Saturday, January 24, 2015

Boston Brown Bread

Did you know?
“Brown bread is as old as our country,” James Beard wrote in “American Cookery” (1972). “Everyone seems to treasure an ‘original’ recipe, handed down from the founding families.”

At the time of the American Revolution, wheat flour was a luxury. Cornmeal and rye flour were more common. So the three grains were combined in what were called “thirded” breads. A bread born of necessity 300 years ago easily could have been invented this morning by a nutritionist. It’s high in fiber and low in calories — like a giant bran muffin without all the sugar. Some recipes use brown sugar, but the more traditional ones rely on molasses for sweetening.

Boston brown bread ingredients include whole-wheat flour, cornmeal, rye flour, buttermilk, and molasses. Since few early American homes had ovens, bakers poured the bread dough — leavened with baking soda – into a cylindrical fireproof container and steamed it over an open fire. They’d been taught by Native Americans, who also showed them how to use corn as a grain for bread. Cornmeal often was called “Indian.”

In her directions for making brown bread in “American Frugal Housewife” (1828), Lydia Maria Child wrote: “Put the Indian in your bread pan, sprinkle a little salt among it, and wet it thoroughly with scalding water. … Be sure and have hot water enough; for Indian absorbs a great deal of water.”

Brown bread, known outside New England as Boston brown bread, was traditionally served with Boston baked beans. It’s also pretty good with cream cheese and jam for breakfast or afternoon tea. (source: American Food Roots)

I grew up having Boston Brown Bread with Boston Baked Beans and hot dogs on Saturday nights. Oh yes, that was living! It was always so good, and so simple. Sometimes simple foods are the best.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup Cornmeal
¾ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
¾ cup dark molasses
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup dark seedless raisins (optional)
Option -  substitute 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1 cup rye flour in place of the 2 cups whole wheat flour

This recipe has not changed much from the days of the Pilgrims.  Once you prepare this dish you will never again buy brown bread in a can at the grocery store.

Place all the dry ingredients in your electric mixing bowl and mix well with your machine. Add the liquid ingredients and blend well.

Grease three 16-ounce wide-mouth canning jars and place 1/3 of the batter in each. Cover each with wax paper and then aluminum foil. Tie each with a bit of string so that the foil is sealed.

Place a cake rack in the bottom of a large stockpot and place the cans on the rack. Add enough boiling water to come 1/3 up the side of the cans.

Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer the cans for about 2-½ hours. Check the water level now and then as you may need to add more water.

Remove the jars from the stockpot and allow to cool 10 minutes on a cooling rack. Remove the aluminum foil cover, run a butter knife all around the inside of the jars, invert and shake out gently onto the cooling rack.

Slice with a knife and serve hot topped with butter. Add a side of Boston Baked Beans and Hot Dogs for a complete meal.

Recipe adapted from Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American

Cook's note - the wide-mouth canning jars are simply used to bake the bread in. They can't be used to store the bread in, and are not to be considered shelf-stable; the bread must be removed from the jars and stored in your refrigerator, or wrapped and frozen.


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