Our Irish soda bread follows a traditional baking soda and baking powder leavening procedure with real buttermilk. It has an excellent tender texture that will delight you, sort of a cross between a scone and a biscuit. It is lightly sweet and contains raisins. Here at Rheinlander we believe in educating you on the history of the unique things that we make. Knowing a foods tradition just makes it so much more enjoyable. Feel free to use these references in furthering the true history of Irish soda bread.
True Irish soda bread seems to have originated in the mid-19th century, when bicarbonate of soda was first used as a leavening agent. Prior to this time, similar breads were made with sourdough and barm brack, yeast created by fermenting ale.
"Soda bread...The bread has been a particular speciality of Ireland since the late 19th century. In Ireland the use of bicarbonate of soda or bread soda in bread-making was commonplace by the 1840s and certainly by the second half of the 19th century soda bread had become an established feature of the Irish diet. Its popularity can in part be attributed to the fact that rurual Ireland did not have a strong tradition of yeast bread manufacture. Until the late 19th century bread-making was considered an entirely domestic procedure and executed with a limited range of utensils; the pot oven or bastible and the flat iron griddle. These utensils were ideally suited to soda bread preparation and the soda itself provided a convenient, storable, and predictable leaven regardless of the strength or weakness of the flour...Traditionally a cross was cut into the dough, which helped in the even baking of the bread and assisted in the quartering of the loaf afterward...
---The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999(p. 732)
"Soda Breads. Quickly made breads, griddle cakes and scones with bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar or tartaric acid became popular in Ireland, Scotland and England well over a hundred years ago. The properties of chemical raising agents had been appreciated early in the nineteenth century, and experiments with commercially practical formulas had been successful during the 1850s, and earlier...At first, chemical mixes seem to have been used mainly to lighten home-made biscuits, girdle scones, oatcakes, and other bakestone products which had previously been made without any benefit of any aerating agen. It was only later, after they had been much advertised as yeast powder, dried yeast, yeast substitute, that housewives began to think that chemical mixtures could...replace fresh yeast in their tea cake, spice cake and bread recipes...At that period, German or compressed yeast, much like the bakers yeast we know today, was increasingly replacing the old ale yeasts and barms, as was very generally known, although incorrectly, as dried yeast...It is try that well-made Irish soda bread, baked over a peat fire and with meal ground from soft Irish wheat unblended with imported high gluten grain, is unsurpassed for flavour. The draweback with these breads, even when made in ideal conditions, is that they quickly become dry, so are only at their best when freshly baked..."
---English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Elizabeth David [Penguin:Middlesex England] 1977 (p. 517-8)
How was Irish bread leavened prior to sodium carbonate?
"One of the oldest of all leavens is the sourdough method, and like many great discoveries it probably came about by accident. An old fable describes what happened. Long ago in the "stone age" when a woman made bread by the simple expedient of mixing ground corn and water together and baking the dough on hot stones or in the fire, a gound girl had just put down a loaf to bake when her lover invited her to go on a hunting trip. Off she sped, leaving the mixing bowl unwashed. When next she went to mix a cake in the bowl, a lump of sour fermented dough from the last baking was mixed in with the new dough. The result, of course, was delicious spongy bread which gained her the reputation of being the best bread-maker in Ireland, to her immense satisfaction. Even her lover had to admit that she was a better cook than his mother. Barm beer or liquid yeast obtained from beer-brewing was used from early times. Sowans (fermented juice of oat husks) was another traditional leaven, as was potato juice (potatoes grated and the juice allowed to turn sour). Bread soda, which would act not only as a leavening agent, but create the traditional soda bread, did not come into use until the first half of the 19th century. Cream of tartar and commercial baking powders continue to be used down to the present time."
---Land of Milk and Honey: The Story of Traditional Irisn Food and Drink, Brid Mahon [Mercier Press:Boulder CO] 1998 (p. 73-4)