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Circa 1820  

The family recipe for Noreen's Irish Soda Bread dates back to 1820.  It came from her father's family, and was passed on to her mother's family in the mid 1800s . A colleague and friend, famous Author Greg Patent asked Noreen if he could feature the recipe in his wonderful book 'A Baker's Odyssey' published by John Wiley in 2007. Delighted at the reaction the recipe created,  Greg informed  Noreen that the recipe caught the imagination of the Media worldwide because of the 'emeralds' seen inside the bread. "How appropriate", many were heard to say. A while later, a well known Irish Chef was interviewed by the Internet publication Epicurious. According to the article, he laughed at the idea that this was a traditional Irish Soda Bread recipe. He claimed that Sunflower seeds (seen in the recipe) did not exist in Ireland in the early 1800s, when traditional Irish Soda Bread became known on the scene, due to climatic conditions; and that the seeds are new to the Irish food scene in recent times.  

Incorrect! Here is the story on how Sunflower seeds originally made their way onto the Irish food scene - Circa 1820.   

The sunflower seeds arrived in Europe from the New World and Mexico in the 1600s, when the Spanish brought them back to Spain. They were grown successfully, and became widespread thereafter throughout Europe. Noreen's  family on both sides, are sea faring people. Her father was from Bantry, where his father was a Lt. Commander of a Royal Navy ship based in Bantry Bay. Their ancestors included  Royal Naval Commanders going back to Commander Alexander Hamilton, who was sent to Ireland with his ship to Bantry Bay in 1820. He met Donna Maria, a Spanish lady who was on a visit to Ireland to see her brother. He fell in love, changed his religion to Catholicism,  and married her. Family records indicate she was responsible for bringing the Sunflower seeds from Spain to Ireland where they were used by the family Cook. In the decades that followed, the Hamilton family became close friends of the Collins family. Noreen's mother Evelyn, spent her early years with her grandparents. She had many memories of her grandfather, Captain Jeramiah Collins, a cousin of the famous General Michael Collins,  and met the 'big man' many times in her youth. Captain Collins was a Merchant Sea Captain, with his own ships. He was well known on the Cork scene, where he put his life at great risk many times, helping Irish fugitives escape from the Black and Tans. He hid them, dressed as monks and nuns in his home in Cork City, and at his family estate down the river in Glenbrook, while he arranged their escapes out of the country. Evelyn remembered well when as a youngster going into the dining room many times, these 'religious' people were seated having their breakfasts before moving on.  

The Hamiltons and the Collins families often visited each other, and appear in photographs of Noreen's grand parents and parents weddings.All photos are now in the library collection Noreen has put together. When her parents were born, they would be put into the same cot to sleep during many of the family gatherings. The family recipe passed to the Collins family in Evelyn's grandparents generation in the mid 1800s. The Captain imported and exported goods to and from Ireland, the UK and the Continent.  He brought the Sunflower seeds into Ireland too. The Irish Soda Bread recipe continued to be prepared from generation to generation by the family cooks. Evelyn enjoyed the bread from her early days, as did Noreen too, when she was introduced to it at family meals while she stayed with her grandparents in the post WW 2 years, when home from India on a visit to Ireland. As always, the 'emeralds' fascinated Noreen, and she remembers well when the family cook Molly made the delicious Irish Soda Bread. Evelyn gave the family recipe to Noreen in 1960.   

In recent years, Noreen has had many chats with Peter Barry, (Barry's teas) and former Minister for Foreign Affairs in Garret FitzGerald's Fine Gael Government, She knows Peter from her years living in Ireland before moving to the USA. Peter was a close friend of Evelyn's first cousin, the late Jerry Kerins.  They have discussed the famous exploits of  'The Captain' as he was called, and Peter told Noreen all about what went on, which was also told to him by Jerry and Jerry's mother Catherine Collins, daughter of 'the Captain'.  In the 1970s, the Examiner newspapers published an article written by Noreen about 'the Captain', who was called 'A pirate' by Winston Churchill in the British Parliament. Currently,  an Irish author is writing a book on the period, and highlighting some of the exploits. Fortunately for all, 'the Captain' was never caught.    

Noreen took a group of Culinarians from the US, Canada and the UK on a Culinary tour of Ireland in 2006, sponsored by many groups in Ireland. (Go to the web site CORNUCOPIA link on the home screen, then click on the Emerald Isle link, where one can read all about the Culinary Tour, the sponsorships and see many photos and a slide show.) One day on the tour, they were guests of the Irish Dairy Board/Kerrygold. Their hosts  arranged a visit and tour of the butter museum in Cork, followed by a visit to the English market, and lunch afterwards upstairs at the Farm Gate. One of the participants bought Irish Soda bread in the market and broke it up to give samples to those in the tour group. **There were the 'emeralds' and as always, they created great interest.  In recent decades, the Sunflower seeds have been seen in Irish Soda Bread throughout Ireland, and are widely used today.


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**Tip: For anyone who does not know, the Sunflower seeds turn green during the cooking process, resulting from a chemical interaction with another ingredient used. It happens approximately 97% of the time, and once in a while....3%, they do not change color.

The Author of the Baker's Odyssey requested a professional opinion from world renowned Food Scientist Shirley Corriher, on why this process in color of the Sunflower seeds happens during the baking of the bread. Her reply is documented in Noreen's Culinary Library.