Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Is It Real Irish Soda Bread?

Here’s a myth buster for you: The Irish didn’t invent Irish soda bread. They pretty much own it now, but it was more than likely created by native Americans and made its way across the Atlantic. It appealed to the Irish because it was inexpensive to make and didn’t require a stove; it could be cooked in a kettle over a fire. Hence the usually round shape.

I learned all this from a website devoted to the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. (Can you believe it?) The site includes information that authentic Irish soda bread uses wheat flour, not white, and never has anything like raisins, currants or caraway seeds added. Me? I didn’t know that Irish soda bread didn’t have raisins in it! If the bread has raisins in it, it's a treat, and called "spotted dog."

I did wonder, though, about the typical cross. interviewed Rory O’Connell, an Irish chef and cooking school teacher and asked him about the cross. He said that the cross has a scientific basis, because it allows the heat to penetrate into the thickest part of the bread, aiding even cooking.

And since the cross resembles a crucifix, in a Catholic country, it has a symbolic meaning of crossing the breads and giving thanks. There was also the expression "to let the devil out of the bread," so it was slightly superstitious. Another benefit is that the cross shape makes the bread easy to break when it comes out of the oven. So there’s the blessing of the bread by putting the cross on it and then the symbolic breaking of the bread.

I just love that kind of food lore. Whatever the origin and whatever the “traditional” way to make it is, it’s a hearty, tasty bread.

My sister Lynn made soda bread over the weekend and gave me a loaf. Although she made this batch with white bread, she prefers the brown bread, using whole wheat flour. “And it’s just great toasted,” she added. “And spread with orange marmalade.” And lucky me, I just happen to have some in the pantry.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Irish Soda Bread
From Taste of Home, submitted by Gloria Warczak

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
2/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup raisins

In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk 1 egg and buttermilk. Stir in flour mixture just until moistened. Fold in raisins.

Knead on a floured surface for one minute. Shape into a round loaf; place on a greased baking sheet. Cut a ¼ inch cross in the top of the loaf. Beat remaining egg and brush over loaf.

Bake at 375 degrees or until golden brown. Yield: 6-8 servings


  1. Hey, Rosemary!
    I spent a couple years on an international cooking board, and every year around St. Patrick's day the Irish and otherwise British members of the board would be up in arms about Americans and our strange celebrations and what we called "Irish".
    I learned that:
    Soda bread is traditional in Ireland, but it was food of the peasants and they could not afford raisins, sugar and other expensive goods. They couldn't afford yeast, either, hence why they had to settle with sodium bicarbonate.
    Corned beef is NOT Irish! They serve it in Ireland nowadays but it's geared towards tourists who want "authentic" corned beef and most Irish people I spoke to had never actually corned beef. I found this particularly hilarious. :P

    But I think this type of soda bread that you've made is becoming a tradition of its own, but it's certainly an American one. ;)

    Your loaf looks delicious! I do need to get on making soda bread soon. :)

  2. This was really educational. I really had no idea that it was thought to be invented by Native Americans - makes sense to me!
    Your loaf turned out so pretty and Irish Soda Bread is great anytime of year. Especially for cooks who aren't really comfortable with yeast.

  3. I have every intention of making soda bread and colcannon soup for supper but we will see how energetic I am after a day at work.

  4. That looks fabulous! Crusty and just begging to be eaten. Love the lore behind it too, thanks for including that! See you soon Nona!

  5. I love soda bread, whatever origin it is. YOurs looks super.

  6. This was such a great post. I really had no idea about the soda bread, though I did know about the beef. It's funny how traditions are started and then run with a mind of their own. I am glad I made a batch of soda bread yesterday...I think I need a slice!

  7. this looks fabulous I have no clue what soda bread taste like and now its calling me with this marvelous picture!


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