St. Patrick and his dog – The facts revealed at last.

Spotted DogThere are many ‘versions’ of the story of St. Patrick. Given the time of year, I thought I should clarify the situation and give you the cold hard facts about the man. The first thing we know is that he was Welsh. This we know by the type of crosier he carried. There are rumours that he might have been a Scotsman but any sheep farmer knows that the Scottish crozier has a very different head to the Welsh. Scottish sheep have a thicker necks than Welsh and as a result, the Scottish crozier has a more open crook, making it useless for snake scooping. St. Patrick hunted snakes with the aid of a dalmatian hound. In fact, the great Irish patron saint named one of the three (for there are only three) traditional Irish foods after the dog.

Side note on traditional Irish food: For the record, the other two traditional Irish foods are the McDonald’s, brought here by a clown who escaped servitude in a travelling circus and the Doner Kebab, introduced to our native shores by Ismael, an exotic Eastern whose traditional kebab shop is now run by the 27th generation of his family on Dublin’s Baggot Street. These two rich Irish traditions are kept alive by today’s world-famous Irish gourmand generation.

The story goes that as a baby, Patrick had developed a pathological fear of and hatred for snakes, having witnessed his father being eaten by a (now extinct) Welsh Vineyard Python. These beasts terrorised the populations of the Welsh wine-producing regions during the 5th and 6th centuries. In fact, their presence caused the total collapse of that native industry and to this day, wine is not produced on any significant scale in Wales.

Fearing for the child’s life, Patrick’s mother fled to Ireland and took up with a shamrock farmer. Patrick was brought into the business on the sales end of things. He was expert at selling the shamrock to peasants, pointing out the sign of the Holy Trinity in the three leafed plant. When not selling the shamrock Patrick (for he was not a saint at the time) spent a lot of his time developing two other strands of the family business, baking a plain soda bread (a very Welsh tradition) and producing currants by drying the native Irish red and white grapes by the fire.

On one such occasion, while Patrick sat at the kitchen table, preparing a dough, his faithful dalmatian, saw a snake slithering across the floor. The dog, being as fearful of snakes as his master, jumped on to the table, knocking a jar of sultanas into a bowl of prepared dough. “Well spotted, Dog.” Cried the young Patrick as he scooped the offending snake with the crozier and threw it into the fire.

Being Welsh, Patrick would not waste the dough so he mixed in the sultanas and baked the first ever such loaf, which he named after the incident by calling it Spotted Dog.

With the back story complete, here’s the recipe handed down through the generations to my grandmother, a direct descendant of both St. Patrick and Cúchulainn, the mythical Irish warrior, but, that’s another tale.

Ingredients

  • 460 grammes of plain flour
  • 350 ml of buttermilk or ordinary milk and a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice.
  • 110 grammes of mixed sultanas and raisins
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
Spotted Dog

Everything St. Patrick used to create the original Spotted Dog.

First, get the oven up to 220º C. The rest of the preparation takes about 5 minutes so do this in advance. Sieve the flour into a large bowl.

Spotted Dog

Sieving was introduced into Ireland in the 6th century as a way of removing snake scales from the flour.

Side note on flour sieving: This practice was first introduced, not to prevent lumpiness in breads but to remove snake scales. Back in the day, Irish snakes used to sleep in flour sacks and their discarded scales could get stuck between the teeth, if not removed through sieving. 

Then measure out the milk.

Spotted Dog

Any excuse for a pouring shot.

Then add the lemon juice (We both know you are not going to bother buying buttermilk).

Spotted Dog

My second of two pouring shots for this post. Sure, you’d have to.

Add the baking powder and salt to the flour.

Spotted Dog (1 of 1)-2

I’ll try to make an action shot out of almost anything.

Break in the egg, add about 2/3 of the milk and gently fold together into a nice, light dough. This is pretty messy, use one hand, keeping the other free for adding more milk as needed. You will probably not need it all. But, better safe than sorry.

Spotted Dog

Rumour has it that St. Patrick used his crozier for this bit.

Add the currants and mix them in, gently. Turn it out on to a floured surface.

Spotted Dog

Starting to look pretty authentic.

Transfer to an oven tray and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 200 and bake for a further 35 minutes. Remove, using a tea towel (That’s traditional too) and place it on a wire rack to cool.

Spotted Dog (10 of 12)

Excellent traditional Spotted Dog, following St. Patrick’s own recipe.

When it’s cool, break it or slice it into pieces. Slather them with butter and enjoy a real St. Patrick’s Day tradition, handed down from St. Patrick, through our family to me.

Spotted Dog

The jam is optional. There is no historical record of St. Patrick eating jam.

Epilogue: Following on from the snake in the kitchen incident, St. Patrick had a fight with his father in law and was banished from the shamrock business. He went on to become a leading figure in the environmental clean up business, specialising in vermin infestations. It is rumoured that his company rid Ireland of not only snakes but also the Wombat. The latter establishing itself in Australia by hiding out on Viking ships that originally colonised that continent. But that, as they say, is another story altogether.

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Latest comments
  • What a brilliant piece – love it!

    • Thanks Fiona. I thought I should get the truth out there.

  • Wow, as an Aussie I feel we should own up and apologise for the infestations of Wombats. Knowing how chubby and plod-about those fur balls are (I find it hard to believe,) they ever made their way to Ireland in the first place. On another note I fully enjoyed your story of St Pat’s and the spotted dog. I thoroughly love sultanas and bread so this recipe gets a big yum from me.

    • Thanks Alice, every word of it is true….

  • Hilarious Conor! … I actually ‘lolled’ .. Spike Milligan (who was also a direct descendant of Saint Paaaatrick*) would have been proud of this .. and would probably have enjoyed the Sporreh Dhog (as they say north of the Liffey) .. Beeyoorifully photographed too .. * [See Pic ob FB]

    • Thanks. Every word of it true. Milligan was great on this kind of stuff.

  • I was reminded of a cartoon I once saw of a man in a bishop’s mitre and crozier behind the wheel of a convertible filled with snakes. It was entitled ‘St. Patrick drives the snakes out of Ireland’…

    • Love it. Though that’s not how it really happened.

      • Good Heaven’s… does the Vatican know that?

  • I will never sieve again without thinking of the snake scales. 🙂

  • We actually do buy buttermilk! This bread looks amazing. It is sad when we travel abroad, in large part for the cuisine, to see the popularity of Mickey D’s. Oh well.

    • Too true. I use the lemon juice in lactose free milk rather than buttermilk because the daughters are both lactose intolerant. Intolerant of me a lot of the time too, but what can you do?

  • Cracking bread and congrats on the rugby!

    • Thanks Nick. It was a fantastic game. Great way for BOD to go out.

      • Indeed – he must be over the moon. Shame he has to leave really.

  • As my two-year-old would exclaim, “Fuhhhh-nnhhheeee!” Gorgeous bread…. I am on the side of the fence that adores raisins in bread.

    • Thanks Shanna, My mum used to make this when we were kids too. I well remember waiting anxiously while the bread cooled in the kitchen window. That is over 40 years ago and it is as clear as if yesterday. Happy memories.

      • That is the most beautiful memory. I will make this delicious ASAS bread if it means my children will be greeted by warm smells and wonderful nostalgia in four decades. 🙂

  • Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh! (I hope I got this right!?) to you Conor and your family. My heart will go down South to Clonmell. Will bake your “Spotted Dog” in morning. I just love your article – very informativ. Thank you and enjoy your days of fun to come. Carina

    • Hi Carina,
      All done in the best possible taste. Many thanks for the kind greetings.

  • Very interesting Conor, I always enjoy history lessons.

    Something funny happened when I was reading your post, as I first thought you had pulled a “reverse Conor” by putting something *too much* in the ingredient shot (the lemon) because I couldn’t see it was milk rather than buttermilk. I actually thought the lemon was there for the zest.
    Perhaps it could be nice to zest the lemon before juicing it, and add the zest to the dough? You might need to add a bit of sugar to balance out the acidity as well.
    I have never really understood American recipes with inexplicable mixtures of baking powder and baking soda, but I think in this case baking soda would work as well because of the acid from the buttermilk or lemon juice.

    • Thanks Stefan, you have hit on something there. In future posts, I should add in a selection of ingredients that I may or may not use. This will prevent any future embarrassment with missing ingredients. Happy St. Patrick’s Festival (we are spreading the activity to help kick-start the economy).

    • I knew I’d seen this post before 🙂

  • Brilliant insight into Irish folklore/actual food history! Cheers.

    • It’s my patriotic duty to see that the truth gets out there. Far too many inaccurate stories floating around.

  • Very informative and no doubt historically (or at any rate hysterically) accurate. You should write a follow up to How The Irish Saved Civilisation as I think the authors missed a few salient points. xxx

    • Thanks Linda. I strove for accuracy, as you can see.

  • I really enjoyed this! The recipe looks great; possibly on the list of things to bake tomorrow.

    • Thanks Emma,
      Do give it a go Remember to keep it as light as possible. The end result will be far nicer.

  • I feel so lucky – an accurate history lesson plus a really great recipe. You’re a very wise and generous man, Conor. We all thank you. The quarter Irish in me feels very proud.

    • Quarter Irish Tommy? That qualifies you for a leaf from a ‘lucky’ four leafed shamrock. From St. Patrick’s father in law’s farm, of course. All the shamrock one sees on TV presenters comes from there. Honest!

      • See, I knew I was lucky. 🙂

  • A very happy St Patrick’s Day to you and your family! How lovely to begin the week with this history lesson! Australia seems to have decided to be ‘practical’ ~ Hate to tell you all festivities, parades etc took place yesterday [Sunday 16th] and according to all the news reports there really was a lot of green around! It seems to me there are an awful lot of Irish here Down Under ’cause McDonalds and Doner Kebab are ‘must haves’ locally also 😉 !

    • The Australians are certainly a practical lot. There’s nothing more Irish than a few pints of green beer followed by a traditional kebab. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

      • A very happy St Pat’s Milord – or at least Mr Google is telling me I have not developed A’heimer’s overnight!! But what on earth are all these ‘wishes’ from three years back doing on the page . . . ? . . . . OK, I can scroll 🙂 ! Shall try to find the green beer . . . and sing ‘Hey, hey, the gang;s still here ‘ . . .

  • Very interesting history and told with your typical humor. I love this recipe and would like to try it soon. I like your action shots.

    • Thanks Amanda. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

  • Beautiful post! I’ve enjoyed ready the story even though I would have liked to know even about the other tale!

    • Thank you. All true. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

  • Happy St Patrick’s Day, Conor.
    The confusion surrounding the crosier comes from the fact that it’s direct descendant, Adam Crozier (CEO of ITV, formerly with Saatchi & Saatchi), attended Edinburgh university studying snake charming – a highly useful training when taking up a career in advertising and media, as I’m sure you’ll agree Conor. 😉
    Lovely photos as ever and most amusing.

    • Brilliant. I love how you sucked in most of my career into that one comment.

  • So brilliant to read about the legend 😉 Thanks too for educating us about McDonalds and Donner Kebabs 🙂 Cheers!

  • Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Conor!

    • Thanks Gwen,
      It’s been very quiet for me. A long cycle this AM and resting my sore legs this PM.
      Same greetings of the day to you too.

  • Love the story, will try the recipe!

    • Thank you. Do please. Don’t over-mix the dough. You will have a lead loaf if you do!

  • A great story to go along with an authentic recipe. Can’t ask for much more from a post. Thanks, Conor.

    • Thanks John, the recipe is about as authentic as the story, for sure.

  • Just found your blog – enjoyed it tremendously. I can’t wait to begin reading some of the other posts. Although I think my mother called this loaf something else – perhaps they had a different name for it in Limerick? 😉

    • Thanks Dierdre,
      There is one other name for it that I thought better of using here. It could have been fun but….

  • Weeeellll, good food, dodgy story, much better than vice versa….and I’ve always thought who but the Irish would have a patron saint who was Welsh anyhow?

    • So often my posts have it the other way around. You gotta love the Welsh.

  • Oh I love this. You are hilarious, I’d like to officially request that you re-tell every old fable, myth and childhood story in blog form! I did read something about St Patrick and the snakes a few years ago… I probably would’ve paid more attention to it if the Spotted Dog recipe was part of the text! This looks like a delicious loaf Conor, I definitely intend to make this on the weekend!

    • What do you mean “myth”? This is handed down through the generations. It is 100% true!

      • Ah, yes… I was, uh, referring to other ‘myths, tales and such’!

  • Still cracks me up. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  • It’s no surprise to me that you earn your crust in advertising, as that has to be the most (ahem) colourful and imaginative spin on the tale of Pádraig and the serpents of Ireland that I’ve ever read. But then, I knew you for a man of inspiration just from your recipes. Although I can’t replicate this exactly, I’m with you in spirit as I lavish butter on my home made currant buns… would you ever consider a light wafting of cinnamon in the dough, or is that insufficiently authentic?

  • That reminds me, I need to buy buttermilk! Great post, love a good tale. 🙂

  • What happened to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? A great story and a delicious looking bread.

  • looks very good; I am surprised though that baking powder is used instead of bic of soda (considering the acid element)/these quick breads, sweet and savory, are always highly rewarding: minimum effort, maximum gain. I learnt how to make soda bread and similar at Ballyamaloe from Myrtle Allen (I was there interviewing her): one of the most memorable moments in any kitchen.
    Instead of soured milk, I tend to use a mix of skimmed yogurt and skimmed milk/here in London the buttermilk is pretty bad (basically it is not buttermilk at all)

  • I had to do a double-take when I saw a second post from you this week, but it is more than welcome! I chuckled through your retelling of the authentic history of St. Patrick, snakes scales in my flour, and all! I thought flour was always sifted to get rid of the weevils, but now I now the truth. Thank you Conor. (p.s. I’m a fan of cinnamon sugar atop all that butter on raisin bread.)

  • Thanks for the laugh Conor, cracking story! Irishness is well respected in our household, thanks to a convict past

  • Well, that’s certainly a more interesting and preferable story to the one that the Parish priest told in his homily at my youngest lads school mass this morning. (School and church named of course, St Patrick’s.) Happy St Patrick’s Day, I just bloody wish the crozier wielding saint had rocked up to Australia and banished all the bloody snakes here instead. Ps bread looks cracking.

  • On behalf of the US, I apologize for the clown, but the kebabs are on you guys. 😉

    That bread looks fantastic. I have a brindle dog — can I still eat it?

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  • Good Lord, that bread looks delicious!

  • The spotted dog makes me think of “Ants On A Log: – – – – raisins across the top of a stick of celery filled with spreadable cheese

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