Darina Allen is a true celebrity in Ireland. Her cookery shows have been televised and her books are a staple in
most Irish homes. She is the founder of Ballymaloe,
a successful cookery school in East Cork which she runs with her husband Tim Allen.
Darina has kindly agreed to provide a weekly recipe on the site, so get out that apron and start cooking!
The baking tradition is one of the richest and
most varied aspects of Ireland's culinary heritage. From the very earliest times
, bread-making was an integral part of daily life in almost every home, and is
still a living tradition..
For centuries, thin oatcakes were made on a bakestone or griddle over the open
fire. Later, breads were leavened with sourdough and barm made from beer, sowans
(the fermented juice of oat husks) and fermented potato juice. Surprisingly, it
was not until the first half of the 19th century that bicarbonate of soda was
introduced, enabling cooks to bake the wide range of soda breads for which is
Ireland is now so famous.
Even in the poorest country cabin, fresh soda bread would have been mixed on a
wooden baking board and baked on the griddle, or in the pot oven or Bastible,
over the embers of the turf fire. Soda bread can be made from all white or a
mixture of white and brown flour, white soda bread is often referred to as cake
bread. The word bastible seems to be a bastardization of the name Barnstaple,
the town in Devon where these iron baking pots were made.
The traditional skills of breadmaking were passed on from mother to daughter and
were a great source of pride. It was a compliment of the highest order to be
described as having 'a light hand with the baking'
Like many other children I began my cooking career at my mother's side while she
made the daily soda bread. As soon as she reached for the mixing bowl, I'd don
my apron and pester her for a little piece of dough to make a cistin beag. This
was a tiny loaf shaped into a round just like Mummy made. I'd solemnly cut a
cross on top with a knife and my little cistin was baked beside her big loaf in
the Aga. The result was often a bit tough and rather too crusty from my
over-enthusiastic handling, nonetheless I was delighted with it.
Now, Tim and I carry on this tradition at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and
every day we teach students from all over the world how to make the crusty soda
loaves marked with the traditional cross and explain the importance of letting
the fairies out so they don't 'jinx your bread'!
Soda bread, both brown and white, deserve to be better known outside Ireland,
they are literally made in minutes and emerge from the oven 30-45 minutes later,
crusty and delicious. There are many recipes which have been handed down from
generation to generation. When I was doing research for my Traditional Food book
(published by Kyle Cathie 1995)````````
I spent many happy times collecting recipes from older people in their homes and
was astonished at the number of variations on the soda bread theme. Yellow Meal
Bread, Treacle Bread, Seedy Bread (with Caraway Seeds), Spotted Dog (see below),
Goaty Bread (made from Goats' Milk), Griddle Bread .
Later, when I wrote Food for Family and Friends (Gill & Macmillan, 1993) I
decided to use our traditional White Soda Bread as a pizza base, with many
exciting toppings. I even made Olive and Rosemary Bread and Sundried Tomato,
Cheddar Cheese and Chutney and recently in cahoots with Paul and Jeanne Rankin
and their children we added chocolate chips, so Stripy Cat was
born. My ancestors must be turning in their graves - have fun!