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Brown Bread and a Trip to Ballycotton

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Ballymaloe Brown Bread

3 3/4 cups whole meal (whole wheat) flour
1 1/2 cups (or more) warm water (around 100 to 115 degrees)
2 tablespoons black treacle (molasses)
2 teasp. salt
2 teaspoons dry active yeast (1 1/2 packages granular)

Mix flour with salt and warm it in a cool oven.  (Here Myrtle is telling us to put it in the oven on the lowest possible setting. She wants the flour and bowl to be warm when you mix the bread.) Mix treacle with some of the warm water (about a half cup) in a small bowl and add the yeast.  Grease a loaf tin and put it to warm, too.  Also warm a clean tea towel.  Look to see if the yeast is rising, it will take five minutes, approx and should have a frothy appearance on top.  Stir it well and pour it with remaining water into the flour to make a wettish dough.  (Myrtle says that “The dough should be just too wet to knead.” So you may need to add more water, or if it’s too liquid depending on the weather and brand of flour you’re using.  Use judgmentto make sure it’s “just too wet too knead.") Put the mixture into the warm loaf pan and put this pan back in the same position as used previously to raise the yeast.  Put the tea towel over the pan.  (Or you may wish to use plastic wrap.) When it has risen by twice the original size, it is ready.  Now bake it in a hot oven (450 F) for 35 to 45 minutes or until it looks nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped.  Remove and cool.

Adapted from The Ballymaloe Cookbook,
Myrtle Allen, 1984



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I made my first trip to Ireland last September.  I was quite taken with a number of things--the rocky coves by the ocean, the low-hanging sky, big bales of hay piled in fields and all the quirky bustle of Cork City.  But way at the top of my list of favorites was brown bread.  I found it everywhere, usually in a basket with other breads served at dinner, but also at breakfast, and in shops.  The best of them were wholesome, slightly sweet, nutty, and moist.  A wonderful staple of daily life.  When my friend Elizabeth and I visited her cousin Bridget, I pointed to the brown bread she’d offered us with tea and asked, “Do you make this often?” She laughed at me and said something like “My husband would kill me if I didn’t.”

The brown bread you see above was shot at Ballymaloe, a very famous guesthouse and estate, with 350 acres of farms, grounds, and gardens, run by the Allen Family.  Ballymaloe is an otherwordly type of place.  Here’s Rory Allen with the mandolin, leading the Saturday music happening--a remarkable event, where people sit in a drawing room and sing and drink and gosh, somehow all these people know the words to these old Irish songs. 
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Darina and Tim Allen run the cooking school, and they are well known as leaders in the Irish cooking movement of recent years.  This brown bread recipe, however, comes from Myrtle Allen.  Her Ballymaloe cookbook, now 25 years old, is from the previous generation and has a wonderful older voice.  Make this bread today, tomorrow, or anytime.  It’s healthy, inexpensive, and very down to earth.  Did I mention easy?  It requires no kneading and only one rise. 

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And for those who love Ireland, here’s little tour of the nearby fishing village Ballycotton. 

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I stopped into a tiny grocery store and based on the shelves, it seemed quite a few people are still baking brown bread (see the “wholemeal” or wheat flour) and soda bread at home.  But there were also several ready made for sale.  I picked one up and brought it to the cash register.  While I was taking out my money to pay, I asked the man behind the counter where it had come from.  His answer: “Me mum.” Good enough for me.

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