This is the third in a series of twelve posts marking the ancient tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas. On each day I’m sharing a different ‘treasure’; something lovely or remarkable. Today’s treasure is freshly baked bread.
The back story is a family visit to the home of my Mum and Dad yesterday. One of the great things about my parents’ house is its position, looking down across rolling fields to the River Bann, and beyond the river to Portstewart. Portstewart is a seaside village blessed with a little fishing harbour, and a Promenade which on one side gazes directly across the blue-grey Atlantic to the hills of Donegal. The other side is lined with a plethora of ice cream and coffee shops, and it functions as a bustling social hub in our little corner of the world.
Yesterday though, wrapped up in coats and woolly hats, we made for the Strand, a generous beach backed by expansive dunes. The Strand stretches west from Portstewart, at least a couple of miles, and finally reaches the Bar Mouth where the River Bann flows out into the ocean. Across the river channel, the Strand is mirrored by Castlerock beach, and all of this majestic seascape is crowned in the distance by Mussenden Temple perched high up on the edge of a headland. Castlerock was the place where C. S. Lewis spent childhood family holidays.
Our Christmas family feasting this year began with wonderful hospitality at the home of my brother and sister-in-law, and continued yesterday at ‘Granny and Granda’s house’ on the North Coast.
Which brings me to today’s treasure. My Mum never sends anyone away empty handed. So at the end of a day enjoying the coast as well as each other’s company around a generous table of delicious food, we came home bearing gifts: two loaves of home-made Irish wheaten bread.
There is something homely and satisfying about freshly baked bread. It is elemental and life giving: we need the nourishment that is found in bread to survive.
At Christmas we remember that Christ was born in Bethlehem In Hebrew, Bethlehem means ‘House of Bread’. Christ himself declared, as recorded in John’s Gospel, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Nigel Slater chooses ‘a quiet and humble loaf’ as the very first recipe for the New Year in his The Kitchen Diaries II. And in their fascinating book Breaditation, Manuel Monade and Caroline Harrison write:
‘the sight of a beautiful loaf, created with your own hands and mind, coming out of the oven…is one of the most uplifting experiences in life. It is good for the body, and even better for the soul. So keep on baking!’
My Mum’s wheaten bread is a Northern Irish staple and I can assure you that it goes really well at this time of the year with a steaming cup of tea. Family recipes for wheaten bread can differ, and some are kept top secret! But in celebration of the treasure of my Mum’s home baking on this Third Day of Christmas, with her permission, I’m very pleased to share her recipe here.
Mum’s Northern Irish Wheaten Bread Recipe
12 oz wholemeal
4 oz self raising flour
2 oz soft margarine
pinch of salt
2 level teaspoons baking soda
3 oz caster sugar
1/2 pint buttermilk
Rub margarine into dry ingredients. Mix in beaten eggs and buttermilk. Spoon mixture into 2 x 1lb loaf tins lined with baking parchment. Bake in the oven at 170°C for 40 minutes.