Annie Sanderson’s County Cork Soda Bread
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!
A few years ago, Lorralee Cotter, granddaughter of Annie Sanderson, who ran John Hay Hammond’s kitchen in his castle home in Magnolia for years, invited me to her home. What I had expected would be more stories of the Hammond Castle kitchen became instead a profile of a strong young woman who came to Gloucester in 1905 at the age of 16 from County Cork, Ireland. Annie Sanderson’s story could have easily been one of too many children and too few resources, but, instead it is the tale of a talented, hardworking Irish woman who found independence and reward after raising seven children.
Annie Sanderson began professionally cooking when her youngest child turned eleven. From then on she worked as a cook six days a week for 16 hours a day, first for Mrs. Twombley of Eastern Point in Gloucester and then for Mr. Hammond in his grand, castle-replica of a home on Gloucester Harbor.
Sanderson was later able to purchase her own home on Rocky Neck, and to frequently escape to the Lenox Hotel in Boston for much-needed breaks and visits with her Boston relatives. Cotter, who adored her grandmother, describes Sanderson as the model of a self-sufficient, independent woman.
Piccalilli, haddock poached in butter with lemon and parsley, and swan meringues filled with ice cream were a few of the dishes Cotter remembers her grandmother cooking for Mr. Hammond and his frequent guests. Sanderson purchased five pounds of fresh haddock each week just for the castle cats.
Cotter remembered Mr. Hammond fondly, too. As her own mother, Sanderson’s daughter, became the second cook, Cotter spent much time in the castle playing with Boris, the German shepherd, and helping make the Hammond Castle Savory Salt (made from one pound of fresh parsley, which was dried and then mixed with 1/4 pound of garlic, 1/4 pound of ginger, 4 tablespoons of cayenne, 1/2 pound of celery salt, and 5 pounds of salt.)
Cotter has only one memory of her grandmother ever being irritated with her employer — the day Sanderson walked into the kitchen holding a recipe clipped from a newspaper, and, in her Irish brogue declared, “he wants this. It’s German. It has beer in it, and it won’t work!”
Sanderson reluctantly retired at 78.
“Mr. Hammond didn’t want her to leave,” Cotter said. The granddaughter visited her grandmother just weeks later, and found her pacing the floor and wringing her hands, saying, “I never should have retired. I never should have retired. I wish I were 70 again!”
A frequent dieter, Mr. Hammond often slipped into the kitchen to retrieve a jar of individual eggs poached in consomme which Sanderson kept for him. Soon after Sanderson retired, Mr. Hammond went on the Metrecal diet, a popular diet product that eventually became Slim-Fast.”
He died that year at 77. (Sanderson always claimed it was the Metrecal that killed him).
On the day of our visit, Cotter served County Cork tea in her grandmother’s fine porcelain tea cups, and cut wedges of her grandmother’s Special Irish Soda Bread, a craggy loaf fragrant with caraway and studded with raisins and citron. This is one of those recipes that tastes as special as the story behind it.
Annie Sanderson’s County Cork Soda Bread
[ Makes 1 loaf ]
2 cups King Arthur flour
3 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup citron or orange and lemon peel
1 egg mixed with enough milk to make 1 cup
2 tablespoons melted butter + more melted butter to brush top
Preheat oven to 350 º.
Mix first 5 ingredients together in a large bowl. Add raisins and peel, and coat with flour mixture.
Beat egg in milk, and add to dry ingredients with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Mix just enough to handle it.
Place dough in an ungreased 10" cast iron skillet or a greased round cake pan. With a sharp knife, cut a cross in the crest of the dough.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.
Butter the top of the loaf with remaining melted butter. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a wire rack.
Serve warm with lots of butter and tea.