Baking traditions in the Emerald Isle are the stuff of legends, but soda bread remains everyone’s favorite.
There are many traditional baked goods in Ireland that have evolved over the centuries. From the earliest times, bread-making was an integral part of daily life in almost every home. Families lived in isolated farmhouses where most kitchens had only open hearths, not ovens, so the breads that developed were baked on griddles or in large three-legged black iron pots over fragrant turf fires. The aroma and taste of traditional soda bread is unique to Ireland, and it’s become the established favorite with tourists and locals alike.
Buttermilk and soda were the main raising agents used in the past, and the use of these prime ingredients has never lapsed. Buttermilk is a great preservative, but more importantly it gives soda bread and scones that beautiful tender crumb for which they are famous.
Even though there is an abundance of readily available, good-quality breads in supermarkets today, quite a few Irish families still bake their own daily from specially treasured recipes passed down through the generations.
- In most parts of Ireland, soda bread is shaped and baked as a round loaf with a cross marked on top. You might be surprised to learn that it isn’t a religious symbol at all, nor was it to let the fairies out. In the old days, it was simply a practical method of dividing the baked bread into four quarters.
- In the North of the country, soda bread is cooked on a flat griddle pan and comes in triangular shapes called farls. The name originates from the Gaelic word fardel, meaning “fourth part.” The dough is flattened into a round disc and divided into four equal triangular shapes. The bread cooks quickly on a hot dry griddle or frying pan. Each farl is then split in half and eaten warm.
- Farls are also very popular fried in bacon fat and served as part of the infamous Irish breakfast. It’s believed that soda-bread farls evolved this way because it is the fastest method of cooking bread when unexpected guests arrive for a bit of banter. Try this recipe for Irish Soda Farls.
Since soda bread is a simple bread to make and can be rustled up in minutes, an astonishing number of variations exist: wheaten, with raisins and caraway seeds, the treacle variety, or simply plain–all equally irresistible.
There’s no doubting, however, that soda bread tastes best still warm from the oven, spread with lashings of butter and homemade rhubarb jam and washed down with that essential cuppa tea.
- Find more Irish recipes in our St. Patrick’s Day collection!
Irish Soda Bread Recipes