Irish Food Culture – The Soda Bread Challenge.

2014-03-16 10.16.19St. Patrick’s Day, the 17th March is fast approaching. As an young girl, growing up in Ireland it was one of my favourite days of the year and it still is now. It remains a national public holiday in Ireland and countries all over the world celebrate it in style. I also associate St Patrick’s Day with the growth of daffodils, the arrival of lambs and the true beginning of spring time.

As the new GCSE in Food Preparation and Nutrition calls on food teachers to embrace the study of food cultures, I thought I would share some teaching ideas and one of my favourite Irish Recipes for introducing the Food Culture of the Emerald Isle.

Yesterday, I was playing a foodie card game with my 3 year old niece called foodeeze.It is excellent for teaching very young children about fruit and vegetables and the five a day messages. While playing it, I came across the card Patrick Potato and both my husband and I roared out laughing as Irish people are certainly associated with their love of potatoes.

patrick potato.jpg


I now live in Yorkshire and I hold a party for St Patrick’s day annually; the first time I had a party my friend Dan wrapped up a potato in vibrant green paper and handed it to me as a gift. We laughed and laughed.


2014-03-16 10.16.19

So although we do indeed love potatoes we also love bread so I am going to start off with one of my favourite Irish bread recipes to teach.


The Soda Bread Challenge Lesson

I love teaching about soda bread. It is a great lesson to get the point across about how alkalis react with acids to produce carbon dioxide, allowing the bread to rise.  I try my best to get butter milk but if this is not possible I use milk slightly curdled with lemon juice, but I always teach it with a twist mixing traditional recipes with a modern take on the recipe.

For a recent open morning event,  I demonstrated how to make soda bread to my year 10 pupils covering all the appropriate theory such as the following key points:


  • Bicarbonate of soda was introduced to Ireland in the mid-19th century Ireland. At that time, making bread was a daily job and most families lived in farmhouses where kitchens had open hearths over peat, not ovens. Bread soda meant that anyone who didn’t have an oven could make soda bread.


  • The secret with Irish soda bread is not to knead the bread. Like scones it needs to be handled with great care or you will over develop the gluten and it will end up like a brick, heavy and difficult to cut.


  • It also helps to mix the dough quickly and bake it straight away because the bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar which make the bread rise, start to act as soon as they are wet.


  • Soda bread is incredibly versatile but one of the things which put people off is the bitter taint or aftertaste of the bicarbonate of soda so it is important to get the balance right, just enough to help the bread rise but not enough to taint the flavour. I begin by demonstrating very basic recipe but I also demonstrate a sweet version such as chocolate chip and cherries or a savoury version spring onions (or scallions) with cheese to give the traditional recipe a modern twist.


  • Soda bread is recognised by its cruciform or cross shape on top. Like the crosses on the hot-cross buns served at Easter, the cross slashed into the top of a loaf of soda bread has symbolic importance. In Ireland, a predominantly Christian society, the cross was said to ward off the devil (evil), providing a measure of ritual protection for the household that baked the bread.


As part of the opening morning activities the pupils were asked to create their own soda bread recipe. The breads would be lined up for visitors to taste during open morning and the visitor’s and to vote for their favourite bread using a voting slip. The pupil who received the most votes received a prize of a book of Irish recipes.



We were given the task to create and make a soda bread with a difference.

The 8 types of soda bread presented for tasting are:

  • White Chocolate and Raspberry
  • Mint Aero and Orange
  • Caramelised Onion with Balsamic Vinegar
  • Chocolate, Orange and Cardamom
  • Chocolate and Orange
  • Raisin and Cinnamon
  • Dried Cranberry and Orange
  • Please vote for your favourite soda bread, to help us find a winner ☺

So perhaps this is something you could do this week to celebrate St. Patrick’s day or as a task to introduce Irish Food Culture. If you would like the recipe click below.

Happy Baking.

go n-eiri  on bothar leat x

5 thoughts on “Irish Food Culture – The Soda Bread Challenge.

  1. I always read your blog from the link on the food teachers Facebook group; it is always inspiring and informative, so thank you for writing and sharing. I also live and work in West Yorkshire.

    Liked by 1 person

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