Like so many foods, Irish Soda Bread was not invented by the Irish, but it was quickly adopted. My personal opinion is that it was a bread easily baked in the hearth. It did not require yeast, a delicate and expensive ingredient. Why the spring/St. Patrick’s Day association? Again, pure speculation. Unless, of course, it is my ancestors whispering from the Otherworld. Imbolc, the Druid festival that marks the beginning of Spring on the old calendar, was centered around the hearthfire and butter, milk and other special foods. In fact, the name Imbolc is often linked to the translation ‘ewe’s milk’.
Traditional buttermilk is formed from the liquid that is left after the cream for the butter is separated. In older times (older than me), the milk was left to stand for separation. During that time, the milk would sour by creating lactic acid. It is the reaction between the lactic acid and the baking soda that is key to a great soda bread.
Many people like to include caraway seeds in their soda bread. I am not sure that these seeds were readily available in Ireland. In ancient times, there is evidence that the predecessors of the modern Irish may have traded as far away as what we now think of as the Middle East. But at the time that Irish Soda Bread was popularized (the 18th century), it is more likely that caraway was brought back by Irish soldiers serving in the British Army (before Independence) in India. I am a purist, I don’t put caraway in my soda bread and it is peanut butter and grape jelly (only) on white bread. There are things I will experiment with but these are not in the group.
So without further adieu, here is the soda bread recipe, that I make, that celebrates Imbolc and Spring and is mighty tasty! For International followers, there are conversion tables. If you hit a wall, let me know and I will help where I can
Ingredients: (makes 1 loaf)
4 c white flour
½ c granulated sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ c buttermilk
1 c raisins
½ c currants
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Rub butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is like corn meal (grainy texture). Add raisins and currants and mix until coated.
In a small bowl, beat the egg with the buttermilk then add the baking soda. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients, forming a soft dough. Knead the dough lightly, using more flour, if needed. Form dough into a ball, then flatten into an eight inch round. Scour the top with an “X”
Bake the scone in a buttered 8” cake pan in a 375 degree oven for 50 minutes, or until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped and a cake tester comes out clean.
Remove from the cake pan and cool on a rack.