EVERY now and then there’s a moment, a milestone which can indicate the end of an era. For me a recent experience in a West Cork village was just that. I popped into the shop to buy a carton of buttermilk to make a loaf of soda bread, I searched the shelves to no avail and when I inquired at the till the lovely lady told me whimsically, “ah sure, there’s no call for that, sure no one around here bakes a cake of bread any longer”.
It was just a small thing but I was always reassured by the presence of buttermilk in local shops, an indication that the tradition of baking a loaf of soda bread was alive and well in the parish. It’s a long time since one could buy an entire sack of flour in a village shop but it’s still possible in the one and only shop on Inis Meáin, which hopefully indicates a rich baking tradition among the islanders.
We certainly enjoyed Ruarí De Blacam’s delicious brown soda bread at Inis Meáin Suites on a recent visit.
The food in the little restaurant there is pure and delicious, home grown vegetables, herbs and flowers from the garden, a taste of the produce of the island and the local coastline. The Inis Meáin Suites are booked up almost a year ahead but the good news is that the restaurant is now open to non-residents from Wednesday to Saturday. (www.inismeain.com) Some of the standout dishes on the menu during our recent stay were mackerel carpaccio with an Asian dressing, thinly sliced raw mackerel caught a few hours earlier in the crystal clear waters off the coast – utterly sublime. I can’t understand why we don’t see more fish crudo on our restaurant menus.
The squid with black squid ink mayonnaise was also super delicious, as was the beetroot salad served three ways and a plump tender lobster claw with aioli and rocket leaves. All simple, elemental cooking made with superb fresh produce — no foams, gels or skid marks on the plate — just beautiful fresh flavours and simple presentations, a breath of fresh air.
Well, back to bread. Many of you already know how to bake but for those of you who don’t, let me tell you how easy it is to make a loaf of soda bread, made in minutes and out of the oven in little more than 30 minutes. So next time when you need bread, just turn on the oven. You wouldn’t have found your car keys and be back from the shops by the time it’s baked and cooling on a wire rack, filling your kitchen with the irresistible smell of crusty homemade bread that you can guarantee will nourish your family. I include treacle bread and white soda bread for you to try.