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Indian Meal Bread – A taste of the last Century

Indian meal (aka Corn or Maize meal) was first imported from America around the early 1800s to assist when turnips and potatoes got scarce. Some say that it was sent here by charitable North American Indians to help the poor Irish during the Famine, hence the name "Indian Meal". 

During these times large quantities of it were distributed to the hungry. It was also used to feed the chickens and added to turnips, which were cut by hand on the edge of a scythe, for pigs.

Difficulties in grinding the corn produced poorly refined meal which caused digestive problems to those who had no choice but to eat it. When it was discovered that it really needed to be ground more finely for human consumption, Indian meal became popular in country diets in Ireland. 

It is exactly the same as the ground meal used for "Grits" in the southern United States and a finer-ground version is used as Polenta in Europe. In Ireland, it was made into porridge, pancakes and bread for country households and was still in common use up until the 1970's.

This, is a simple and light Indian Meal Bread recipe that my grandmother used to make and my own mother made and baked it in a pan with a tight-fitting lid, on the open fire in the kitchen. Turf "mole" was put on the fire to keep it safe at night and the bread would cook slow so we had fresh bread ready in the morning. My mum used a little tiny bottle of Goodalls olive oil, lemon juice, water and milk in place of the buttermilk that granny would have used.

Gosh! That sounds like something that happened in the 1940’s but I’m talking about the 1970’s! Then, I guess, this is what traditions are all about…

My Ingredients:
600g self raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
100g Indian meal
good pinch salt
tbls sugar
125g butter
2 large eggs
35ml olive oil
dash lemon juice
240ml milk
120ml water (approx)

My Method:
Mix the flour and baking powder together and rub in the butter.

Add the Indian meal, sugar and salt and mix well. Break in the 2 eggs, dash of lemon juice, olive oil, milk and half the water. Mix together quickly and lightly. Add a little more water if you need to.

Pull the dough together in the bowl with a sprinkling of flour and turn it over

Place your bread on your baking tin and gently flatten it down with the palm of your hand. I always use a pizza tin for baking my bread because it works perfectly regardless of the size of the scone! Cut a cross over the top and into the bread. Gently push the knife to both sides as you cut to widen the gap.

Cutting the cross in the top of the bread had nothing really to do with looks. It was done to let the heat into the centre of the bread and to facilitate breaking the bread into pieces that were decent enough in size to take out to the fields or the bog or wherever the men of the house were working that day.
Here on the west coast, one of the traditions was to mark the bread in eight pieces not four. This was true portion control being exercised by the Mammy of the house!!

Put the bread into the centre of a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 40 minutes. (As always drop 10°C for fan assisted ovens.)

5 minutes before cooking-time is up, take out the bread place a plate or baking tin on top and turn it over. Put it back into the oven to finish. This helps dry out the bottom of the loaf.

The scone should sound hollow to the tap on the base when it cooked. 
This goes deliciously with Homemade Rhubarb Jam and you can see my recipe for that here.
Do enjoy it and give some to your Granny - it will take her back to her childhood! :)


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