Source: Maura Laverty's Cookery Book.,Longmans, 1946-48.
Maura Laverty was an Irish author and playwright who brought wonderful
descriptions of life in Ireland and her experiences to her recipes. The
cook book has modern or one might say internationally inspired recipes
but also contains a number of Irish standards.
Every time Ireland is put in the dock, I feel our diplomats are sadly
lacking as a counsel for the defense that they don't bring forward in
mitigation of our crimes the fact that we have given a four-leaved
shamrock to the world. One leaf is W. B. Yeats, another is boiled
potatoes in their jackets, another Barry Fitzgerald. The fourth is
Soda-bread. And the greatest of these is soda-bread. Spongy white
soda-bread with a floury, brown crossed crust…flat sweet griddle-bread
with an inch-and-a-half of tender well baked dough sandwiched between
thin crisp crusts…wholesome brown bread with growth and health and
energy in its pleasantly rough nuttiness…dark spicy treacle bread that
has been left for twenty-four hours to become firm and mellow and is
then sliced thinly and spread with good country butter---current bread
and buns, Indian meal bread, "spotted dog" rich with raisins, seedy
bread- there seems to be no end at all to them. The queer thing is that
in its native habitat soda-bread is never so called. We call it "cake"
or "cake bread." A loaf of bread comes out of the baker's van, but a
cake of bread comes out of the pot-oven. The secret of good cake-bread
is 3-day old buttermilk, a light hand for mixing and kneading and a
brisk oven. Buttermilk is not always easy to come by. In the winter
when the cows are not milking some people use instead the water in which
potatoes have been boiled. Far better is the "winter buttermilk" which
they used in Cork and Meath and this is how it is made.
Mix 1/4 lb flour to a smooth paste with 1 cup cold water. Put this in
the bottom of a large jug or crock. Add 2 grated raw potatoes and 2
mashed cooked potatoes. Now mix in 7 cups cold water. Cover and leave
it on the kitchen mantelpiece or in some such warm place for 2 days.
When you are baking pour off carefully, and without disturbing the
sediment, as much liquid as you require. This can be used in exactly the
same way as buttermilk and will give you lovely light bread. Add fresh
water to make up for what you have3 used. Stir up the contents of the
vessel, cover it and put it by for the next baking. The one lot of
potatoes and flour will give you a fortnight's supply of winter buttermilk.
There is another way of making sure of a constant supply of buttermilk.
You can start a buttermilk plant with yeast, sugar and skim milk, or
milk and water. The buttermilk plant is a kind of fungus like the
vinegar plant. After a few weeks it will grow and grow and you'll be
able to supply all your friends with a cutting. The milk it produces is
very good for the blood, particularly in rheumatic cases. It is
pleasant to drink too. (I first heard about this miraculous plant form
Miss Florence Irwin, of Belfast who is the best cook in Ireland). To
start the plant, you'll need:--
1 oz. sugar,
1 oz, yeast
1 quart tepid milk and water.
Cream the yeast with the sugar, gradually add the tepid milk and water.
Put the mixture in some vessel that may easily be washed and scalded,
cover it, and leave it in a warm place for a couple of days or until the
milk smells and tastes like butter-milk. When you want to use the
buttermilk, put a piece of muslin in the bottom of a strainer and strain
the milk through this. The funny-looking thing like lumpy corn flour
which remains will be the plant. Rinse every drop of milk off it, by
pouring a cup of tepid water over it. Let the water run through the
strainer into the buttermilk- it will all make excellent liquid for
mixing cake-bread. To start a new lot of buttermilk, scrape the plant
off them muslin and put it back into the scalded and well-rinsed vessel.
Add another quart of tepid milk and water, cover it and leave it as
before to increase and multiply.
That first ounce of yeast will go on growing and multiplying giving you
buttermilk until the end of time. But the plant needs a certain amount
1.--It must be strained at least every five days. If you don'
t want the milk for baking, you can always drink it. I knew a woman so
crippled with rheumatics that she couldn't kneel down to say the Rosary.
After six months of drinking this buttermilk, she was able to do the
Lough Derg Pilgrimage on her knees.
2.--Make sure the milk-and-water is never more than lukewarm. Strong
heat kills yeast.
3.--Cleanliness is very important. That careful rinsing after
straining, and the scalding of th container must be done if the plant is
Basic Recipe for Soda Bread
1 lb flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon bread-soda
Buttermilk to mix.
Sift the dry ingredients several times through your fingers. Make a
well in the centre. Pour in the buttermilk gradually, mixing in the
flour from the sides. Don't have the mixture too dry. Turn it out on a
floured board, knead lightly for a few minutes, pat the dough to a round
and cut a cross on it to keep it from cracking in the baking. Let the
cuts go over the sides of the cake to make sure of this. Brush with
milk and bake at once in a hot oven (450 degs.--Regulo 7-8) for 45 mins.
If you have any doubts about doneness, tap the bottom of the cake. If
it sounds hollow it is cooked. (When using milk from the buttermilk
plant, it doesn't hurt the bread to let it stand 15 mins. before baking).
Some people like to add 1/4 teasp. of cream of tartar or 1/2 teasp.
baking powder. I think this is unnecessary. The teaspoon of bread-soda
and good buttermilk provide all the leaven needed for a pound of flour.
Yalla Male Bread
Add 1/4 lb. of Indian meal.
Increase the sugar to 1 tablesp. and add to the milk 1/2 cup of treacle.
A beaten egg may bge added as well, in which case you may as well go
the whole hog and rub 2 oz of butter into the flour. Raisins, Currants
and chopped nuts make this a party cake.
Use 1/2 lb. whole meal and 1/2 lb., flour. Increase the sugar to one
desseertsp, and rub in, if you like 1 dessertsp. of dripping. I always
add as well a handful of flakemeal. It gives a lovely nutty texture.