Irish Bread Galore
We had been thinking recently about writing an article to do with Irish/Northern Irish traditional food. We could have had hearty food such as stew, champ, colcannon and boxty. We could also have had the very strangely named vegetable roll which still puzzles Martha who isn’t from around these parts! She thought she was getting something healthy the first time I gave her it so was rather bemused when she bit into what tasted like a sausage! Apparently it contains leeks, which makes it qualify as a vegetable product. Christmas dinner contains parsley in its stuffing so it probably qualifies as a salad in Ireland by that reasoning! In the end we decided to downscale slightly, for now at least, and talk about that other favourite food type … Irish bread! Bread is something which plays a huge part in Martha’s diet and her German background makes her something of an expert and she certainly knows her baps from her baguettes!
So what are our favourite local Irish bread types? We are going to concentrate on our five personal favourites so apologies to any fans of the humble Belfast bap or blaa. Yes there really is a type of bread called blaa. Can you just imagine walking into a bakery and asking for a blaa! First up on our favourite five list is probably the bread most associated with Ireland/Northern Ireland past and present …
5 Soda Bread
It is believed that soda bread dates back to around 1840 in Ireland. Native American Indians however are believed to have made a version of soda bread centuries ago using wood ashes to make the bread rise. The ingredients of traditional soda bread are flour, bread soda, salt and buttermilk. In the early days soda bread would have been made over an open fire and this tradition undoubtedly still continues in some remote parts of the country. Soda bread now comes in a variety of forms … most commonly as a farl or a bannock. The photo below is of a soda farl and we would normally have it toasted with melted cheese on it or with bacon and fried egg. It’s even delicious just toasted with some real butter! It is of course also a main component of the traditional Ulster breakfast fry. How do you like your soda bread? Second up is another classic Irish bread …
4 Potato Bread
As with soda bread, potato bread has been a major component of the Irish diet for many years. Its main ingredients are potatoes, all purpose flour, butter and salt. It is more commonly made into a thin, flat farl shape as per our photo. It is sometimes called potato cake or fadge. As with soda bread we like it toasted with bacon and fried egg as an occasional treat and, needless to say, it is also a major part of any Ulster fry.
In third place we have what is a less well known bread …
3 Veda Bread
Veda bread is a small caramel coloured, malted bread with a soft consistency. It was actually invented in Gleneagles in Scotland in 1904 but for some reason Northern Ireland is the only place, we’re told, where it is still made. People from Northern Ireland, travelling to visit relatives around the world, will sometimes pack a couple of veda loaves in their suitcase to bring their relatives a taste of home. We have never been able to do this, as you couldn’t fit a scone in our suitcase when we travel – let alone veda loaves! Nigel has been a fan of veda going back many years and likes it when it’s very fresh with butter and cheddar cheese or even with banana … he blames his mother for that peculiarity! Martha has been a more recent convert and likes it toasted with cheese and jam … equally weird we agree! Nigel once visited a restaurant in a small town in Sweden called Hästveda and his lunch came with what looked and tasted like veda bread. Veda bread in a town called Hästveda … had he discovered the birthplace of veda? Turned out to be just a coincidence or so he was told! In second place is a rather strangely named Irish bread.
Barmbrack is a yeasted bread with added sultanas and raisins. The dough is sweeter than that of sandwich bread but not as rich as cake. It’s Gaelic name is bairin breac which literally means a speckled loaf. In Nigel’s opinion there is only one way to have it and that is simply toasted with butter …. delicious! Last but certainly not least is what Nigel considers to be the worlds greatest bread …
1 Wheaten Bread
Nigel will admit to having a slight addiction to it and is something of a wheaten bread connoisseur. He has sampled them from a variety of shops and bakeries in his quest for the perfect wheaten. As with soda bread and potato bread, the best ones are found in small local independent bakeries. Shops are ok when it comes to veda bread and barmbrack but shop bought prepacked soda, potato and wheaten bread are a poor second best. It should be soft in the middle but have a slightly crusty outer layer. At its freshest Nigel likes it either just buttered, with cheese or jam and accompanying a salad … it’s also delicious toasted! It is often served with soup in restaurants, so give it a go if you’ve never tried it!
We hope you enjoyed our look at our top five breads. Please let us know what your favourites are and if you have any bizarre toppings … we bet you do! Have to say we’re feeling hungry after all that talk of delicious bread so we’re off to raid the bread bin in the kitchen!
Do you agree with Nigel on his choice of favourite bread? If not, which one is your fave?
Disclaimer. No loaves or farls were harmed in the making of this article but Nigel and Martha put on a couple of kilos!