Thank goodness my Mother-in-Law doesn't read my blog. I'm not entirely sure she'd be pleased that I am putting her old family recipe online! Anyway, I never met Granny Mahoney in person, but the old gal had some seriously good recipes. You can find her Mince Pie in my recipe section as well.
"Irish Bread" can mean many things. After doing a little research and speaking to several Irish friends over the years, I have come to the conclusion that there are many variations of what we Americans call "Irish Bread." It can have raisins or it can be plain Soda Bread (I am told that we Americans mistakenly call all Irish Bread "Soda Bread," when in fact real soda bread does not have raisins, and the raisin kind is either called Raisin Bread or just called Irish Bread). It can have caraway seeds or not (and some people are VERY opinionated about this ingredient!) Some breads are slightly sweet, while others not so much. A food historian claims that (historically) traditional Irish bread was not sweet at all and had nothing in it. There is also Irish Brown Bread, which is a kind of soda bread made with wheat flour.
Irish Breads vary based on which part of Ireland the recipe comes from and who tweaked it along the way. Every Irish person will tell you that his or her mother/grandmother made it a certain way, and THAT is therefore the real way to make it!
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease and flour a 12" cast iron skillet.
4 Cups Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon salt (yes, a Tablespoon)
3/4 Cup Sugar
1 teaspoon caraway seeds (you can leave these out if you don't like them)
2 Tablespoon Shortening or Margarine
1 1/2 Cup Raisins (half dark, half golden)
2 Cups Buttermilk
Soak the raisins in hot water while you get the other ingredients ready.
Put the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Cut in the shortening. Drain the raisins and pat dry with a paper towel, then add them in. Pour in the buttermilk. Stir well. Turn out onto a generously floured board and knead well, adding more flour as you go. This dough will be very sticky at the start. You want to knead it "Til it's as smooth as a baby's bottom" as my Mother-in-Law says.
Put it into a greased and floured Cast Iron Skillet (12" is ideal) and bake approximately 1 hour until golden on top and set in the middle. Cut a cross in the top if desired (there is a heated debate in my husband's family about whether or not there should be a cross in the bread).
NOTE: If you do not have a Cast Iron skillet, beg, borrow or steal one for this - it really does make a difference! Otherwise you can use a round cake pan (10" or 12") but the crust will not quite be the same.
Cool the bread until just warm before cutting.