Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day

Irish soda bread is one of my favorite baked goods and one of my favorite traditions in baking. Just as Christmas cookies belong to Christmas, Irish soda bread belongs to St. Patrick’s Day. I bake it once per year. If you work with me, you’ll probably get a slice of bread every year. My mom would bake one or two loaves per year and we girls would gobble it up with breakfast, or as a snack, or as dessert. I recall having a hard time getting the batter to stick entirely. It took quite a few years of practice before mixing the ingredients wasn’t an entire arm workout. Practice makes perfect.

What is the origin of Irish soda bread? Soda bread is a traditional bread baked in poorer countries, and was very common during the Irish potato famine. The Irish didn’t invent it, but they’re known for it. The traditional recipe calls for basic ingredients: flour, baking soda, soured milk, and salt. The baking soda took the place of yeast. Loaves were baked on the griddle of an open hearth. The traditional cross in the loaf made before baking was to ward off the devil and protect the household. (Read more here.)

The recipe that my mother and grandmother passed on to us girls is not exactly traditional. Our recipe calls for sour cream, baking powder, sugar, and raisins. However, it’s tradition to me.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  

Christmas Carols

Do you have a favorite Christmas carol or Christmas song? Nowadays options are endless since every singer has his or her own version of Christmas songs. There is something timeless and comforting about Christmas songs; they sing of home, memories, nostalgia, love, tradition, snow, hope — all good things in life. When do you begin listening to Christmas music? Growing up, my mom wouldn’t let us listen until December 1. I say as soon as Thanksgiving has passed, Christmas is fair game.

Here is a list of my favorite Christmas songs. Wishing everyone a peaceful weekend, filled with good thoughts, good memories and hope for a wonderful season and new year.  What would be on your list?

(1) White Christmas (Bing Crosby)

(2) Have Yourself a Merry Christmas (Judy Garland)

(3) Santa Claus is Coming to Town (Bruce Springsteen)

(4) Little Wood Guitar (Sugarland)

(5) Christmas Song (Blues Traveler)

(6) We Need a Little Christmas (Angela Lansbury)

(7) Have a Holly Jolly Christmas (Burl Ives)

(8) Gold & Green (Sugarland)

(9) Step into Christmas (Elton John)

(10) I’ll be Home for Christmas (The Carpenters)


Town Meeting Day

Today, the first Tuesday in March, is the annual Town Meeting Day throughout Vermont. If you’re from New England, this is nothing new to you. If you’re from elsewhere, it might sound a bit like something out of Gilmore Girls. However, it’s a bit more serious than that; town residents meet to hear and vote upon town financial matters and other issues for the year. Town meeting dates back to 1762 in Vermont (the first one was held in Bennington). The Vermont Secretary of State produced a Citizen’s Guide to Town Meeting Day. Read about the specifics of voting and procedures here. (The middle school version is more fun to share.)

Town Meeting Day is a state holiday, which allows many people the time to attend. Some towns have the meeting the weekend prior or at night, allowing for greater participation. Many towns now run the meeting by “Australian ballot” as opposed to “floor meeting.” The difference? Australian ballot allows for voting all day, whereas floor meeting allows only for voting at the meeting after discussion of issues. This can take all day; hence, preference for Australian ballot.

Town halls, as buildings, are an important architectural style across Vermont. Historic town halls, although they vary in construction, massing and cladding, they are generally easy to spot in town. A “Town Hall in Vermont” Multiple Property Document Form was completed in 1991 by Liz Pritchett; it is available at the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. Town halls have served as multipurpose spaces for residents; sometimes schools or churches. Today the historic town halls aren’t always the current town hall (see Middlebury’s rehabilitation from town hall to theater), since changing times often requires changing spaces. Here are four of Vermont’s town halls.

Bethel Town Hall, 1911. Image via UVM Landscape Change. Click for source.

Bristol Town Hall. Image via Henry Sheldon Museum & UVM Landscape Change. Click for source.

Middlebury Town Hall, which is now the Middlebury Town Hall Theater. Image via UVM Landscape Change. Click for source.

Addison Town Hall, 2010.

Today will be my first Vermont town meeting; I’m excited. From what I hear, there are some village v. town issues that may be present during the meeting. Sounds like I’ll need a cup of coffee. Once I know more about town meetings in Vermont, I’ll report back on my experiences and the tradition.  Vermont Public Radio provides up to date town meeting coverage and tweets (no, I’m not kidding – this is a big deal!)

Do you live in a state with town meetings? What do you think of the tradition?

p.s. Rather than its usual Tuesday slot, Preservation Photos returns tomorrow.

p.p.s. Today is also the presidential primary election in Vermont. Vote!

Thanksgiving Thankfulness

It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and here at Preservation in Pink, each day of the week will be dedicated to a different subject of preservation thankfulness.

Monday Thankfulness. Tuesday Thankfulness. Wednesday Thankfulness.


Thanksgiving makes me even more thankful for home. No matter where your home is or what you think of as home, I hope you had a lovely day celebrating family + friends + the feeling of home. Home gives us a foundation and a sense of belonging and history.

The real Miracle on 34th Street house in Port Washington, NY. The addition since the movie is the dormer on the roof. Click for source.

The Miracle on 34th Street movie features Susie, a young Natalie Wood, who dreams of the house above and she asks Kris Kringle for it for Christmas. It’s one of my favorite movies; my family watches it every year in our cozy living room. It’s a good tradition at home.

A scene from the movie. Click for source.

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you are grateful and thankful for everything you have, all year long.

Homemade Bread

Preserving the old ways from being used
Protecting the new ways for me and you
What more can we do

The Kinks – “The Village Green Preservation Society”

Historic preservation can play many angles because its definitions vary according to individuals and organizations. There tends to be no limit on its tangential factors, something that makes preservation ideals understandable and applicable to anyone. This might be more apparent to me since moving to Vermont – I haven’t quite decided yet. However, consider Jennifer Parson’s article from the latest PiP Newsletter which talked about preservation in the sense of agricultural preservation, not like preserving vegetables for the winter, but continuing to use heirloom seeds, thus preserving the variety of agriculture, whether vegetables, fruit, or larger crops.

Vermonters* seem to take pride in self sufficiency and of course, environmental friendliness (one bumper sticker claims Vermont as being green before green was cool). There’s definitely a different vibe in Vermont. Or maybe this vibe is everywhere now and I’ve only noticed it here. That’s sort of beside the point. People I have met here, including the above mentioned Jen Parsons, have inspired me to take on more traditional tasks as hobbies. One recent endeavor is bread making. There is nothing better than fresh bread, right? And in the vein of finding ways to save money, attempting to not support giant food distribution companies, and figuring out how to avoid preservatives of our current food supply, bread seemed like an easy first step. I also love to bake.

Bread and preservation, huh? Really? Yes, it’s relevant. No, I’m not using a historic recipe (unless Fannie Farmer counts!) or an old oven of any sort. Learning to bake bread is easiest by attempting regular white bread. But something about it is just so satisfying. Perhaps it’s kneading the dough or considering that maybe one day I will not have to grocery store packaged bread. It’s just a basic food source that people have been making and eating for centuries. And the house I live in is old enough that many owners and tenants have probably made bread by hand more than a few times.

My very first loaf of homemade bread. It might not look like anything special, but it was surprisingly delicious!

I think part of appreciating historic preservation in all of its form comes not only from studying dwellings and the surroundings and reading the environment, but by participating in history in some manner. And the process of bread making: mixing ingredients, letting the dough rise for hours (in some recipes), kneading the dough, watching it bake, smelling the delicious scent of fresh made bread, and sharing it can connect you to everyone in history. So by learning to make homemade bread, I feel as though I can pass on a time honored tradition, and that has immense value on its own.

Bread loaf #4. Still not impressive looking, but tasted great.

Bread loaf #4. Still not impressive looking, but tasted great.

I do not expect to be a great bread baker anytime in the near future, but it's sure fun to practice.

Additionally, since beginning this learning process of bread making, I have discovered that many friends also bake their own bread – perhaps there is a resurgence of bread making. What a pleasant discovery! I wonder what else people are producing on their own in small attempt at self sufficiency (or health or economics).

*Disclaimer: I cannot yet claim to be a Vermonter. Actually, being named a true Vermonter takes about seven generations so there goes my chance. Still, I love Vermont, even if I’m labeled a “flatlander” or “white plater.”