Home Food + Drink Katie Reilly’s Irish Soda Bread: A Jersey City Story

Katie Reilly’s Irish Soda Bread: A Jersey City Story

by Stephanie Spear
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For many, traditional dishes are a way to connect with their past. One Hoboken woman has taken her family’s classic Irish Soda Bread and turned it into both a business and a way to share her family’s Irish heritage with others. Joanne Manley is a third-generation Hudson County resident and a co-founder of Katie Reilly’s Irish Soda Bread, a company with roots in Jersey City. The Hoboken Girl chatted with Joanne to learn more about Katie Reilly herself and the soda bread that put her family on the map. Read on for more about the real Katie Reilly and how to find these delicious baked goods year-round.

About Katie Reilly

The real Katie Reilly was an Irish immigrant from County Galway who arrived in Jersey City via Ellis Island in 1909. She found work at St. Aeden’s Church Rectory and went on to marry Joanne’s grandfather, John Gallagher, who was a locomotive engineer. They bought a two-family home on Warner Avenue in the Greenville section of Jersey City where they raised six children, four girls and two boys. Katie would make her classic soda bread year-round, and the family would share it with friends and neighbors on St. Patrick’s Day.

Katie Reilly outside 86 Warner Ave

^ Katie Reilly outside 86 Warner Avenue. Photo Credit: Joanne Manley

Katie Reilly was a great cook, but so much more than that. “My grandmother was amazing,” Joanne said. “She could do anything. She played the stock market — she would get the newspaper every day and look at the stocks. She knew just how to do it. She could cook and sew. She sewed all my Aunt’s outfits from beautiful Vogue patterns. During the Depression, she would put Irish stew out on the back porch for anyone to come by and eat.” Katie Reilly Gallagher died in 1981. She was 91 years old.

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One of the six Gallagher children was Josephine, known as Jo, who was Joanne’s mother and the fourth of the six children. “She married another Jersey City guy, Bill Naughton, from Delaware Avenue,” Joanne said. “They moved to Nutley and had five kids.” Jo carried on the Irish soda bread tradition, using her mother’s recipe, and sending her children to school with loaves on St. Patrick’s Day as gifts for the teachers and nuns at the local Catholic school. “My mother would bake some for my father to bring to his office in New York,” Joanne said. “And with all the baking for the school, it was a big deal for the family.”

John and Katie (Reilly) Gallagher

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^ John Gallagher + Katie Reilly Gallagher. Photo Credit: Joanne Manley

One of those children was Joanne, third out of the five Naughton children, who got married, moved to Basking Ridge, and started a new generation of baking Irish soda bread. “I started doing the same thing. My husband worked for a small law firm so I baked for them, and once my kids started school, I baked for them, too.” Joanne said. “My husband’s firm grew, so we kept needed more loaves. It was getting crazy, I was making so many loaves the night before St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone in my whole family was doing the same thing.”

Forming a Company

By the mid-1990s, dozens of extended Gallagher cousins were making countless loaves of Irish soda bread across New Jersey the night before St. Patrick’s Day. All were using the original recipe from Katie Reilly and carrying on the tradition that she had unknowingly started. Joanne realized that the recipe could be prepared like a boxed cake mix and that it would be a less labor-intensive way to share the delicious dough. “I realized we could really do something with this. If we packed up all the dry ingredients and included the recipe, the recipient could add the wet ingredients and make it themselves,” Joanne said. “It could be super fresh.”

Jo Naughton at a trade show

^ Jo Naughton at a trade show representing Katie Reilly’s. Photo Credit: Joanne Manley

“This was in 1997, and the Internet wasn’t as useful as it is today, but we researched how to get approvals, how to do this the right way,” Joanne said. “We put together a package of a muslin bag with the stamp on it. It really looked like a gift. And we also included a little story about our grandmother.”

Joanne’s uncle, John Gallagher, was a writer for The Advocate, a Catholic newspaper. He wrote a column about smelling his mother’s home cooking, and that became the genesis for the Legend of Katie Reilly. “It was a story about John going to Jo’s house for a holiday and all of the smells were the same as he had growing up because it was the food,” she said. “It was about how he could feel his mother in the house because of the smells. We took that story and changed it to be more specific about the Irish soda bread. How it has the same essence, same feelings.” That story became The Legend of Katie Reilly, which is attached to each bag of the bread mix.

 

 

“To start off, the soda bread mix was sold in Irish stores, gift stores, and gourmet shops,” Joanne said. “It was about $6. My mother and I both shopped at our local ShopRites and we knew the owners, and we asked them if we could put it on the shelf. She was in Nutley and I was in Bernardsville and in Stirling. They [the store managers] said yes!”

Joanne and her mother would do in-store tastings on Saturdays with freshly baked versions of the soda bread to demonstrate what the product would taste like once the customer mixed it up and baked it at home. “It was after one of those tastings that we were approached by the head of the fresh baked division of ShopRite,” Joanne said. “They wanted to bake the soda bread in-store but using our recipe at many local stores.”

irish soda bread katie reilly

Photo Credit: Joanne Manley

Joanne and her family said yes to the opportunity. “We were just making these one-pound bags. It was a great thing but we had to scale it up and it was crazy,” she said. “We made them [ShopRite] promise, you have to keep the fresh ingredients. You can not add preservatives. You have to use real butter, real buttermilk, and real eggs. That’s why it’s so good.” Joanne says she hears people saying how they can’t believe how good the ShopRite soda bread is. “It’s a real recipe,” she said. “It’s not just something they threw together just to have something out as soda bread.” She said that many locations carry the freshly baked bread year-round in addition to the bagged mixes.

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Where to Find It

Now, Katie Reilly’s Irish Soda Bread is available online, of course, as well as in many local ShopRites, including the Hoboken location. The one-pound bags of the mix are still assembled by hand at the Nutley Knights of Columbus, with each bow hand-tied. “We work with the same mixer in Belleville that stocks the ShopRite bakeries,” she said.

Joanne ran the company until 2005, when her brother Matt Naughton took over the day-to-day operations. She has moved to Hoboken, where she often spies the bread at the local ShopRite.  This time of year is particularly special, she said. “Katie Reilly made it all the time, not just St. Paddy’s Day. Her children and grandchildren would share the bread with friends, teachers, work associates on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate our heritage and St. Patrick’s Day. We would bake it occasionally throughout the year but always for St. Patrick’s Day,” Joanne said.

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