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Au Currant: Irish Soda Bread

Ah, to be a currant, sunning in the Greek Isles. Especially on a day like today: gray and cold.

Except, it turns out, the currants I have in my pantry aren’t really currants at all, though they have been called that in the U.S. for the past hundred years or so.

xmas 2009 152

Zante currants,” as the bag reads, are really small, black grapes grown in Greece and then dried. In other words, they are raisins. “Real” currants are berries that grow on bushes, primarily in the UK and now more recently, in New England and upstate New York.

Currants have been outlaws in our country since the early 1900s! Tree killers. Fortunately, it seems that problem has been resolved and the currant is making a comeback stateside.

Actual currants are tart and treated like berries and so wouldn’t be used in a recipe like Irish soda bread. They are used fresh or frozen to make jams, tarts and cordials (and crème de cassis). Reading about this made me think of that crazy Anne on P.E. Island … and a bunch of wasted British kids tottering about the island during WWII. Then I realized that “cordial” originally meant a non-alcoholic fruit syrup. Today we seem to like our “cordial” with a little vodka.

The following recipe uses Zante currants or raisins to make a delicious breakfast or tea-time quick bread (think: scones).

Irish Soda Bread
- 2 small loaves -

4 c. flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 ½ t baking soda
1 t salt
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/3 c. buttermilk*
¼ c. butter, melted**
1 c. Zante currants or raisins***

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix together dry ingredients. Mix together wet ingredients. Stir wet ingredients and Zante currants/raisins into the dry ingredients until it’s moist and sticky. Turn out onto a well-floured counter top and knead until smooth, adding flour as needed so that it doesn’t stick to your hands or the counter.

Divide dough in half and form each half into a ball. Put on a greased cookie sheet. Mark an “X” with a knife across the top of each loaf. Bake for 40 minutes until golden and the loaf makes a hollow sound when you tap on it.  Serve warm with butter and jam.

* If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, make some by adding about 1T lemon juice to each cup of milk. Let it sit about 10-15 minutes to curdle.

** I was out of butter, due to holiday baking, so I used canola oil, which worked perfectly fine and actually is healthier for you.

*** If your raisins are hard/too dried out, put them in a bowl and just cover with boiling water — let them soak a few minutes and drain.

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