Corned beef and cabbage is the traditional food on St. Patrick’s Day here in America, and is usually accompanied with Irish soda bread. However, there’s much more of a chance in seeing soda bread year round in Irish pubs and restaurants. And just like corned beef and cabbage is an American contribution to St. Paddy’s Day, so is soda bread.
Delving into the history of soda bread and it seems to have actually originated here in North America with Native Americans They used a pearl ash or potash to leaven their bread and passed it along to the early colonists. Potash can be made by soaking wood or plant ashes in a pot to leach out the salts. The water evaporates leaving a white residue, or ‘pot ash.’
In turn the technique made its way back across the Atlantic and became a popular baking ingredient, especially bread. Not only that, but the New World was full of trees with land to be cleared so a booming by-product industry began. Now let’s think…who was the major trading partner in Colonial America along the eastern seaboard at this time…oh that’s right, the British Empire. I’m speculating a little here but it would seem logical that if an innovative leavening agent was being produced in large quantities and shipped back to England, then it would make sense this ‘wonder powder’ would have spread throughout the realm as much less expensive and faster way of baking everyday bread than using yeast. I’d surmise that’s probably how it found its way to Ireland.
So why are the Irish known for soda bread? It’s more science-y than you’d think. Yeast works well with hard wheat flour because of high gluten content. Hard wheat needs sunshine and hot temps. Baking soda works better with soft wheat. Can you guess the climate where soft wheat grows better than hard? Ireland. The Irish also imported a lot of American wheat flour (like 80-90% in some cities around the beginning of the 20th century) which at the time was the softer version. It’s no wonder the Irish are known for their soda bread.
I must say, it’s a pretty good way for making quick, everyday bread and is fairly fail-proof. In 40 minutes you can have yourself a delicious loaf ready to eat. While buttermilk is preferred because of the acid in it you can use regular milk. Won’t be the same but you’ll probably not be able to tell. The soda bread recipe below uses some whole wheat flour so it’s not really Irish Soda Bread, more like a brown or wheaten soda bread. It’s still good. And I can’t wait to put some corned beef in between two slices of it!
Soda Bread – Brown or Wheaten
- 1 ½ C all purpose flour
- ½ C whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 ¼ – 1 ½ C buttermilk
Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.
In a bowl combine the flours, baking soda, and salt.
Pour in the buttermilk and mix well making a dough.
Knead lightly on a floured surface and shape into a round.