A Groundhog and Rosemary Rum Raisin Soda Bread
Greg and I are going to get into an argument tomorrow morning. If you happen to be passing by, listen for it to begin around 6:30 AM Central Standard Time. And if history serves as any indicator it will likely begin with the words, “He’s just a groundhog.”
I don’t have extraordinary psychic abilities; I’m not known for being prophetic in any way. Our February 2nd face-off is an annual tradition that stems from a decade long disagreement. For Greg, the day is merely the second day of the shortest month of the year. For me, it’s perhaps the single most important day of the year: Groundhog Day.
“He’s just a groundhog,” Greg said on our second date. I nearly choked on my burrito. Those words and the nonchalance in his tone made my lips curl. As the blood rushed to my face I thought, “maybe he’s not the one.”
Just a groundhog?
Was Old Yeller just a dog?
Was Seabiscuit just a horse?
Punxsutawney Phil is no ordinary groundhog. He’s the world’s most famous prognosticating rodent. With Phil comes the chance of an early spring and salvation from the icy clenches of Old Man Winter. If he sees his shadow when he emerges from his hole on Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney, PA, we can expect six more weeks of winter. Then Phil and I both crawl back into our holes and wait it out. No shadow and spring is just around the corner. This year marks Phil’s 126th prognostication. According to the data Phil predicts an “early spring” only 13% of the time.
“But there are always six more weeks of winter after the second of February. The vernal equi-“
“I know when the vernal equinox is!” I’d said, cutting his science lesson short. “You’re missing the point.” I knocked back my margarita and slammed the glass on the table. We ate the rest of our dinner in silence. A third date seemed highly unlikely.
Growing up in Pennsylvania I assumed Groundhog day was a national holiday. Imagine my surprise and horror when I fell for a Midwesterner who thought that Groundhog Day was only a 90s Bill Murray movie. When I said, “I do,” I expected Greg would eventually come around where Phil was concerned. Instead he relishes the annual opportunity to argue the finer points of forecasting, psychology, and mammal behavior, “I just can’t understand how someone with so many degrees can let their emotional well-being hinge on a twenty-pound rodent.” Each year, I promise myself that I’m not going to take the bait–that we will at last agree to disagree and go on with our day peacefully. And each year, when Groundhog Day arrives, and Greg starts in on Phil before the sun in Chicago is even up, I go a little mad.
Thanks to global warming I won’t be looking at Phil with the crazy eyes I had last winter. (He saved me with the rare early spring prediction last year.) Still, this unusually warm winter weather has left me in a state of waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. In 126 years, Phil has never predicted an early spring two years in a row. As I eagerly await Phil’s forecast, I’m stocking up on rum-soaked raisins. If he predicts a long winter, I’m going to crawl back into my hole with a warm loaf of this boozy soda bread and a stick of salty butter.
Rosemary Rum Raisin Soda Bread with Pecans
I’ve had a fondness for soda bread ever since I discovered Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Six-Seed Soda Bread from 101cookbooks.com. Play around with the flours and the mix-ins. Figs and walnuts, dried cranberries and pistachios, dates and almonds–you decide. This version was inspired by Lesley Stowe’s Rosemary Raisin Pecan Raincoast Crisps. It’s an addictive flavor combination. And finishing the bread with anise seeds adds just the right amount of spice.
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup dark rum
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 teaspoons for dusting the pan
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon milk
3/4 teaspoon anise seeds (optional) (Sesame seeds or rolled oats are nice substitutes, if you’re not an anise lover.)
- Combine the rum and raisins in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 seconds, then remove from heat. Cover and allow the raisins to macerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
- When you’re ready to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Coat a baking sheet with olive oil and lightly dust it with flour, or line it with parchment paper.
- In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, and rosemary. Stir in the toasted pecans.
- In a separate bowl combine the raisins with the rum, the yogurt, and honey.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Mix until the dough is too stiff to stir. Use your hands to bring it together in the bowl. Add additional yogurt one teaspoon at a time if it’s too dry. You want a stiff, slightly tacky ball.
- Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and shape into a round loaf. (Don’t over-knead the dough. Too much kneading will produce a tough bread.).
- Transfer the loaf to the prepared baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to make deep slashes across the top of the loaf, 4-6 cuts about half way through. Brush the top with milk. Sprinkle with seeds or oats if using.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will sound hollow.
- Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with a generous slather of butter.