By Kristin O’Neill Boza
The simple truth about Irish soda bread is that as vital to the ingredients families mix in bowls and bake in ovens is the pride, tradition and heritage with which they make it. Soda bread is not just a food, it’s a cultural experience that’s as personal as each family’s recipe.
Every year, area bakers bring their unique versions to compete in the legendary Boz O’Brien’s Irish Soda Bread Contest at Reilly’s Daughter, 4010 W. 111th St. This year’s bake-off takes place on Sat., Mar. 7, 1 to 4 p.m. All entrants can sign up with their delectable loaf at 10 a.m. on the day of the competition for a chance to win one of 10 prizes. Last year, nearly 100 samples of the best Irish soda bread on the south side entered the competition.
First place wins airfare for two to Ireland; second place wins $500; third place wins $200; and fourth through tenth places win gift certificates. Judges are local notables, and past judges include Ald. Matt O’Shea, State Rep. Fran Hurley, and the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Queen and court.
Now run by second-generation Reilly’s Daughter owner Brendan O’Brien, no loaf will be turned away as long as it’s there by 10 a.m. on Sat., Mar. 7. Will a Beverly/Morgan Park resident take home the bragging rights this year? For more information, check out Reilly’s Daughter on Facebook, or call 708-423-1188.
The soda bread basics are flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. In that form, soda bread became popular in Ireland in the mid-1800s. Bicarbonate of soda was more available and less expensive than yeast as a leavener. Ireland’s soft wheat flour made a satisfying bread that could feed the family.
According the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread website, soda bread was baked every day, and covering your newly baked loaf of soda bread with a damp towel was a must.
Every family has multiple takes on what makes the best Irish soda bread; here’s one of many examples from my own family.
Grandma Nancy’s Nutty Irish Soda Bread
1 c chopped walnuts
4 ½ c all-purpose flour
2 ¼ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c golden raisins
1 ½ c buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread walnuts on ungreased baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned; 5-6 minutes; cool.
In large bowl, combine flour, soda, salt, raisins, and walnuts. Combine buttermilk and eggs. Stir buttermilk mixture into flour until combined.
On work surface, knead dough until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Shape into round loaf; lightly sprinkle with flour. Place on ungreased baking sheet. With serrated knife, cut ½” deep “X” in the top.
Bake 45-50 minutes or until baked through and loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from pan and cool on rack for 20 minutes.