Irish soda bread is a
favorite, especially around St. Patrick's Day.
Every year around this
time, I bake some Irish soda bread. I don’t have an old family recipe from my Irish
grandmothers, so I usually pull a cookbook off the shelf and settle on a tried
recipe with what I thought were the basic ingredients — flour, butter, baking
soda, salt, sugar, buttermilk and raisins.
This year, I decided to
not finger through the shelf of gravy-stained and dog-eared cookbooks, but
instead embrace my iPad sitting on the kitchen counter and google the Irish
I stumbled across a
website for “The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread.” Yes, an
actual website “to encourage modern bakers to get in touch with their Irish
It continues, “ … 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.” A pinch of Irish guilt
thrown in for good measure.
The website maintains
there are only four ingredients — flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk.
“Anything else added makes it a ‘Tea Cake!’ ” Seeming a bit touchy about
the vital distinctions in soda bread ingredients, the website asserts, “A great
many Irish-Americans today had ancestors who left Ireland before soda bread was
introduced there.” The theory is that relatives living in America got recipes
from cookbooks or newspapers and turned them into the family recipe. Those
recipes made their way back to the Emerald Isle.
Of course the website
asks for donations to help support it, but they do give a bit of history on the
oldest reference to soda bread, turning bread into cookies and some helpful
They believe the oldest
published soda bread recipe dates back to the November 1836 edition of the Farmer’s Magazine. The
recipe came from County Down.
“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 … , ” well, you get the point.
Call it what you want,
the hearty bread harkens back images of a grandmother sitting daintily with an
ornate bone china cup filled with piping hot tea and nearby, a piece of Irish
soda bread — and if times were good, a spot of butter.
© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017