I learned to bake brown soda bread from my Grandma Hayes. She stood nearly five feet tall, always straight and proud, had red hair and freckles that she hated, and strong, cool arms that I loved. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Grandma also taught me about transformation: creating rich sustenance from the simplest of ingredients.
Thirty-five years after my grandmother’s death, I visited Ireland’s County Cork, a land of rolling green hills and patchwork fields — much like the farmland in southern Iowa where my grandparents settled and I grew up — and was stunned to discover Grandma’s brown bread in nearly every pub and restaurant in Cork. Many of these establishments guarded their recipes for it fiercely.
But my grandmother taught me to share, and is there anything better than sharing your favorite comfort food with friends? Here’s her recipe. Enjoy!
Grandma Hayes’ Brown Bread
2 cups sour milk*
½ cup sugar
½ cup sorghum or dark molasses
2 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup white flour
2 cups graham flour
Combine milk, sugar, and sorghum. Sift together and stir in soda, salt, and white flour. Stir in graham flour and pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.
* Or put 1 Tbsp vinegar into a 2-cup measuring cup, then fill it up with regular milk. It will sour and thicken.
This is excerpted from the story “An Irish Trinity” in Lost, Kidnapped, Eaten Alive! True stories from a curious traveler.