Colonial Steamed Brown Bread

18 May

Brown BreadA big part of writing historical fiction is research. If you don’t do the history well – it’s just fiction. And trust me, you’re going to honk off a bunch of history geeks in the process. Having been that honked off history geek a time or two, I know what I’m talking about.

I love to cook and bake. Always have. It’s another creative outlet for me. Combining my love of history with my love of cooking and baking was a no-brainer. So researching colonial-era cooking for my book? That was fun!

My grandma used to make what she called Boston Brown Bread. I discovered that the Colonial Steamed Brown Bread is very close to what grandma made. I think hers was considered “Boston” because it was served with baked beans.

Home ovens were rare in Colonial times. The fort or settlement would have one oven, maybe two, that were shared. Yeast breads were baked only when the oven was available and heated.

Steaming breads was something that could be done in the hearth over an open fire. The bread – not a yeast bread, but more like our modern-day quick breads – was poured into a bowl of some sort, placed into a Dutch Oven with water about half-way up the sides of the bowl, covered with a lid, and swung over the fire to steam for anywhere from one to three hours, depending on the size of the bowl.

Wash 3 soup cans, roughly 15 oz size, grease well

Prepare your steamer, get the water boiling

Mix together:

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup rye flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp. cooking oil (lard or bacon grease would be more authentic)
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup milk
1 teas. salt
1 teas. baking soda

Divide into the 3 greased cans (cans will be just over 1/2 full to allow the bread to rise). Top each can with a square of aluminium foil. Secure with a rubber band or string. Set cans into the steamer. Steam for 1 hour. Remove to a rack to cool. Immediately remove foil. Cool 10 minutes. Remove bread from cans. The texture is like a moist cornbread, but the flavor is unique. Wonderful served warm with butter and jam, or for the “Boston” variety, smothered with some rich and tasty baked beans.

~ Pegg Thomas





Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Pegg Thomas, Recipe


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9 responses to “Colonial Steamed Brown Bread

  1. jerichakingston

    May 18, 2015 at 7:18 am

    And aren’t we spoiled? A quick trip to the grocery store, and we can fill our carts full. When I consider what one went through to eat in those days, I realize how much I take for granted. As well as how ridiculous I act when so much as a heating element burns out in my oven. Anyway… Great recipe, Pegg, with a side of history. Thank you!


    • Pegg Thomas

      May 18, 2015 at 4:06 pm

      We have become a bunch of whiners, no doubt! When you consider what our ancestors did every day just to stay alive, it should be a smack in the head to all of us. Me at the top of the list.


  2. Robin Patchen

    May 18, 2015 at 8:26 am

    Sounds yummy. I’m a sucker for bread of any kind, and anything named after Boston, for that matter. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pegg Thomas

      May 18, 2015 at 4:06 pm

      I knew you’d like that, Robin! Anything Bean Town. šŸ™‚


  3. Kara (@KaraHunt2015)

    May 18, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Yum, indeed! Love the history recipe combination. I think you’re on to something here!


  4. Marge Wiebe

    May 18, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Ooh, sounds tasty! What a great idea, combining history with cooking. Thanks for sharing!


    • Pegg Thomas

      May 18, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      Since you have a passel of kiddos, you might want to try this but add some cinnamon and/or ginger to the bread and then top each slice – warm – with some vanilla ice cream. Not historically accurate, but how could it be bad?!


  5. Pegg Thomas

    May 18, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    We had this for dinner last night. We were visiting our son so had to cheat and heat up store-bought beans, but it was still fabulous! I cut hotdogs into beans, but I think it would be even better with browned bulk sausage. So we’re trying that next time! The combination of the beans and the molasses in the bread – oh! – yeah.

    Liked by 1 person


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