Irish Soda Bread

Despite my blog name, there’s very little overlap between my time in the kitchen and my time in the courthouse.  But last week, Caitlin gave me a fitting opportunity to meld the two seemingly disparate fields.

The day after St. Patrick’s day, Caitlin sent me an article by Clarence Darrow, the famous criminal defense lawyer.  In the early 20th Century, Darrow represented a number of high-profile defendants, but none more famous perhaps, than John Scopes, the public school teacher who faced prosecution for teaching  human evolution in Tennessee.

Several years after the verdict in the Monkey Trial, Darrow published his thoughts on selecting a jury in an article that appeared in Esquire.  At the time of publication, Darrow was at the end of his illustrious legal career, and near his death.  Yet, the article held nothing back.

“Selecting a jury is of the utmost importance,” he notes, and “choosing jurors is always a delicate task;” sentiments no less true today.  But the insights he offers into this delicate process could hardly seem more outdated.

In his article, Darrow sets his eye on representing an “underdog,” either an injured plaintiff or a criminal defendant, both of whom face opponents with extensive resources.  In this type of situation, he cautions against the Lutherans, “especially the Scandinavians; they are almost always sure to convict.”  The same is true of the Presbyterian, who is as cold as the grave, and always knows right from wrong, “although he seldom finds anything right.”  Get rid of these two as quickly as possible, Darrow counsels.

The Englishman, meanwhile, has a long tradition of individual rights, and is comfortable standing alone.  He is a good, safe choice.

But the Irishman- and his religion matters not – the Irishman is the juror you want.  “He is emotional, kindly and sympathetic.”  Among all the ethnic and religious groups, he is the most empathetic juror, the one most likely to place himself in the defendant’s chair.  If you got rid of him, Darrow warns, “you would be guilty of malpractice.”

For what it’s worth, the Supreme Court has outlawed relying on such stereotypes to eliminate jurors.  In Batson v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court held that lawyers may not strike jurors on the basis of their race.  Subsequent cases extended this holding to strikes based on a juror’s gender or ethnicity.  “The Constitution forbids striking even a single prospective juror for a discriminatory purpose,” Justice Alito noted, in a recent decision.

But this was not the case in Darrow’s time.  So, with the passage of St. Patrick’s Day, it’s perhaps fitting to look back at the words of Clarence Darrow, and to celebrate the kindness and sympathy of the Irish.  In celebration of this St. Patrick’s Day, I made Irish Soda Bread with Caitlin, my kind and sympathetic Irishwoman.

Irish Soda Bread

Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes.

PREP TIME: 20 minutes
COOK TIME: 40 minutes
YIELD: 1 loaf

4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup currants
1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 large egg, beaten
1 3/4 cup buttermilk


1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2.  In large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda.  Cut the butter into small cubes.  Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until it well combined.  Mix in the currants and caraway seeds.

3.   Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour the beaten egg and buttermilk into the well, and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough is too stiff to stir.  Dust your hands with a little flour, then gently knead dough in the bowl just long enough to form a rough ball. If the dough is too sticky to work with, add a little more flour, but be careful not to over-knead!

4.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and shape it into a round loaf. Note that the dough will be a little sticky.  Work the dough only until it comes together; over-kneading the dough will make it tough.

5,  Transfer the dough to a large, lightly greased cast-iron skillet or a baking sheet (we used a skillet).  Using a serrated knife, score the top of dough about an inch and a half deep in an “X” shape. Scoring the dough will help channel heat into the center of the dough, helping it cook.

6.  Bake the dough for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the bread is golden and a toothpick comes out clean.  (We took ours out after 40 minutes).  Remove the skillet from the oven, and let bread sit in the pan for about 10 minutes.  Then remove it to a rack to cool briefly.  Slice it, and serve warm or toasted, and enjoy it with cream cheese, jam, or plain!

Helpful Hint: You may want to check the bread after 30 minutes.  If the top is getting too dark while baking, tent the bread with some aluminum foil.


One response to “Irish Soda Bread

  1. From Wikipedia, another perspective on the Irish: “The Catholic Telegraph of Cincinnati in 1853, saying that the “name of ‘Irish’ has become identified in the minds of many, with almost every species of outlawry,” distinguished the Irish vices as “not of a deep malignant nature,” arising rather from the “transient burst of undisciplined passion,” like “drunk, disorderly, fighting, etc.”

    Just wanted to make sure you’re presenting a balanced view!! 🙂

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