See What I Have Done

THE BOOK:

32508637.jpgThere’s something about the Lizzie Borden story that is intriguing in its gruesomeness. This book confirms that I just don’t know who killed Andrew and Abby Borden. Lizzie of course, seems the likely candidate, and behaves strangely enough, a sort of child-woman, as depicted in the book. If the book can be believed, there was a reason why everyone around her tried to shield and protect Lizzie, which is why Emma, her older sister has just as much motive, if not more, to kill her father and stepmother. Lizzie always got what she wanted, including a grand tour trip to Europe, that Emma desperately wanted to do herself, but her father insisted on sending only Lizzie. When Abby first joined the Borden family after Lizzie and Emma’s mother died, she indulged Lizzie, by giving her extra sweets the knowledge of which she and Lizzie kept from her father, who didn’t approve of such indulgences. Emma knew about this, and distanced herself emotionally from Abby, while Lizzie called Abby “Mother” early on. I’m not sure at what point she began calling her stepmother Mrs. Borden, an obvious move to distance herself. The most sympathetic character is Bridget Sullivan, the maid. Just a girl when she left Ireland, she had little comfort in “golden” America. She was hard-working and discreet, doing her job while trying not to judge her employer and his family, in spite of being miserablein their odd little household. I’m assuming that the character Benjamin is fictional, because I haven’t found anything about him specifically, just that there had been a strange man around in the days before the murders. This was an interesting take on the Borden affair, and will perhaps draw more visitors to the bed and breakfast in Fall River that used to be the Borden  homestead.

THE BEAUTY: Bridget Sullivan’s family. What a loving bunch, and her neighbors, too. Back in Ireland, when Bridget grew tired of being groped by yet another grubby estate master, she was dismissed without a recommendation, because she stood her ground against him. She was running out of options, this last position was her third so she made the decision to move to America. She invited all her family and neighbors to her “American wake.” And what a wake it was! Food and mulled wine, song and dance, fiddle and drum, flute and cruit. In spite of the expense, Bridget’s father arranged for a photographer to record the event. While they stood for him, trying not to move, Nanna said, “I’ll die before this photograph is taken,” causing everyone to laugh and the photographer to stamp his foot in frustration and had to take the photograph again. Bridget kept that photograph in her room as a poignant reminder of what she’d left behind – community. As to the wake part, after partying for hours, the keening started. Bridget lay on the sofa as each of the guests approached to say goodbye and that they hoped to see her again. Beautiful, and sad.

THE FOOD: I think part of the Borden family’s problem was mutton. They ate mutton stew for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The pot sat on the stove all day long in the hot summer! I think I might be moved to murderous thoughts, anyway, if all I had to eat was mutton stew. So my sights turned to Bridget’s farewell party in Ireland, and there I found my food: soda bread. Having just celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, my husband was not happy with any of the store-bought soda breads he tried. “Not enough caraway!”

Caraway Soda Loaf

3½ C of all-purpose flour
½ C  sugar
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¼ lb cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1⅔ C raisins
3 tsp caraway seeds
3 large eggs, at room temperature, divided
1 C buttermilk*
*If necessary, you can substitute buttermilk with a half cup of plain yogurt mixed in with a cup of plain milk and a tablespoon of white vinegar.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 9×5 inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using your fingers or a fork, work the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the raisins and the caraway seeds.

In a medium bowl, whisk two of the eggs to combine. Whisk in the buttermilk. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

The dough should be neither too wet or too dry, so if it is a little too dry to work with, add a little more buttermilk. If too wet, add a little more flour. Place the dough lonto a lightly floured work surface, pat into a loaf and put in the prepared pan. Don’t overwrok the dough. Beat the final egg to mix and brush the top of the loaf with it. Using a sharp knife, cut a ¼ inch deep lengthwise slash down the middle of the loaf leaving a 1-inch margin at either end.

Bake the soda bread in the middle of the oven until well browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Check the loaf at 45 minutes. If the toothpick doesn’t come out clean and the crust is really brown, tent foil over it and  cook another 5 to 15 minutes. Turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Quick breads like this, which rely on baking soda for leavening, are generally best eaten soon after they’re baked.

I forgot to take a picture of the loaf before I froze it in slices. My husband said it was the best Irish soda bread he’s ever had, and he’s old, so he’s had a lot!

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