Indian meal bread

Recipe by Zack Gallagher,, Issue 01

Indian meal (corn/maize meal) was imported into Ireland from America around the early 1800s when turnips and potatoes got scarce here. During the Famine, large quantities were distributed to the hungry. It was also used to feed chickens and added to turnips, 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 needed to be ground more finely for human consumption, Indian meal became popular in country diets in Ireland. It was made into porridge, pancakes and bread for the household until the early decades of the 20th century.

This is a simple and light Indian meal bread recipe that my grandmother used to make. My own mother 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 slowly so we had fresh bread ready in the morning. Gosh, that sounds like something that happened in the 1940s but I’m talking about the 1970s! But then, I guess that’s what traditions are all about.

Makes 1 loaf

600g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

1 level tsp baking powder

125g butter

100g corn/maize meal

1 tbsp caster sugar

a good pinch of salt

2 large eggs

240ml milk

35ml olive oil

a squeeze of lemon juice

120ml water (approx.)


Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan).

Mix the flour and baking powder together in a large bowl, then rub in the butter with your fingertips. Add the corn/maize meal, sugar and salt and mix well.

Crack in the eggs, then add the milk, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and half the water. Mix together quickly and lightly. Add a little more water if you need to in order to bring it together into a soft, smooth dough in the bowl. Sprinkle with a light dusting of flour, turning it over to coat.

Transfer the dough to a baking tray – I always use a pizza tin. Pat the dough into a round and gently flatten it slightly with the palm of your hand. Cut a deep cross on top of the bread, making sure it goes almost all the day down the sides . Gently wiggle the knife as you cut to widen the gap.

Cutting the cross in the top of the bread has nothing 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 a decent enough 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!

Bake the bread in the centre of the preheated oven for 40 minutes. Five minutes before the cooking time is up, remove the bread from the oven, turn it upside down, then put it back in the oven for the final 5 minutes. This helps to dry out the bottom of the loaf. To test that the bread is cooked, it should sound hollow when you tap the base.

Transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool before breaking it into the four triangular portions and cutting into slices to serve.

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