Soda Bread and My Grandmother


Soda bread is love and life in my family. This humble peasant bread, accompanied by a pot of tea and meant to sustain farmers through the final hours of their daily toil, has been omnipresent throughout my life. Being the baby of the family I was always afforded the biggest slice from the center of the loaf, hot from the oven, slathered with the butter that lived on the counter and was softened by the perpetual activity of the kitchen.

Elizabeth Kiernan Brown’s Certificate of Citizenship, issued August 10, 1933. (Click on image for a bigger version.)

Elizabeth Kiernan Brown, my grandmother, was a titan of fortitude and love. We knew her as Grams and her zeal for life and family knew no bounds. This year my daughter Ellanor Kiernan Fader turns 13, the same age at which Grams made her solo voyage from a small farm in rural County Meath, Ireland, to New York City. She carried with her, across an ocean in the belly of a ship for an entire month, little more than the clothes on her back and a recipe for soda bread . 

On the right: Chef Jamey Fader’s grandmother, Elizabeth Kiernan Brown.

On the right: Chef Jamey Fader’s grandmother, Elizabeth Kiernan Brown.

After years of working to pay off the cost of her passage, she met Alexander Brown, my grandfather, and together they started the path we in my family are all currently traveling. A trip to their house meant lots of laughter, recitations of countless limericks, repeating Clancy Brothers albums that Grams sang off-key at dizzying pitches, Half and Half tobacco smoke, bottomless cups of weak tea, and endless slices of soda bread. 

Simple bread with few ingredients that symbolizes simple pleasures and familial love.