Guys. I have news. And it involves a rather divine soda bread recipe.
Firstly, you might be thinking, ‘Oh what a lovely photograph!’ (not that I am putting words in your head but it’s what my mum and sister both thought so I’m just assuming). If you are thinking that, this is where I dive straight into my news and say, dear reader, it’s not a photograph. It’s an illustration by my incredibly talented friend Harriet-Jade Harrow.
When it comes to making friends, I find a connection through food is usually an excellent start. Harriet is evidently one of those friends who very satisfactorily falls into the ‘food lover’ category. She’s the type who will forage for berries and wild garlic and gush enthusiastically about how she used them in her kitchen experiments. She’s that person you can have a detailed discussion with about cinnamon buns – an excellent quality in my opinion. We’ll revel in our love of bay leaves, especially when combined with blackberry. Although, we do differ with our standing on the ‘beige food’ quandary – me against, she all for it, the more beige in your food the better as she can find those subtle tones, the intricate detail, bubbles and airholes in a loaf of soda bread. No wonder I thought she would be a fantastic collaborator.
For both of us, like many others who read this old blog, our creativity lies in food. It is our infatuation. She says, ‘I paint food because I find abundant inspiration in the seasonal changes in the kitchen and delight in the stories each ingredient brings to mind, the recipes they motivate, the conversations they spark and the memories they rekindle‘.
Every one of us has a creative side. I know there will be someone out there rolling their eyes at that, but honest to god Brene Brown said so and that seems legit.
Everyone’s creativity reveals itself in different ways, whether it’s through writing, art, performance, music, pottery, make up, cake making, anything. It’s not about if you can draw or not, it’s about creating something from scratch with your passion and vision.
While I no longer own a dressing up box, or tell my sister she has the role of the cat in a new play I’ve written, I’ve pursued creativity rather doggedly, attending life drawing classes and sketching a nude old man with a long stick (keep your minds out of the gutter please, it was a prop). I directed some plays (better than my childhood debut) at university, and now type away here, wittering on about food dreams and recipes.
Harriet’s creativity, as you can see, lies in her artwork. While illustrating with watercolour and gouache produces beautiful pieces, Harriet goes a step further by painting additional layers of paper to create a collage of textures. A couple of weeks ago she texted me that she was cutting out hundreds of seeds for her new seeded malt loaf project, all in a tone of ‘hey this is fun!’ and ‘all in day’s work!’ and ‘I couldn’t imagine doing anything else’.
Food and art go hand in hand for her, in a mixture of flavour and form, and what’s more, she finds it exciting. She says, ‘Cooking and painting are symbiotic processes for me now. I paint the recipes that I am longing to bake as well as the ingredients on our kitchen table, before the dicing, stewing, kneading and pickling begins.’
‘For this illustration, the method echoed the rhythm of the recipe. I formed the dough, trying to capture the soda bread’s dimpled complexion; snipped green strands of rosemary; cut out jewel-coloured figs and painted tiny fennel seeds. I combined the ingredients, shaping the bread to size, my scissors giving it rise as I cut out little air bubbles. I sliced it too, into crusty pieces, spread it with butter, topped it with painted paper the pale hue of cheddar and presented it, ready to eat.’
I’m honoured to find a fellow food-focused soul.
Take inspiration from Harriet. Your muse might just be waiting in your kitchen.
Fig, rosemary and fennel soda bread
Soda bread is a much maligned baked treat, often neglected for fancy sourdoughs and baguettes. Therefore, we forget it’s moist and soft cake-like crumb; it’s less chewy than other bread, instead its texture reminds me of a scone, ready to be sliced thickly and spread with butter.
It is notorious for its short shelf-life. Soda bread must be eaten within two days, and even then it can only be salvaged by the toaster. However, this recipe is worth the urgent demand to eat – you will be eating it anyway without much convincing. The figs are like pockets of sticky sweetness, breaking up the crumbly bread with a nice chew, while the rosemary and fennel is quite frankly intoxicating, and you immediately find yourself cutting another slice.
If you think you might not get through a whole loaf in two days, this recipe is easily halved.
Fig, rosemary and fennel soda bread
- 125 g dried figs
- 300 g plain flour
- 150 g wholegrain rye flour
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 450 ml buttermilk use shop-bought buttermilk rather than make your own as homemade gives you excess liquid
- 2 tsp honey
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C/350°F fan and line a baking tray with parchment.
- Cut off the woody end of the dried figs and chop each into quarters.
- Sift the flours and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Add the salt, fennel seeds, finely chopped rosemary and black pepper. Mix everything together, then add the figs and mix again.
- Make a well in the centre. In a jug, combine the buttermilk and honey, then pour into the flour well. Mix the liquid into the dry with a wooden spoon, making a wet dough. Bring everything together then tip it out onto a floured work surface.
- Lightly knead the dough to bring it into a ball then transfer it to the lined tray and dent a cross in the surface using a wooden spoon’s handle.
- Slide the tray into the oven and bake the soda bread for 30-35 minutes, until the loaf is golden and has expanded like a balloon. Turn the loaf upside down on the tray, tap it to make sure it sounds hollow, then bake it this way round for another five minutes. Leave to cool on a cooling rack then serve.