A 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
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.