Gosh and begorra, it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day again. A few years ago, I wrote about the foods which I experienced in Ireland and how to make some of the more popular Irish American dishes. Thing is, the foods that are traditional here are not what they actually eat over there, kind of like going to a Mexican restaurant and thinking that the tacos and burritos you’re eating there are things that are found in the Yucatan. So what do they eat? I can tell you that many of the traditional dishes are being pushed to to the side as the Irish are fast becoming foodies, but traditional Irish fare is peasant food, few ingredients, not many spices as they were too expensive. Beef was a luxury only for the rich but mutton and pig (all but the squeal) were items found on most tables. When they could, they’d forage for things like seaweed, wild mushrooms, nettles and other greens when in season, and shellfish like mussels which still are prolific on the coastlines and of course, the lowly spud made a million and one ways. The basic bread was soda bread.

Soda bread made in a bastible, so easy to do.

Soda bread made in a bastible, so easy to do.

I remember when there was an Irish store in Jonesboro, the owner had a contest every year for who could make the best soda bread. I’d been to Ireland the summer before I entered it the first time and had a recipe form the lady who owned the Cottage where the “Man of Aran” was filmed on Inis Mór . How could it get any more authentic than that? As it turned out, I won second place that year; first place went to one filled with raisins and fruits. Heck, that wasn’t Soda Bread; it was cake!!! Oh well, the second year I made a Bannock and said so and won. Still have the mug to prove it, but it wasn’t soda bread and i made sure to say so. I’ve made soda bread on the hearth, easy peasy, and even in my oven, I still bake it and many other peasant breads in a dutch oven as it keeps in the steam and makes a wonderful crust.

Man of Aran cottage

Man of Aran cottage

Main Room

Main Room

All the food is grown on site and yes, they have an orange tree, protected from the cold by warm limestone. Fish is caught locally.

All the food is grown on site , protected form the cold by warm limestone. Fish is caught locally.They even have an orangerie with lemon and orange trees. I marveled how the limestone protects everything from the elements and the lady said thatthe ground is warmed because underneath the topsoil, it’s stone warmed by the sun all year.

I found a wonderful website that tells the reader everything they may want to know about traditional soda bread. It’s written by the SOCIETY OF THE PRESERVATION OF IRISH SODA BREAD. I’m not going to reprint the history but it is definitely worth reading as it gives much information as to how it came to be such a staple and what ingredients where used and why. the surprising thing was that it was identified early on as a popular bread in America, but identified with Ireland. this may answer the question I’ve had as to whether wheat was grown here during colonial times. Obviously the answer is yes, but it didn’t make the hard wheat that is leavened with yeast as it may have been a poorer quality wheat that made a “soft” flour that would have done best with pot ash. http://www.sodabread.info/history/

The author did say that the oldest published reference to this bread was in 1836, though it was made from poor quality wheat long before, and Mary Randolph had a recipe for soda bread in her cookbook, the Virginia Housewife, published in 1824 .

Oldest reference to a published Soda Bread recipe: County Down, Ireland NOV 1836.

From November 1836 Farmer’s Magazine (London) VOL 5 p.328 referencing an Irish newspaper in County Down
“A correspondent of the Newry Telegraph gives the following receipt for making ” soda bread,” stating that “there is no bread to be had equal to it for invigorating the body, promoting digestion, strengthening the stomach, and improving the state of the bowels.” He says, “put a pound and a half of good wheaten meal into a large bowl, mix with it two teaspoonfuls of finely-powdered salt, then take a large teaspoonful of super-carbonate of soda,% dissolve it in half a teacupful of cold water, and add it to the meal; rub up all intimately together, then pour into the bowl as much very sour buttermilk as will make the whole into soft dough (it should be as soft as could possibly be handled, and the softer the better,) form it into a cake of about an inch thickness, and put it into a flat Dutch oven or frying-pan, with some metallic cover, such as an oven-lid or griddle, apply a moderate heat underneath for twenty minutes, then lay some clear live coals upon the lid, and keep it so for half an hour longer (the under heat being allowed to fall off gradually for the last fifteen minutes,) taking off the cover occasionally to see that it does not burn. ” This, he concludes, when somewhat cooled and moderately buttered, is as wholesome food as ever entered man’s stomach. Wm. Clacker, Esq., of Gosford, has ordered a sample of the bread to be prepared, and a quantity of the meal to be kept for sale at the Markethill Temperance Soup and Coffee Rooms.”

This same exact story was repeated in English and American newspapers and magazines over the next few years so it is possible that the Farmer’s Magazine reprint may not be the first one. It is, however, the only documented copy discovered so far.

The recipe for soda bread is ultra simple: flour, soured or buttermilk, baking soda or potash, salt. That’s it! I’m reprinting their recipes exactly. The recipe I have is identical to the white bread one. I used cake flour because that’s what was used on Inis Mor.

This was a daily bread that didn’t keep long and had to be baked every few days. It was not a festive “cake” and did not contain whisky, candied fruit, caraway seeds, raisins (add raisins and it becomes “spotted dog” not to be confused with the pudding made with suet of the same name), or any other ingredient.

There are recipes for those types of cakes but they are not the traditional soda bread eaten by the Irish daily since the mid 19th century.

Here are a few basic recipe. Note that measurements below are in American standards. (An Irish teaspoon is not the same as an American teaspoon measurement.

Note for New Bakers: a fluid cup contains 8 ounces of liquid. A dry ingredient cup contains around 4 ounces by weight. Don’t use a liquid measuring cup for dry ingredients. Tsp means Teaspoon.

Of course our great grandmothers just grabbed a handful of this and a pinch of that to make their bread. We modern bakers need help since we don’t do it every day.

The best flour to use is “soft wheat” which is called “pastry flour” or “cake flour” today in the US. If you want to try using Irish flour, may I suggest Odlums.

In 1845, about the time that soda bread baking was taking off in Ireland, William Odlum opened a four mill in Portlaoise and his descendants expanded the business over the years until 1988 when it was purchased by a corporation that continues production today. They produce not only the white and wheat flours, but for the modern Irish family, a soda bread mix flour and brown bread mix flour that only needs water added to create a soda bread dough.

The latter mixes are similar to what I create using Saco Cultured buttermilk, flour, baking soda, and salt to create my own “add water” mix for camping trips.

If you want to try using Odlums flour, you can purchase it by using a link on their site. Your purchase helps keep this web site up and running and you will be baking with real Irish flour. For what they are attempting to create here, avoid the self-Raising flour and not that “cream flour” means just regular white flour. No baking soda or baking powder added to it.

A little butter and jam and a cup of tea- oh yeah!!!

A little butter and jam and a cup of tea- oh yeah!!!

Brown Bread

3 cups (12 oz) of wheat flour
1 cup (4 oz) of white flour (do not use self-rising as it already contains baking powder and salt)
14 ounces of buttermilk (pour in a bit at a time until the dough is moist)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.
2 ounces of butter if you want to deviate a bit.

Method:

Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees. Lightly grease and flour a cake pan. In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients. Rub in the butter until the flour is crumbly.

Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough. Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape)

Shape into a round flat shape in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.

Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible pot). Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped to show it is done.

Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.

Let cool and you are ready to have a buttered slice with a nice cup of tea or coffee.

White Soda Bread

4 cups (16 oz) of all purpose flour. (Ed. Note: use cake flour)
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Teaspoon salt
14 oz of buttermilk

Method:

Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees. Lightly crease and flour a cake pan.

In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients.

Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough. Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape)

Shape into a round flat shape in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.

Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible pot). Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped so show it is done.

Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.

One of my favorite Irish cookbooks is by Monica Sheridan, the Julia Child of Irish Television, called “The Art of Irish Cooking” published in 1965. It has been long out-of-print but if you get a chance to grab a copy, do so. She talks about traditional cooking without any of the “spicing up” that we see in modern interpretations of Irish baking although she does experiment a bit with recipes. Here is her recipe for “Brown Bread”

4 cups Stone Ground Whole wheat flour
2 cups White flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking soda
1 1/2 tsp Salt
2 cups Buttermilk
Preparation:

Mix the whole wheat flour thoroughly with the white flour, salt, and baking soda.
Make a well in the center and gradually mix in the liquid. Stir with a wooden spoon. You may need less, or more liquid – it depends on the absorbent quality of the flour.

The dough should be soft but manageable. Knead the dough into a ball in the mixing bowl with your floured hands. Put on a lightly floured baking sheet and with the palm of your hand flatten out in a circle 1 1/2 inches thick.

With a knife dipped in flour, make a cross through the center of the bread so that it will easily break into quarters when it is baked. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake a further 15 minutes. If the crust seems too hard, wrap the baked bread in a damp tea cloth. Leave the loaf standing upright until it is cool. The bread should not be cut until it has set – about 6 hours after it comes out of the oven. (personally, I can’t wait 6 hours to eat fresh soda bread

OK! If you gotten this far down and are still feeling uneasy about making soda bread, there is one last trick you can try: Imported Irish Soda Bread already mixed and ready to bake. Just add water. Click on the flour bag that looks like an Owl. That’s Odlum’s Brown Bread Mix. It’s as close to traditional as you can get without going to the extra trouble. Enjoy! (Ed. NOTE: Don’t do it!!! I tried it and it’s not as good as making it from scratch)

FARLS Recipes

In Ulster the same ingredients for soda bread are used but the dough is divided into quarters and cooked on a grill (I remember my grandmother doing that once in awhile in Tipperary in the 1950s where it isn’t common).

Here is the recipe that makes soda bread- as my grandmother and great-grandmother made it – and as my children and grand-children (as well as myself) make it today. It hasn’t changed at all – except we use a stove instead of an open hearth for cooking. My family is from Crossgar and Hillsborough in County Down.

Heat a 9 inch iron skillet over low flame on the stove. Lightly dust with flour.
Measure 2 cups sifted flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt.
Make a well in the above and add 1 cup of buttermilk. Thoroughly mix until dough leaves side of bowl.
Flour a bread board – put dough on board (sprinkle with a little extra flour – and gently knead 3 or 4 times.
Pat dough into a circle the size of the skillet. Cut into farls (fourths) and place on skillet. Cook about 10 minutes on each side.
Wrap bread in a tea towel when it is done. This absorbs the baking soda taste and keeps the bread fresh. Eat that day or fry in bacon fat the next morning as part of an Ulster fry.

You can also use 1/2 whole wheat flour and 1/2 white flour.

check out the site as there are many other recipes for Farl , griddle bread and Harning. http://www.sodabread.info/menu/

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