Mrs. Houghston’s Famous Irish Soda Farls
Mrs. Houston is the housekeeper in the story I wrote for the kids this week, A Study in Emerald, (we’re currently reading Chapter Three). She prepares her famous individually sized Irish Soda Breads, or “Farls,” for Holmes and McUaitson on a regular basis. A less successful imitation plays a key role in the story later on, when syrup- (or is it venom-?) soaked farls are found at one of the crime scenes…Of course, grass snakes don’t eat bread. So, I had to imagine that Mrs. Hughston’s “Farls” were more like little frog-meat loaves than mini-soda breads. In the book, they’re more often called “Amphibian Farls” than Soda Breads. But we’ll take the human version, please and thank you!
There are two main methods of making Irish Soda bread. The first is to bake the bread in the oven, the second is to prepare it on a skillet. There are also two ways of “styling” a loaf, either baking it whole, with a cross cut into the top, or slicing it into four sections, known as “farls,” and venting them individually. The notion of baking farls or even smaller, individual soda breads with the kids intrigued me, so I took a look around for a few good basic recipes. The first recipe that caught my attention was the classic Cook’s Illustrated recipe for soda bread. Then, on the Smitten Kitchen blog, I found an “Americanized” version of the CI recipe (“Americanized” by the additions of eggs, sugar, raisins, and caraway seeds). These were divided into 8-smaller sized “scones.” I thought a version of this sweeter, creamier recipe would suit the kids’ palates a bit more, so I experimented with it and adapted it to my liking. We also decided to go on and do something highly “un-Irish” ourselves by adding chocolate chips to half the batch. We’ve suggested some other more sophisticated additions below. In the end, they come out like oversized buttermilk biscuits…No one here’s complaining about that!
Mrs. Houghston’s Famous Irish Soda Farls
Adapted from the receipt for Irish Soda Bread Scones, Smitten Kitchen
3 c flour
1 c cake flour
.25 c sugar
1.5 tsp baking soda, or, as we call it “b.s.,” or, on this occasion, “blarney soda”
1.5 tsp cream of tartar
.5 tsp salt
7 tbs butter (soften 5, and reserve the last two to melt and brush on the farls)
1.5 cups buttermilk (we don’t like to substitute sour milk here! do so only it if you absolutely have to!)
1 egg, bashed about with a fork
Optional Mix-ins: Choose One (Add the smaller amount for a half batch, larger amount for a whole batch)
.5-1 c butterscotch or chocolate chips
.5-1 c chopped dried figs soaked in rum or cognac and drained
.25-.5 c each chopped candied ginger slices & orange peels
Heat oven to 400F.
Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl.
With their fingers, have the kids cut the 4 tbs of soft butter into the dry mix until they have coarse crumbs.
Add the buttermilk and the egg, and stir until the dough begins to come together.
If you’re not adding any mix-ins, just overturn the dough onto a floured work surface.
If you’re adding mix-ins to the whole dough, barely incorporate them now and turn the dough out onto a floured work surface.
If you’re adding mix-ins to half of the dough, do your best to divide the barely formed dough into two parts, and overturn the non-mix-in dough onto a floured work surface.
Then, BARELY incorporate the mix-ins into the portion of dough you kept in the bowl before overturning onto a floured surface.
Knead the dough(s) for just a few moments (each), just until ilumpy and bumpy and rough and tumble looking, like the face of a drunken sailor in the sudden storm.
Form your dough or doughs into one large or two smaller lumpy ball(s).
Use a knife (we like those big plastic lettuce choppers) to slice the large ball into 8 farls or the two smaller balls into 4 farls each.
If desired, make each farl a little neater by forming it into a ball of its own.
Put your farls on a parchment lined pan.
Use a frog, shamrock or similarly festive cookie cutter to make an impression at least an inch deep in the center of each farl.
Bake 15-20 minutes (ours took 17). [SK suggests testing with a thermometer for an internal temperature of 170 F.]
Remove farls from oven.
Brush with melted butter.
Cool a bit, about 3-5 minutes, or until you can’t stand it any longer and you just have to take a bite and burn your tongue!
Wrap the still-warm farls in kichen towels (2-3 per towel will suffice).
This will keep them soft and help them last a bit longer, as they’re only really good for a day or two.
If you’re desperate, you can place an old hardened loaf in a moistened paper bag and warm it in a moderate oven for a few minutes or in the microwave for a few seconds to soften! This softening effect does not last long, however, so eat up!!!
The plain farls taste great with even more butter and those extra spoonfuls of hot Lime-Berry Jam that didn’t fit it into last jar!!!!
Lime-Berry Limerick Lower-Sugar Jam (Made with Pomona’s Pectin)
In our story, A Study in Emerald, Mrs. Limerick keeps a boarding house. She’s not necessarily an honest or a savoury woman, but she’ at least “semi-sweet.”. Pomona Pectin, which is available at most organic or healthy grocery shops, is a pectin formulated to alow you to use considerably less sugar sugar when making jams and jellies. We re-named this lower sugar, limey jam in Mrs. Limerick’s honour. The recipe below is our multi-berry adaptation of a favourite recipe of ours for Blackberry Lime Jam from the hitchhikingtoheaven blog and also featured in one of our favourite cookbooks, We Sure Can!, by Sarah B. Hood.
Lime-Bery Limerick Lower-Sugar Jam
4 cups mashed mixed berries
(Berries aren’t really in season, so we defrosted two 600g frozen mixed pack of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries and mashed them. It provided just over 4 cups!)
zest of 5 limes (we used a microplane)
.25 c lime juice
1.75 c sugar
2.5 tsp Pomona’s calcium water
2.5 tsp Pomona’s pectin powder
Prepare Pomona’s “Calcium Water” following the instructions in the box.
Sterilize 6 -.5Pint Canning Jars or the equivalent according to preference.
Whisk the sugar and pectin powder together in a bowl and set aside.
Place the mashed berries in a pot on the stove and add lime zest, lime juice, and “calcium water.”
Bring the berry pot to a boil.
Add the sugar-pectin mixture to the pot.
Stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes to dissolve the pectin.
Return to the jam to a boil and then remove it from the heat.
Ladle the hot jam into sterilized jars, leaving .25-in head space.
Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.
Note that Pomona’s pectin takes longer to set than other pectins. The jam might not really appear set in the jar for several days.
Popping “Pot o’Gold” Mustard
Bea was really into a “popping” mustard she purchased at a local farmer’s market over the summer. It was a grainy mustard, and the seeds inside seemed to be full of liquid and “popped” in your mouth. We’ve tweaked some of our summer recipes in order to achieve the desired effect. The trick seems to be to soak the mustard seeds in the vinegar mixture for at least 48 hours! To make this mustard truly “golden,” be sure to use only yellow mustard seeds and white vinegar. We didn’t quite have enough on hand, so we did a mix of dark and light mustard seeds, and we added balsamic vinegar to top off the soaking liquid. Call it “Tarnished ‘Pot o ‘Gold’ Mustard” or whatever you will…it tastes fabulous!
Popping Pot o’ Gold Mustard
makes 2.75 pints
1 c mustard seeds
1 c vinegar (white, cider, and/or balsamic)
2/3 c water
5 tbs brown sugar
2 tbs diced garlic
1 tsp tumeric
1 c honey or maple syrup (optional)
Mix all of the wet ingredients EXCEPT the honey/syrup in a bowl.
Add the mustard seeds.
Cover and let soak in the refrigerator for 48 hours. (24 hours makes for a fine cheat!)
Sterilize 3 -.5pt and 1- .25pt canning jars.
Divide the mixture in half and use a stick blender or a food processor to pulverize one half of the mixture until thick.
Re-incorporate the pulverized mustard into the bowl of grainy mustard and pulverize for just a moment to incorporate.
Put the combined mustard in a pot on the stovetop.
Add the optional honey/syrup, and boil for 1-2 minutes.
Ladle hot mustard into into hot jars.
Process cans in boiling water for 10 minutes.
If you like this post, you might also like to see the Serpent Mobiles & Stick Puppets we made today!
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The Lunchbox Season : Summer of Funner : In Defense of Burning
September 17, 2011
We canned close to 100 jars of sweet and savoury goods over the course of our Summer of Funner. I love the way these jars glimmer and glisten high up along the tops of our kitchen cabinets. Now that we’re into the Lunchbox Season, however, it’s time to think about sharing some of our kitchen’s shimmer by wrapping up our cans and giving them as host and hostess gifts, teacher treats, and presents for the holidays.
Today, we took the first step in the process of “glamming up our cans” by designing and printing a basic label for their lids. First. we looked for inspiration from canning experts, and we sourced our own blank labels. Then, we drew illustrations for our labels and came up with a “brand name.” Next, we used Picnik’s photo editing website to add text and shape to our images. Finally, we produced our labels. Now, we’re looking forward to what’s next.
These Aren’t Your Grandma’s Cans … Inspiration and Sourcing
We’ve come a long way from the lace and gingham mob-caps we used to see on the tops of jam jars at county fairs or in other people’s grandmother’s cupboards. [My Italian and Irish grandmothers weren't canners, though they had their own distinctive talents in the kitchen. Think egglplant parmesean and egg yolk cookies or turkey stuffing and boozed-up mincemeat pie.] While these decorations retain their charm [aren't these red gingham jar lids from the u.k.'s Preserve Shop the ultimate in retro-chic?] there are newer, modern options for “glamming up your cans.”
We’ve been looking to the experts for inspiration. Canning Across America is a good place to start online. The kids also admired some of the very simple ideas depicted in this summer’s Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest magazine, Canning. They marvelled at the pretty red and white string they saw connecting a plain white paper tag to the rim of a jar.
I had to explain to them that this was not kite string [although, now, the notion of kite string and small oragami kite tags beckons!], but the string that old-school bakeries use to keep their cardboard boxes tight. This led to a fascinating discussion about cannolli which I won’t get into here…Another favourite label of ours looked like either a piece of masking tape or a white cotton ribbon pencilled “Tomatillo Salsa.” This name had been placed at an angle like a sash over the front of a stubby jar. The beauty queen’s identification was secured, additionally, by a plain red elastic band stretched around her girthiest girth. The editors of the magazine also featured a lot of pretty, plain stickers that you could easily find alongside of the “hello-my-name-is” labels [hey, why not use those, too?] at an office or dollar store. We liked these simple styles a lot.
Then, we looked at our new yet already well-sugared and vinegar-stung copy of We Sure Can, where Sarah Hood introduced us to the fabulous notion that you can place circular stickers on your jar lids to label their contents. If you’re going to use a sticker, she argues, this is perhaps the best place to do it because the flat metal lid is the only part of a can that you don’t reuse. You don’t have to deal with removing a sticky label from the side of a glass jar, then. And, if you’re packing your jars in a box, you can easily identify them by the words on the discs on top. Hood has some fantastic resources for sourcing pre-formatted circular templates as well as label vendors in her book. We can’t wait to try some of the etsy boutiques she recommends! As far as we’re concerned, Hood’s book is required reading for today’s “glamming up” lab, so please be sure to have a look!!!
We also did some “sourcing” on our own, or stumbled into it, as the case may be. When we were shopping for school supplies a few weeks ago, we found some 2.5-inch diameter circular, brown-lunch-bag toned Avery labels (#22808). The company also makes a 2-inch white circle. However, for this round, we wanted to go full size, so we took the recycled-looking one home. Today, we went to the company’s website and downloaded their basic ms-word template for the label we had purchased. We also noticed that they offered some very lovely prefabbed templates for you to download free of charge (think scrollwork, electric mixers, baby onesies, or birds) and to which you can add your own text and personal touches. We skipped those, though. We wanted to do the design work on our own!
Drawing and Branding
Next, we had to create the images that we wanted to put on our canning labels. The kids abandoned last weekend’s sketches, the horse and ‘dillo drawings that they had produced as rough drafts for this project. To emphasize the contents of the cans, they decided that they wanted to draw images of their favourite animals indulging in home-canned goods. So, they sat and sketched their images in #2 pencil on plain white paper. Then, using their favourite “cartoon technique,” they traced over their sketches in black permanent ink and filled in the rest with markers and pencil crayons.
Bea sketched the bear holding a spoon, ready to dig into a jar of jam or jelly.
Tobes sketched a turtle getting ready to catch a flying pickle in his smile.
This gave way, naturally enough, to the idea that we would label our sweeter jams, jellies, butters, and mustards with Bea’s handiwork and use Toby’s turtle for our savoury pickles, relishes, and compotes. Next, we had to decide on a “brand” name, a way of identifying ourselves and our project. When I asked the kids if they wanted to have a particular name or slogan for their jams [i.e. B & T Foods, Lunchbox Season's Greetings] they decided to go with the name that expresses how and when the gifts were made: Summer of Funner. They also wanted to make sure they included both the name of the canned good and the list of ingredients on their label.
Picnik Time: Reshaping and Adding Text
Then, we used our computer to shape and add text to our drawings. After scanning our bear and turtle images and saving them as picture files, we headed over to http://www.picnik.com to make use of their free photo editing software. Using the “Frames” feature, we rounded the edges of each image so that it would fit more easily onto a circular label. Toby’s square image was more amenable to coming full circle, so to speak. Bea’s image worked best as an oval inset on a round backdrop. Then, we used the site’s “Text” feature to label our canned goods and to list their contents. We used a different font for each type of canned good that we wanted to label. That way, while the pictures remained consistent, the font expressed the style or “soul” of the contents of the jar. Here are the nine label designs we came up with today:
Paste and Print
After we saved these new and improved images on the computer, we inserted each picture file into one of the nine pre-fabbed circles on our label template. We had to remember to save this file under a new name, so as to always have our original label template handy. Unfortunately, when it came time to print our test-run of labels, we ran into trouble! We had printed so many things over the course of our Summer of Funner that the colour printer was woefully low on coloured ink. Given the “brown paper packages tied up with string” look of our labels, it was quite difficult to produce a bright example of our craftiness.
Still, a few of the labels were vibrant enough:
Fresh Supplies: Once we get our printer ink, we’ll be printing out several more batches of our brown labels. We’re also thinking about checking out the slightly smaller 2-inch white Avery circular label. It might just fit better on the lid after all…
More Glamification: In a few weeks, we’ll be moving on to Glam Cans Lab #2: Decorating Your Cans. Be sure to check back with us then!
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