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Entries in the Peter Smith Feis Irish soda bread competition

Irish dance meets Irish food at the Peter Smith soda bread competition

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Entries in the Peter Smith Feis Irish soda bread competition

View photos from the Peter Smith Feis: Click here

You might think that parents have enough to do at feiseanna, what with transporting their children, making sure they get to their competitions on time and that they don’t get lost in the crowd.

Some of them, however, decide to participate themselves – not in the dancing, but in the soda bread competition.

Many feiseanna have an additional element of culture alongside dance. Sometimes this takes the form of music and other times it’s art.

The Peter Smith Feis in Edison, New Jersey on Sunday had both a Celtic art and a soda bread contest, and this gave non-dancing parents a chance to join in the Irish-themed fun.

“I like to bake,” said Jill Rothman from New Jersey, whose two daughters were dancing. “And it’s fun when you win!”

The soda bread competition is more serious than you’d think. Peter Smith, who adjudicated, took a good 20 minutes to choose a winner, and he received advice from friends, relatives and passersby.

A total of 9 plates of soda bread sat on the table, each with a number attached, since the contest was judged blind.

Smith tasted tiny portions of bread again and again, and the cakes gradually crumbled to nothing as the other people sampling them also came back for more.

“Peter was looking for texture and taste,” says B. J. Siegel, a feis volunteer, who passed cake slices to Smith.

“He’s an artist and into aesthetics, so presentation was very important for him.” The soda bread, for instance, had to have a cross at the center.

The breads were rather different from traditional Irish soda, which is made of a very basic mix of flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk. Laced with sugar and filled raisins, they were sweet and rich, and the winning cake (number 3005) contained caraway seeds.

Afterwards some Irish bread bakers were disappointed, but the tastiness of the soda bread prevailed.

“I didn’t win,” Jill Rothman said. “But people ate most of mine. It got the popular vote!”

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