The History of Irish Soda Bread
Soda bread is a soft textured cake like bread that rises due to the reaction of the
acid of a liquid like buttermilk, and a base like baking soda. ,
Although the Irish didn't invent Soda Bread it is most often identified with them.
The "soft wheat" is the only suitable flour that can grow in Ireland's climate, and
when mixed like a traditional dough it doesn't form any gluten like a traditional
yeast bread, it does work well with a soda bread recipe.
The Idea of using soda to leaven bread was done by the American Indians
centuries ago, where they used pearl-ash or Potash( a natural soda in wood ashes) ) in their breads to make them rise.
The cross on the soda bread has several explanations, Legend has it that folks did it to
"let the devil out" while it's baking for good luck, and others say that it made it easy to divide into 4 pieces. It was also a symbol for a cross during Christian holidays.
Recipes and Links
More Interesting Tidbits on Irish Soda Bread
One of the earliest recorded publications of soda bread was in 1916. The editor of "The Gentleman's Magazine" in England was challenged to come up with a way to use poor soft wheat to make a bread.
He tried several experiments with his baker and came up with a bread using half wheat and half mashed up potato and soda ash instead of the usual yeast leavening.
In 1824 "The Virginia Housewife" by Mary Randolph was published. It contained a recipe for Soda Cake. Very possibly it was taught to Colonists in the states by the Native Americans.
....Dissolve half a pound of sugar in a pint of milk, add a tea-spoonful of soda; pour it on two pounds of flour--melt half a pound of butter, knead all together till light, put it in shallow moulds, and bake it quickly in a brisk oven.
Unlike England where bread was made in Bakeries The Irish felt it was a housewife's job.
Her all purpose cast iron Dutch oven like pot they called a "Bastible " was better suited for soda bread, which hung over a fire on a crane, as opposed to the Brick ovens that were used to bake the yeast breads in Europe. also you could set a Bastible on top of the embers of the fire and a few coals on top of the indented lid.
Courtesy of The soda Bread Preservation society
see the indented lid which you could set coals on top of them.
Soda Bread and the Potato Famine of 1845
In September of 1845 a blight hit the potato crops of the Irish people who was very dependent on potato for food. A poor country discovered that potatoes and milk made a nutritious enough meal to exist on and you could grow more potatoes per acre than any other crop. Soda bread was probably not made as much because of this reason.
While some say that soda bread was invented during the great potato famine this is not true. I did start to become popular in Ireland at this time so I am sure the famine spurred it's popularity.
A family evicted by their landlords in Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine
Different Varieties of Soda Bread
You often see recipes for soda bread that has raisins, and caraway and orange zest. These are not the traditional soda bread and is often called Spotted Dog.
Here is my favorite recipe for spotted Dog
Similar to Soda Bread is Farl
While in Southern Ireland Soda Bread was popular, a similar bread called FARL,was made
in Northern Ireland. The dough is cut in 4 quarters and each quarter and cooked on a griddle.
Recipe for Farl
Pronounced Farel, (you put that last little e in it before the l)
The word 'farl' derives from the Gaelic fardel which literally means 'four part' and this refers to the way that these griddle breads are typically cut into and served in quarters.
Here is a hanging griddle called a bakestone, that Irish Housewives in the mid 1800's would bake their Farl on.