Being a Delaney (by marriage), and it being St. Patricks’ Day Week – I felt compelled to try Irish Soda Bread. In doing my research ahead of time, I learned a lot about its origins.
Soda Bread became popular in Ireland when bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) became available as a leavening agent. Bread soda made it possible to work with the “soft” wheat grown in Ireland’s climate, versus the “hard” wheat flour like we have in the US today which needs yeast to rise properly. “Soft” wheat doesn’t work well with yeast but is great for quick breads, like soda bread.
There is also a Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread and on their website you can learn a lot more about the history of soda bread. But according to them, the earliest published soda bread recipe was in a London magazine in 1836.
Soda Bread’s popularity was easy to understand –the soda wasn’t perishable, it was relatively inexpensive, and the other two main ingredient – wheat flour and buttermilk (which is a by-product of making butter) were easily available.
Before baking, a cross is traditionally cut on the top of the soda bread. It is said that this is done to bless the house and ward off the devil. But it is also practical - it lets the heat get through to the thickest part of the bread so it can stretch and rise. It also automatically separates the bread into 4 equal quadrants making it easy to break apart, hence both breaking bread and giving thanks.
My husband found the recipe for me to try – it is “Granny Reynold’s Soda Bread.” According to the recipe, “Casements Bar in San Francisco serves this tender and tangy soda bread, based on a family recipe from co-owner Gillian Fitzgerald.” Gillian says its equally delicious topped with butter and jam for breakfast or dipped in stew for supper. I can say that it was delicious with butter and jam – I used my favorite local Atlanta Emily’s G’s Triple Berry Jam. And I'd recommend this bread not just for St. Patrick's Day, but any time. Yum!
Kris Delaney is a marketing executive, foodie, travel enthusiast, and book nerd based in Atlanta, GA.