The real reason why our traditional brown bread loaf is round
Now we know: it’s all down to the soda pot...aka the Dutch oven
Irish soda bread: for our grandmothers and great-grandmothers iron pots determined the traditional shape of the bread. Photograph: Luca Trovato: Getty Images
Ever wondered why a traditional brown bread loaf is round? On a recent trip as a guest on a Wild Foods Masterclass in BrookLodge & Macreddin Village in Wicklow, owner and chef-in-chief Evan Doyle proudly showed off the fully functional turf-fuelled hearth in the Orchard Cafe. It’s the typical hearth, complete with an iron crane that pots could be hung on and lowered towards the heat source as was necessary. “We’ve finally mastered the recipe of making the perfect soda bread in a soda pot,” he proclaims, proudly. Which brings me to ponder – what’s a soda pot?
“Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers would have used the crane on the fire to cook soda bread in a soda pot,” explains Doyle. “In Europe and the US, it’s known as a Dutch oven.” The reason a soda pot was so important to Irish food, Doyle says, is because of a combination of our reliance on peat as a fuel source and our indigenous flour options being limited to brown wholemeal flour.
Sourdough and strong white flour-based bread require higher heat than peat can provide, so Irish bakers added buttermilk rather than yeast to their mixes and cooked soda bread much more slowly over a peat fire. As it cooked, the baker would drop the crane down until eventually the soda pot would sit into the peat. “You would take the peat embers and put them on the lid for the last 10 or 15 minutes of baking,” explains Doyle. The round, iron pots determined the traditional shape of the bread.
When you cook it over a peat fire, not only do you get the moisture but you also get that hint of subtle smokiness
“Even if you used a soda pot in your modern oven, it would be better than baking in an open 2lb loaf tin, because of the lid. The moisture stays in. But when you cook it over a peat fire, not only do you get the moisture but you also get that hint of subtle smokiness. Bread straight out of the fire...” he says, with a glint in his eye, “...organic butter... it’s no wonder we have survived for thousands of years.”
“That does sound amazing,” I say, captivated by my own daydreams of molten butter on moist brown bread. “I’m going to try that at home in my Dutch oven.”
“Stop calling it a Dutch oven!” Doyle chides. Soda pot it is.
BrookLodge is launching its bread-making masterclass this Thursday, June 7th, and soda pots will most certainly be on the curriculum. brooklodge.com