Each year an amiable couple we know in the nearby village of Cherry Valley, New York, host a St. Patrick’s Day party. It is a laidback potluck buffet dinner, attended by a bohemian crowd of writers, artists, and other creative types, and everybody pitches in with enthusiasm. Children of all ages run around, toasts are made, plates are balanced in one hand or on one’s knees, politics local and national are discussed, gossip is shared, and much alcohol is consumed.
This year my husband took it into his head to visit a nearby second-hand bookstore and find a couple of vintage Irish cookery books for inspiration. The dish I decided to bring to our friends’ party last Saturday night was found in the pages of Feasting Galore: Recipes and Food Lore from Ireland, a 1952 work by Maura Laverty, the James Beard of Ireland. Porter cake is a traditional Irish dessert whose hearty taste comes from beer, either porter or Guinness stout, and liberal amounts of chopped citrus peel and lots of raisins. The only trouble I had was in following the recipe’s directive for the loaf-shape cake to be baked for two hours. I took it out at the 1-hour-15-minute mark because the cake was beginning to burn and have adjusted Laverty’s recipe accordingly.
SOURCE: Feasting Galore: Recipes and Food Lore from Ireland by Maura Laverty (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1952)
4 cups sifted flour
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups raisins
1 cup porter or Guinness stout
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons chopped citrus peel [I used the peels of 3 oranges, with the pith carefully removed]
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg [I used ground cloves because I couldn’t find the nutmeg]
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons salt
Sift flour, salt, and baking powder. Add sugar, nutmeg, and allspice. Rub in butter finely. [NOTE: I worked the butter into the dry ingredients with my hands, which was far easier than using a spatula or wood spoon.] Mix in raisins and citrus peel. Beat the eggs, add to them the porter or stout, and pour into the flour mixture, using a spoon to combine thoroughly. Pour the batter into a well-greased loaf tin and bake for 1 hour in a moderate (375 degrees Fahrenheit) oven or until a skewer or toothpick inserted comes out clean.
[SERVING SUGGESTION: Cut into thin slices and serve with vanilla ice cream or a drizzle of rich cream.]