Note from curator Rozanne Gold: I adore Irish Soda Bread and don’t eat it often enough. That will certainly change now that I have this fabulous recipe from Connie Love. Not only is her version filled with love and lore, but is lovingly written by Allison Radecki, who interviewed Connie for this story. It’s “Handwritten” doing what it does best. The recipe is written in Connie’s hand on thin, yellowed paper which she keeps protected, slipped into a small plastic sleeve. It is marked with lines and revisions. Many thanks to Connie, Allison, and her mother, Joanna.
Connie Love's Irish Soda Break by Allison Radecki
There are some homes where everything you see has a story attached to it; a place where life is lived in the company of objects that keep the memories of loved ones alive and where the spirit of a bygone era is still gloriously vibrant.
Such is the home of Connie Love, a close family friend with whom I have been lucky enough to share friendship, much kindness, and lots of laughter in both easy days and tough times over the years. A lover of recipes and a wonderful cook, Connie is the type of friend who will call you to say that there is an extra jar of homemade minestrone with your name on it, waiting for you on her front stoop. “Just remember to stop by and pick it up.”
My mother, Joanna, worked alongside Connie for many years as a realtor in Montclair, New Jersey, and benefited from many such surprises that emerged from Connie’s generous kitchen. Since Connie’s retirement, the two of them still manage to share adventures, whether it is an impromptu movie night or a game of Pickleball, the fantastically named hybrid of tennis and ping-pong, at the local YMCA.
In celebration of various holidays, Connie’s baked goods would appear in our home and soon be reduced to a plate of crumbs. This is how I first encountered her Irish soda bread, which often accompanied the first days of Spring and the Saint Patrick’s day season.
One afternoon this March, my mother and I sat down in Connie’s meticulous kitchen to talk about her soda bread recipe and found ourselves engaged in a whirlwind of memories, photographs, and stories. The recipe for her soda bread came from her mother, Amelia Malanga Ianucci (known as Minnie). Minnie, one of 14 children, was born in Newark, NJ, in 1895. She received this recipe as 17-year old bride from Mrs. Pollack, an Irish neighbor whose apartment shared a door to the same fire escape in a Newark tenement building. The recipe was said to be ‘the poor man’s soda bread’ since it did not use eggs or butter.
“My mother and Mrs. Pollack socialized on the balcony. Their apartments were side-by-side. The basement was filled with crocks with pickles and peppers. They kept the coal in the basements for the coal stoves.” Connie (Columbia Ianucci) and her twin sister, Betty (Elizabeth) were born in the midst of The Great Depression on Clifton Avenue in Newark, not far from The Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. “No one had a cookbook. No one had measurements. They just knew,” said Connie. “My mother knew the dough for knots. She knew the sweet crusts for Easter pies. My sister said, ‘we didn’t make an effort to know, so we didn’t know.’” Because of this, Connie, herself a young bride, had her mother dictate her soda bread process as she committed the steps to paper. Connie figures that she wrote the recipe down in the 1950s when she was already married and running her own house.
“The tenements smelled, not of garlic and food, but of bleach. The women would bleach the wooden floors until they were almost white.” Bleach was delivered to the women in the tenements by the bleach salesman. “These women didn’t have cars. They didn’t go to the stores.” She remembers the Jewish peddlers who sold linens, which her mother would buy — a tablecloth here, a sheet there — slowly stocking the Hope Chest for her and her sister. “The Stanley guys sold brooms, house products…brushes. The insurance guy came by to collect the insurance premiums — ten cents, twenty cents.”
A network of other relatives lived close by. Connie’s Grandmother’s tenement was on Stone Street. Aunt Tilly lived downstairs. Uncle Arthur and Aunt Ella lived in different tenements in the area. Connie’s father, Stephen Ianucci, was born in Italy in 1890. Connie remembers that at night, her father would read the paper out-loud and her mother would correct him, in an effort to erase his Italian accent. Dinner was always served at 5:30 p.m.
Connie reminisced some more. How she and her sister would harmonize with their mother as they washed the dishes -- “we had no tv and the radio was on top of the fridge. The Green Hornet, music, all sorts of shows.” And she remembered the big black stove with the chrome piece which she would have to polish when her grandmother said “Vieni qua."
Sadly, it was time for us to go. But I’ve got Connie’s recipe and an invitation to come back again. There would be more stories to tell.
Connie Love’s Irish Soda Bread
8 cups flour
3/4 cup of sugar
4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
2 cups of raisins
1 tsp. caraway seeds
About 4 cups of sour milk
(buttermilk or whole milk with one
tablespoon of lemon juice mixed in)
1. Sift dry ingredients together. Add 2 cups of raisins and caraway seeds, if desired. Add 4 to 5 cups of buttermilk (or whole milk with lemon juice). Mix to hold together.
2. Knead for 1 minute or just mix (not too soft, although never fails, whatever the texture).
3. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes until golden brown (loaf pans or a cake pan).
This recipe makes 3 loaves, which freeze well and are delicious when toasted.