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Soda bread

LOAF was my grandmother’s pride

Paternal grandparents George and Polly Watson - she cooked for five kids!
Paternal grandparents George and Polly Watson – she cooked for five kids!

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
Sun-dried tomato and rosemary soda bread

Sun-dried tomatoes wouldn’t be found in my Gran’s store cupboard, but here’s 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.