The Irish Times Magazine - - FOOD- FILE - AOIFE McEL­WAIN

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.

“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

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