The Place to learn about
Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Dedicated to promoting the traditional Irish Soda Bread as baked by our great-great-grandparents in Ireland.
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Irish Soda Bread recipe found to date NOV 1836 Farmer's
Magazine (London) p.328 referencing Irish newspaper in
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.
In researching historic publications for this site (see History section) the above recipe is highlited as something "new" to the area. Note the term "dutch oven".
If your "soda bread" has raisins, it's not "soda bread! It's called "Spotted Dog" or "Railway Cake"! If it contains raisins, eggs, baking powder, sugar or shortening, it's called "cake", not "bread." All are tasty, but not traditional Irish Soda Bread!
Read on to find out about soda bread history and background info on Traditional Irish Soda bread. Click on any of the links on the left to explore and learn more!
Traditional Irish Soda Bread
If one searches the internet using the term "Traditional Irish Soda Bread" about 63,500 sites are listed. 98% of them aren't even close to being traditional. Google "Irish Soda Bread" and you will find 126,000 sites.Would "French Bread" (15th century) still be "French Bread" if whiskey, raisins, or other random ingredients were added to the mix? Would Jewish Matzo (unleavened bread) used to remember the passage of the Israelites out of Egypt still be Matzo if we add raisins, butter, sugar, eggs, and even orange zest? So why is traditional "Irish Soda Bread" (19th century) turned into a dessert and labeled "Traditional Irish Soda Bread?" OK, maybe you don't like the analogy, but you get the point!
Look up a few definitions in the Dictionary and you find:
1: the handing
down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by
example from one generation to another.
2: cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
There are two kinds of traditions: 1) The cultural one that can be traced back through an ethnic group's history and 2) family traditions that can be traced back to an individual family member.
Irish Soda Bread is an example of the first. Grandma (insert name here)'s Irish bread is the other. The cultural one came first and was adapted and modified by the second into a family tradition. Both traditions are sacred.
a usually baked and leavened food made of a mixture of whose basic constituent is flour or meal.
a sweet baked food made from a dough or thick batter usually containing flour and sugar and often shortening, eggs, and a raising agent (as baking powder)
It shocks some people to learn that St. Patrick wasn't holding a slice of Irish Soda Bread in one hand while he drove the snakes out of Ireland with the other. Soda bread came long after St. Patrick in the mid 1840's when bicarbonate of soda (Bread Soda) as a leavening agent was used in Ireland to work with the "soft" wheat grown there.
The other shock to Irish-Americans is that their Irish ancestors who left Ireland during the Famine years did not bring a recipe for Irish Soda Bread with them. Irish soda bread became popular in Ireland after the Famine years. If your Irish ancestors had the good sense to leave Ireland for America during the Famine years, they never learned about making soda bread in Ireland. Check out Google's public domain book collection and the phrase "Irish Soda Bread" doesn't show up in their collection until the 1930s.
The basic soda bread is made with flour, baking soda, salt, and soured milk (or buttermilk). That's it!
One on-line recipe claiming to be "traditional" included "orange zest" as an ingredient. As if our poverty-stricken ancestors even knew what orange zest was. Even in the mid-1950's an orange was a special treat during Christmas, not a common item in the kitchen like it is today. Another recipe has chocolate in it and another calls for sugar glaze over the "bread." Tasty, Yes! Traditional Irish Soda Bread, No! Year after year these exotic bread recipes are advertised as "traditional" irish soda bread.
You'll find site recipes for "traditional Irish Soda Bread" that call for yeast to be used. The whole reason bread soda was used in the first place was to replace yeast as the rising agent.
There are even commercial sites selling "Irish Soda Bread" with YEAST as an ingredient. And right before St. Patrick's Day your local supermarket chain will probably have "Irish Soda Bread" for sale with yeast, sugar, and who knows what on the listed ingredients. But stores mostly will add raisins and dried fruit to their "soda bread." Most look like a fruitcake recipe repackaged from the Christmas holidays. The same recipe usually shows up as "Easter Bread" a few weeks later. For the most part they taste fair to great but are mislabeled as "Irish Soda Bread."
While we are certainly at liberty to modify recipes to our heart's content, it is incorrect to claim that these modern sugary recipes are the same as used by our great-great grandmothers in Ireland, a poor country at the time, to feed their families in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century. It was often the only bread available to most Irish families. Can you imaging the woman in this photo even knowing what a "zester" is?
In today's world, soda bread has become a dessert cake and the three-leaf shamrock has turned into a four-leaf clover.
This site is here to encourage modern bakers to get in touch with their Irish roots and use the traditional ingredients/recipes when making "traditional Irish soda bread." Sure, make the fancy desserts for St. Patrick's Day, but save a spot on the table for Irish soda bread to remember how far the Irish have come from the days when it was the only thing on the table to today when our tables are filled with good things to eat and thought of the Famine years are long forgotten.
Visit the Soda Bread Book Section and pick up a copy of Irish Traditional Cooking for an excellent reference on traditional Irish cooking.
A few absolutes: Traditional Irish Soda Bread does not contain
"zest", orange or any other kind
Irish Whiskey. (talk about stereotyping!!!)
Honey (substitute for sugar)
Sugar (see definition of "cake")
eggs (see definition of "cake")
Garlic (not common in English/Irish dishes)
Shortening (hydrogenated vegetable oil - Crisco introduced to the US in 1911. Not in the 19th century)
Double Cream (British term for "Heavy Cream" but a little thicker. Not much chance irish peasants would be using this.)
Sour Cream (traditional in Eastern European dishes. Became popular in the US and European kitchens during the past 50 years, not 150 years ago. see http://www.ochef.com/516.htm
Yogurt (prior to 1900 a staple in Central Europe and Asia. Introduced to the US after WWII by Isaac Carasso who started Dannon in NY City. Not a 19th century Irish baking item.)
Chiles/Jalapenos (Right! Ireland is well known for using these in its traditional food!! por favor!
Fruit (Only in Christmas/Easter cakes and other special occasions._
and just about anything else one can think of. all of the above ingredients can be found in "Irish soda bread" recipes somewhere on the web. Interesting, but definitely not Traditional Irish Soda Bread.
Soda bread was baked daily from simple ingredients. The Irish would not have added whiskey to their daily bread any more than a Frenchman would have added it to his baguette or a Jew to Matzo.
In America and other parts of the world we tend to forget that this is a basic "quick bread" served with meals and not a "dessert dish."
But my sainted Irish (insert relative here) used eggs, sugar and moose fat! (click here to learn how time changes things)