Irish potato soda bread (1944)

Stud with black olives for a tasty twist

Petit Pois’ gluten-free veggie cupcakes made their debut in the shiny aisles of Selfridge’s this March. A 54 per cent vegetable content means you can snaffle two of your five-a-day for a fiver (my colleague rates the vanilla and courgette cupcake which is presented, perfectly boxed, with a chocolate and beetroot accomplice).

Root veg is a venerable shapeshifter – and has been for generations. Who can deny a piece of home-made carrot cake that’s  surely begging to be up there as the nation’s favourite slice? As a cheap and healthy alternative to sugar and sweetened products during the Second World War, carrots and their  cake was revived during rationing as Alan Wilt describes in his book ‘Food For War.’

It describes the formation of the Producer Guilds by the WI in the summer of 1939 which encouraged members to ‘grow-your-own’. Here, WI member, Mrs Kathleen Talbot from Berkhamstead suggests that WI members with gardens should buy a small extra quantity of vegetable seeds or tubers, ‘principally peas, beans, carrots, onions and potatoes.’ The result, says Kathleen, ‘might be invaluable…and if we escape war none of us will be worse for eating rather more vegetables than usual.’

The fruits (or vegetables) of their labour is evident in the few WI federation recipe books I’ve managed to uncover between 1939-1945. And it comes as no surprise that the ratio of vegetables to meat and dairy produce as primary ingredients in dishes taken from ‘Recipes from the Hampshire Federation of Women’s Institutes’ (1944), is really rather high.

When I say ‘vegetables’ I actually just mean potatoes. The humble tuber. Bar two recipes from a menu of 188 starters, mains, puddings and sweets (try as you might potato can substitute very little in an icing sugar glaze or crab apple jam), every single recipe stars a measure of raw or mashed potato.

Consider a dinner of ‘Scraps potato pie’, or ‘Supper fancy’; a mixture of mashed potato, minced meat, shallots, parsley and nutmeg which is to be prepared in the morning and ‘warmed up when wanted.’ For a sweet take on the faithful spud you can  add jam and oatmeal (Fried potato tartlets); cream of tartar, flour and eggs (Girdle scones) or even cocoa, sugar and a dash of rum for an economical take on hand-made chocolate truffles.

In a rather unadventurous spirit, I plumped for Irish Potato Soda Bread, a contribution from a Miss Westmacott from Bashley in the New Forest. I doubled the ingredients in the recipe below and came away with a delicious loaf, best served warm from the oven with butter and a wedge of cheese. Not quite a cupcake but all the tastier for being home-made.



  • ¼lb mashed potatoes
  • 1 large tsp bi-carbonate of soda
  • 1 teacup sour milk or enough to make a stiff dough (to sour your own just add a 2 tsps lemon juice to normal milk and leave to stand for 20 minutes)
  • ½lb self-raising flour


  1. Sift the flour, soda and salt together
  2. Rub in the potatoes
  3. Mix milk in to make a stiff dough
  4. Make into a flat cake, score across the top and bake on a floured tin for 20 minutes at Regulo 8 (230ºC/450ºF)
Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Actually, it can be made without even peeling the potatoes, never mind cooking them! Inspired by Dan Lepard’s Potato Bread recipe in the Guardian (he uses strong white flour and yeast) but using plain flour, bread soda, salt, butter, milk, and an egg, I incorporated grated potatoes into the soft, not stiff at all, dough and baked a marvellous Potato Bread in only an hour. I’ve even made Courgette Soda Bread the exact same way!

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