AS part of their 1916 celebrations, the Home Economics Transition Year class at McEgan College in Macroom decided to step back in time and examine the culinary foods eaten in the first half of the twentieth century in rural Ireland.
While they looked at a lot of traditions that were lost in time, they found that the Irish Soda Bread was not one of them.
The students found it ironic that bicarbonate of soda (commonly called bread soda) was first introduced to Ireland that during the famine years of the 1840s.
Bread soda was combined with buttermilk (thin liquid run-off from butter making and the staple drink of peasants) and wheat flour to make a light and tasty bread.
The students also learned that soda bread quickly grew in popularity, mainly due to the ease of making in comparison to yeast bread, and it didn’t require kneading or proving.
It also didn’t require an oven and instead it was cooked in a ‘bastible’ – an all-purpose iron pot with a lid. The bastible was sat on top of the embers of an open fire and a few sods of turf were placed on top of the indented lid. The use of the bastible was a commonplace sight right up to the 1950s.
In their research into cooking, the students found a newspaper article from the Newry Telegraph, which wrote about the benefits of eating Irish Soda Bread.
‘There is no bread to be equal to it for invigorating the body, promoting digestion, strengthening the stomach, and improving the state of the bowels,’ it read.
Following the advice of food writer Elizabeth David, who said that ‘everyone who cooks, in however limited a way, should know how to make a loaf of soda bread’, the class set to work and trialled six different recipes with varying results. They eventually settled on the three most popular and successful recipes as judged by themselves.