, meant as a reassurance that the breaking of a bold spirit into something more agreeable and controllable is inevitable, and ideal.
When my grandma was quiet, though, it wasn’t for lack of something to say. She had the quickest wit and the sharpest tongue. In my experience, she primarily used these tools to make people laugh, though I know there are others who would beg to differ. I can’t imagine ‘the time she gave the cop back his ticket’ was all that funny in the moment. I had my own experience with her one morning when I was picking her up from having her hair done, as she did and had done every Thursday for as far back as I can remember. I had pulled the car up right in front of where the salon was located in the plaza and left it running as I went inside to help ferry her back out. Arm in arm and with her weight leaning on me, we moved at her pace towards the car. As we stepped outside she paused, spying someone who happened to be watching us, and hollered at him “HEY! Wink when you get an eyeful!” before looking back at me, snickering, and hobbling hurriedly towards the car. “Grandma!” I said, in a half-heartedly scolding way “Stop picking fights with people!” It was barely ten in the morning, but my ninety-six year old grandma had to let people know that this was her world and we were all just livin’ in it.
I am so lucky to have grown up across the street from my grandparents for so many reasons. I enjoyed walking over and just sitting with them in silence at times. At other times I sat rapt listening to my grandpa’s stories of his time in the Pacific during World War II, or of the stories from my grandma’s teaching days, like the time one of her students climbed atop a grotto housing a statue of Mary to yell at his fellow classmates that they were all “sons of bitches!” Thanks to that story us kids could use that particular phrase to curse with impunity, because, what? It’s from that story Grandma told us that we were just repeating! We weren’t actually calling anyone that. What a thrill!
These little expressions of hers became memes in my family, and when we get together now, or speak on the phone, or just in texts, we still share them with each other, and they evoke little smiles and laughter. I think my grandma would be happy to know that. So, hooray for the Irish. Take one down and pass it around. Share your stories but don’t forget that even the quietest person in a room has something to say if you’re willing to really listen.
I was first inspired to make my own soda bread rather than buy it several years ago, and this recipe is inspired by and adapted from this recipe, which is fantastic. The pumpernickel flour I use is a very coarse grind of rye flour. I procure that and the rye flakes from the bulk section of my favorite health-food store. While you can substitute oats for rye flakes, raisins for currants, and another kind of flour for the pumpernickel, the buttermilk isn't something you can just swap out with regular milk, as doing so will alter the flavor of the finished product. If you don’t have any on hand, you can add one tablespoon of vinegar (cider or white) or lemon juice to one cup of milk.
I go bonkers for sweet and savory combinations, which is what I love about using the currants and caraway in this crunchy, wholesome-tasting version of Irish Soda Bread, BUT if you want an exceedingly over-the-top variation—which, I do—add about 4 ounces/approximately ½ cup of Irish cheddar, diced into ½ inch chunks to the dry ingredients before mixing. Holy smokes, is that good.
Pumpernickel Rye Soda Bread
Yield: 1 loaf
Well hello! I'm Kat, and
I'm always either cooking or thinking about what I want to cook next. For me, food is always about so much more than just my next meal. This is a place for sharing stories and recipes from a life lived through the lens of food...