Sunday, March 6, 2011


Marion Pellicano Ambrose

It’s that time of year again! The holiday that I love to recall from my childhood! No, it’s
not Christmas or Halloween! It’s Saint Patrick’s Day!

Growing up in Brooklyn had many advantages. First, we had the best food anywhere!
There were Jewish delis, Italian, Chinese, and Greek restaurants, and food stores of every
nationality in between. My neighborhood was largely Irish and Italian and we reaped
the benefits of both rich cultures. Our school was closed on Saint Patrick’s Day so we
could all celebrate and watch the parade. The smell of corned beef filled the streets and
ally ways all day. You had to wear green or be pinched, and the Knights of Columbus,
where all our fathers were members, served green beer. The windows of our homes
had shamrocks, harps and leprechauns taped up and for breakfast – Irish Soda bread of
course! It was a wonderful time to be proud of your heritage, sing the old songs that my
father loved, and enjoy being Irish (even if you really weren’t).
Two days later it was Saint Joseph’s Day! Unfortunately, no school holiday, but a special
day for Italian families and those of us lucky enough to have Italian friends! A fine Italian
dinner was always planned and prayers were said to honor the patron saint of Italy and
the family, but the best part of the day was Saint Joseph Cakes! Sfinge, the Italian name
for these pastries, consists of a delicate cream puff like shell filled with cream (canolli
cream was my favorite) and topped with powdered sugar and a cherry. In some Italian
families, the oldest Joseph had the responsibility of buying these pastries for the family.
My son has carried this tradition on since he was 15 months old, when his father died.
(with a little help from mom of course).

Following these family traditions has given my children a feeling of belonging and sense
of identity. They grew closer to their Nana (my mom) who told them the stories and sang
them the songs, and I’ve taught them a little Pennsylvania Dutch and shared the stories
that my Nana told me. My awesome mother in law has been teaching my daughter to
make Italian strufala, little fried dough balls swirled in a honey mixture and sprinkled
with confetti. And so the traditions continue.

That’s why I love this time of year. It’s a time for everyone to enjoy good food, fun and
family, just like Christmas or Halloween, or any holiday. I say we should all celebrate
whenever we get the chance to share the richness of other cultures and teach our children
to value diversity! And just to help you share, here’s my family recipe for Irish Soda

Cunningham Family Irish Soda Bread Recipe
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 Tbsp butter
1 cup raisins
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Mix together 4 cups of flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a
large mixing bowl.
2. Using your fingers), work butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal, then
stir in raisins.
3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add beaten egg and buttermilk to well
and mix in with a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff to stir. Dust hands with a little
flour, then gently knead dough in the bowl just long enough to form a rough ball. If the
dough is too sticky to work with, add in a little more flour. Do not over-knead! Transfer
dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a round loaf. Note that the dough will
be a little sticky. You want to work it just enough so that it comes together. If you over-
knead, the bread will end up tough.
4. Transfer dough to a large, lightly greased cake pan and pat to even it out. Using a
serrated knife, score top of dough about an inch and a half deep in the sign of the cross
(or X shape) Place in oven and bake until bread is golden and bottom sounds hollow
when tapped, about 35-45 minutes. Best served warm with fresh butter.



  1. Having had your soda bread - I highly recommend the recipe. I hope I have time to try it! So YUMMY!!!

  2. Great memories! I can't wait to try the recipe. Thank you.

  3. Sounds like it would just melt in your mouth!

  4. Tried the recipe and all I can say is YUM! Served it warm with butter and practically ate the whole loaf in one sitting. Keep those recipes coming. I love it!