The Universal Brown Bread

A side of brown bread, with butter packets

Brown bread is an important element of the meals in Ireland. A slice of brown bread will be served with nearly every meal, particularly lunch and dinner. We visited several towns and ate at several different restaurants or hostels, and each location incorporated brown bread into the meal. At the Valley House in Achill, slices of brown bread were served as an appetizer before the meal. The bread was put out in bowls along the table, alongside salads, and butter was placed beside them. We also ate lunch at several places where a slice of brown bread would be served alongside a bowl of soup. A vegetable soup could be purchased at the hotel restaurant on Inis Oirr, and this included brown bread and butter. Brown bread would also be used for sandwiches, as O’Brien’s shop in Ennis used brown bread for their turkey sandwiches.

Sandwich with brown bread, purchased in Ennis

When we visited Cnoc Suain, our host Dearbhail demonstrated how brown bread is made. It is different from regular white bread because it is not made with yeast. The ingredients include whole wheat and white flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. The baking soda mixing with the buttermilk is what causes the dough to rise. Dearbhail explained the baking technique which causes the bread to be so fluffy and light: you must lift up the flour while it’s the bowl. You mix together the flours, soda, and salt, then create a well to pour in the buttermilk. Dearbhail recommended using your hands to mix the dough together in order to use less dishes, but you have to be sure not to knead or handle the dough too much. You then shape the dough into a circular form and cut a cross into it so the bread bakes all the way through. Other ingredients can also be added to the dough before it is mixed together. For example, Dearbhail explained that pieces of seaweed can be added to the bread in order to increase its nutritious value.

This type of bread is relatively simple to make, and judging by its frequent appearance at multiple pubs and restaurants, brown bread is a very versatile food.

A Traditional Way of Living

Cnoc Suain

Our host Dearbhail welcomed us to her home in Cnoc Suain, and she was gracious enough to explain the history of the house and its culture. This location clearly has a very traditional way of life, based upon the ways of living from a couple hundred years ago. The cottage was built in 1845 in the design of one main, central room with four bedrooms. Two of these bedrooms had entrances much higher up than the ground floor, so the children would get up to their rooms by leaning a ladder against the wall and climbing up. The average family had about eight to twenty children, so the bedrooms would often be crowded. There was no electricity or running water until about 1980, and the cottage is three and a half miles from any shops, doctors, or banks. The flooring of the cottage would be dirt, so the family would often put rush – a reed-like plant which grows in water – down on the dirt inside. This would keep people’s feet cleaner because they didn’t wear shoes inside, and scented herbs would also be placed on the reeds to be crushed underfoot.

Meals in this home would be cooked over a fire created by burning peat. There was a crane which would hold pots over the fire, and as a sort of “oven”, a pot would be placed on coals and more coals would be placed on top of it. The peat itself, small brick-shaped slabs of dried organic matter, is collected from the fields outside the cottage. Our second host, Charlie, explained that they would use a tool called a slain to harvest peat from the ground, after removing the top layer of grass. These bricks of peat would be laid out in the sun to dry, causing them to shrink and eventually be used for fuel. One of these peat bricks would only burn for fifteen minutes, so large amounts of peat would need to be collected for the family to survive the winter. These peat fires would need to burn constantly at all times of the day, as it both heated the home and cooked the food.

The culture of this sort of home, particularly in the past, was very community-oriented. It was considered a “rambling house” because people from around town would gather at the fire to share stories and music during the winter. This was important for the Gaelic culture because the children would be absorbing the music and stories even after they went to bed.

Dearbhail and Charlie work hard to preserve and educate about this traditional way of life.

Ireland: Saving the World…and also Money by Shelby Payanis

Why won’t my phone charge? Why does the water keep shutting off in my shower? What the heck is going on here?! Welcome to living more mindfully of your carbon footprint.

As soon as I arrived in Cloughjordan on the first day and was shown to my Django hostel room I immediately started pinpointing all of the differences between this place, and America. Two of the biggest differences being that the outlets had to be turned on when you were using them, and turned off when you weren’t, and that the shower did not stay on by itself. Every 20 seconds or so the shower water would turn off and if you were not done then you had to keep pressing the button so that you could continue on with your shower. These two things might have seemed inconvenient at first, but as I learned how beneficial they are to the Earth, I did not mind them at all. Pa, the owner of the Django Hostel in the eco-village, is a older man that truly believes in climate change and making differences now before it is too late.

A beautiful and healthy tree stands tall at the Django Hostel.

One of the projects that we completed during our time in the hostel was to go out and purchase “Irish” goods to make and serve a traditional Irish meal for the other half of the students. Because we had to cook for around 20 people there was bound to be leftover ingredients and food. However, this did not make Pa very happy. I remember him saying, “Look at all the food you have left – this is such a waste.” In America, we may not look at leftovers as a bad thing, but kind of a good thing because now we have a meal prepared for us to eat tomorrow. But Pa looks at it like this – you should have known exactly how much food to buy and how much food to cook so that you can ensure that nothing goes to waste. He also taught us how he washes dishes – instead of running the water and wasting it while you scrub the dish with soapy water, you can fill up one sink with the sudsy water, wash it in there, and then rinse it off in another sink. This not only saves water, but also helps to keep the eco-village’s ecological footprint low.

As I continued to travel around Ireland I saw more indications that sustainable energy is a big concern. I noticed that there were some small wind farms with about eight wind turbines that work to create a sustainable and realistic form of energy in Ireland. We do have these in America, but we are still using coal and other pollutants to create energy instead of putting up more and more wind farms around the globe – why? Well, for starters, these wind turbines are certainly expensive, but should be seen as an investment. In fact, according to The Journal, “Wind energy use in Ireland in 2014 saved us €200 million in fossil fuel imports.” We could and should be making the same changes to our country’s ecological footprint that Ireland continues to work so hard to do. Not only would it aid in saving our Earth, but it would cut down on lots of American federal spending to the wrong places.

Nick’s Gallery