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Soda bread

Basic yet tasty soda bread
Basic yet tasty soda bread

Loaf was my grandmother’s pride

Before sourdough bread and all its rustic variants became fashionable (and pricey), ordinary working-class housewives had to make do and mend with what they had.

This recipe comes via my Mam from my Gran (her mother-in-law), who died just before I was eight.

Pictured are my paternal grandparents, George and Polly Watson (nee Hogg), on holiday at Butlins – or was it Pontins? – in the late 1960s.

They were terrific dancers in their day – when the Tyne Bridge was opened in October 1928, there was a dancing competition. Each contestant had their heels chalked and couples had to dance from one end to the other – without their heels touching the ground.

My grandparents won and were presented to King George V, who opened the bridge. Quite an achievement.

  • 1lb plain flour
  • Half level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 level teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 level teaspoon salt
  • Approx half pint sour milk (milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice) or buttermilk

Sieve dry ingredients together.

Mix enough milk to give a soft, but not sticky dough.

Turn on to a lightly floured board and shape into an 8″ round cake with a shallow cross cut into the top.

Turn on to a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at Gas mark 6, 400 degrees F or 200 degrees C for 30-35 minutes.

*Serve warm with butter for tea. (These are my mother’s instructions on a much-yellowed bit of paper in her old recipe collection.)

There’s no yeast in this bread – the bicarb and baking powder do the rising.

Although many people will be familiar with Irish soda bread, we have no Irish relatives, so I guess this one came from north of the border, where we have many Scottish ancestors.

Soda bread with sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary

Soda bread
Sun-dried tomato and rosemary soda bread

Sun-dried tomatoes wouldn’t be found in my Gran’s store cupboard, but here are a few additions that bring soda bread into the ‘posh artisan bread’ category. (I doubled the recipe to make the two loaves above and dimpled the surface instead of cutting a cross into it.)

When you’ve mixed the ingredients into a soft dough, add 2oz (50g) of chopped sun-dried tomatoes, patted dry from their oil if in a jar.

Add half a tablespoon of fresh rosemary (half that if using dried) and then knead until combined.

When shaped into the 8″ rounds, brush the top with olive oil from the sun-dried tomato jar (or ordinary will do), then sprinkle over some rosemary and sea salt. Bake as the ordinary recipe.

The result is similar to focaccia but without the hassle of dough rising.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.