Irish Soda Bread

Sort of Irish and sort of Native American.

irish soda bread

Irish soda bread by mccun934, on Flickr

While soda breads started to proliferate in Ireland shortly after the arrival of baking soda in the early 19th century, they were typically very simple, using only soda, wheat flour, salt, and sour milk or buttermilk. Their popularity was partially due to the soft wheat in Ireland complicating the processes of making yeast breads and the relative absence of ovens in homes.

In the North, the dough would be turned into farl (from the Gaelic fardel, meaning a fourth) by being flattened, marked with a cross, and cooked on a griddle. In the South, it would still be marked with a cross, then baked in a large iron pot placed in coals, producing something that looked a bit more like the loaves we identify.

Neither iteration would generally be sweet or include butter in the ingredients, although it would be added to the hot bread before eating.

An 1824 recipe in The Virginia House-Wife by Mary Randolph appears closer to what we think of as Irish soda bread than actual soda breads made by the Irish:

Soda Cakes

Dissolve half a pound of sugar in a pint of milk; add a teaspoonful of soda, pour it on two pounds of flour–melt half a pound of butter, knead altogether till light–pour it in shallow moulds, and bake it quickly in a brisk oven.

The American tradition of soda breads actually goes back to native tribes making corn cakes with potash–cakes that are naturally sweeter. Of the three waves of Irish immigration, two predate baking soda and one is after 1824, suggesting that Mary Randolph’s iteration has a different origin.

coverFrom a stapled collection of recipes from my preschool, c. 1982, in University Heights, Ohio.


Irish Soda Bread

  • Step 1: Melt 1 stick of margarine and let cool.
  • Step 2: In large bowl mix 4 cups of flour, 1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. cream of tartar, 1 t. baking soda, 2 t. baking powder and 1 c. sugar.
  • Step 3: In small bowl, mix and beat 2 extra large eggs and and 1 pint (16 ounces) of sour cream.
  • Step 4: Mix step #3 into step #2 by hand.
  • Step 5: Wash 1-1/2 cups raisins and add to mixture. Add cooled margarine last. Put into greased bunt pan. Bake at 350 deg. for 1 hour.

Variations: instead of raisins, add 1/2 c. cherries or 1 c. chopped walnuts.

Andy Fulton

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