When 5-year-old Gabby Cullen got the lowdown from her great-grandmother, Mary (Maura) Cullen, on how to make Irish Soda Bread, she got a quick history lesson, too. Irish soda bread is a traditional treat great-grandma brought to America from Tubbercurry, County Sligo, Ireland. It's easy to make, with basic ingredients that were easy to get during a period of financial hardships back home. Great-grandma made it, her children made it, and now Gabby is next in line.
Gabby: Grandma, what's in the bread?
Great-Grandma: Three cups of flour, one teaspoon of soda, one teaspoon of salt, one quarter to one half tablespoon of sugar, one cup of cranberries mixed with raisins and about one and a half cups of buttermilk. That's all the ingredients.
Gabby: How do you make the bread?
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GG: First you mix the flour, soda, salt, and sugar together. Then mix in the cranberries and raisins. Add the buttermilk to make the dough. Knead it for a few minutes then bake it in a loaf pan or a cast iron skillet for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees.
Gabby: What do you eat with your bread?
GG: You eat it with a lot of butter and a cup of tea. It's very good – delicious – especially the day you make it.
Gabby: Is it made out of soda pop?
GG: No, no, no. No soda pop. Baking soda, to make the bread rise, kind of like yeast.
Gabby: Why did you come to America and leave Ireland?
GG: Well, at that time there were very few jobs available in Ireland, so my sisters and I came here to live with our uncle. We were on a ship for two weeks. I was sick the whole time.
Gabby: Did you miss anyone from home?
GG: Yes, yes – my parents especially. I left my brothers and other sisters behind too. Sad times when you leave, but at least I had my sisters with me and had cousins, aunts, and uncles here in America.
Gabby: Did you ever go back?
GG: Oh yes, I went back a few times.
Gabby: Did you ever see a leprechaun?
GG: No, I never saw a leprechaun. But maybe you will someday.
Gabby: Are you a leprechaun?
GG: I could be an Irish leprechaun, yeah.
Gabby: Can you tell me about lucky clovers?
GG: Here in America, we call them clovers, but back in Ireland we call them shamrocks. They're supposed to bring good luck. On St. Patrick's Day, which is a holy day, we'd go to church and on the way pick real shamrocks to wear in our lapel.
Gabby: Did you ever see shamrocks again, once you came to America?
GG: Your relatives back home would send shamrocks in a little plastic bag for St. Patrick's Day. It's just a custom, you know. I don't think they do it anymore. A lot of customs are dead now.
Gabby: Did you celebrate St. Patrick's Day when you were a kid in Ireland?
GG: Yes, it was a holy day. We went to Mass on Sunday. There were no big parades. There are now, of course, but in those days – I'm talking 1952, 1953 – it wasn't celebrated like they do here, where people go crazy. No, we didn't do that. Very simple, simpler times, then.
ABOUT THE REPORTER
Gabriella Cullen, 5, participates in an iGeneration Youth journalism class. This Q&A is a transcript of her interview (edited for clarity).