Maggie O’Farrell’s novel Instructions for a Heatwave, about an Irish family at a crossroads in 1976 England, opens with a scene of quiet, comforting routine. O’Farrell’s main character, Gretta, wakes up, and—undaunted by the relentless heat that has settled over London—sets out to bake soda bread for her husband and herself, as she has done so many times before. O’Farrell invites us into the kitchen with her heroine, to become privy to her domestic ritual:
Consider her now, yanking open the oven and grimacing in its scorching blast as she pulls out the bread tin. She is in her nightdress, hair still wound onto curlers. She takes two steps backwards and tips the steaming loaf into the sink, the weight of it reminding her, as it always does, of a baby, a newborn, the packed, damp warmth of it. (p. 3)
And so, in a few short sentences, we bear witness to a woman’s inner life; it’s how we enter the story of her family—her soon-to-disappear husband and their grown-up but wayward children.
The following recipe for Irish soda bread is as much a part of Maggie O’Farrell’s family tradition as it is for her main character. It was passed down to O’Farrell by her grandmother, and we hope that you share it—and the book—with your friends and family.
(If you have trouble viewing the recipe card below, please click here to view on Scribd.)