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Irish in Albany: Bread as art

March 7, 2015

by Jessica LePore

For the third year in a row, the Irish American Heritage Museum Saturday held its Irish Soda Bread Amateur Competition. The competition at Broadway and Division street began at 10 a.m. and finished with awards at 3 p.m.

The majority of submissions were ‘walk-ins’  during same day registration though some folks did pre-register, said Ryan Mahoney,  museum executive director.

A total of 49 loaves of Irish soda bread were submitted, and the first-place winner was Megan Smith for her traditional white soda bread. First place in the traditional brown bread category was Tara Rogers and first place for family style soda bread was Rob Madeo.

Irish Soda Bread entries displayed for tasting/Jessica LePore

Irish Soda Bread entries displayed for tasting/Jessica LePore

“It’s a really popular, really successful event. It’s a great way to gather in downtown Albany,” Mahoney said.

Each competitor must bring two loaves of bread, one for judging and one for the display table, which was available for attendees to take a taste after the judging.

Judging each bread was Michael Kieran, executive chef at Wheatfields Bistro and Wine Bar;  Peter Desmond, culinary educator at Quester III, and Patrick Hale, a trustee at the Irish American Heritage Museum .

Judging the loaves of soda bread began at 10 a.m. and finished around 1 p.m.  The bread was judged on its shape, moisture, bread chew, soda taste and so on. Participants were welcome to stay and enjoy Irish movies while waiting for the results or they were able to wander around in the mean time.

Each soda bread submission is measured on its merits, according to Harold Qualters, an Irish American chef, founder of the competition, trustee of the museum.

“Each judge critiques independently. The reason behind it is it is much more fair to the competitor,” Qualters said.

All participants and judges posing with their creation/Jessica LePore

All participants and judges posing with their creation/Jessica LePore

There were three different “categories” that the participants could put their soda bread in: traditional Irish soda bread which could only contain: white flour, sour milk or buttermilk, baking soda, and salt. The second category was traditional brown Irish soda bread which could only contain: whole wheat flour, sour milk or buttermilk, baking soda, and salt. Lastly was family style Irish soda bread (not strictly traditional) which could contain: any kind of flour, any source of acid, any chemical leavened, and any other ingredients that are traditional in your family.

Although the traditional soda bread contained the same four ingredients doesn’t mean they were all alike.

“It’s amazing how with just four ingredients, how different they can look. Not one looks the same,” Kiernan said.

At 3 p.m. everyone gathered around to hear who would be awarded first place, second place, third place and a honorary mention in each category. First place winner in each category received $300, second place winner in each category received a $100 gift card to Price Chopper and the third place winner in each category was awarded an Irish Cuisine Cook Book.

All the winners came together after the awards/Jessica LePore

All the winners came together after the awards/Jessica LePore

With a total of 12 winners overall, the event seemed to be a success of Irish Heritage, swapping recipes and Irish Soda Bread for all. In the category for traditional white Irish soda bread: first place went to Megan Smith, second place went to Joyce Flanagan, third place went to Mary Bancroft and honorable mention went to Linda Thorburn. The next category for traditional brown Irish soda bread, first place went to Tara Rogers, second place went to Rob Madeo, third place went to Anya Endsley and honorable mention went to Amy Gietl. Lastly for family style Irish soda bread, first place went to Rob Madeo, second place went to Megan Smith, third place went to April Holmes and honorable mention went to John Gara.

“This is another idea to reach out to our audience,” Mahoney said. “Everyone can connect with food.” -30-

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