Boston Brown Bread

My idea of a rockin' night? Baking bread, playing cribbage, and sharing conversation with a good friend. And it's even better when some beautiful photos capture the whole thing.

Check out some Boston Brown Bread in the making (all photos taken by good friend, KG):

The specific recipe we used came from a bread book KG had (perhaps he can fill in the missing title in the comments?), but a quick google search reveals recipes galore--some using buttermilk, some steaming the bread rather than just baking it, some tying it down with a string. But no matter the particular method, all the recipes lead to a bread, rich with molasses and rye flour, often baked in a tin can.

This bread has a storied past, and is said to have been passed down to white settlers by Native Americans, who were accustomed to cooking with corn meal.  Recipes for it appeared in the earliest Fannie Farmer cookbooks and were widely shared among New England cooks. 

Here is just one such recipe, from a 1914 cookbook called Things Mother Used to Make. Can you decipher the whole thing and the ingredients?

Boston Brown Bread
  • 1 cupful of rye meal
  • 1 cupful of graham meal
  • 1 cupful of Indian meal
  • 1 teaspoonful of salt
  • 1 cupful of molasses
  • 1 heaping teaspoonful of soda
  • 1 cupful of sweet milk
  • 1 cupful of sour milk
Stir the meals and salt together.

Beat the soda into the molasses until it foams.

Add sour milk, mix all together and pour into a tin pail which has been well greased, if you have no brown-bread steamer.

Set the pail into a kettle of boiling water and steam three or four hours, keeping it tightly covered.


  1. This sounds so good. Every time I see a recipe you post, I want to try it. I won't actually try most of them (due to lack of motivation, time, etc.) but I can live (or eat) vicariously through you! (-: But this recipe I really should try. I also love that you bake it in a coffee can!

  2. Yes, the coffee can is what charmed me most! (though the can ridges made it a little hard to get the breads out). So happy to live and eat vicariously on your behalf! (Though at least you got to live the experience of yesterday's post--the hoophouse-moving!)

  3. Kroy: Are you hatin' on cribbage? My friend KG just introduced me to it on the Brown Bread night, as it was a game he played often during his years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines. Cards and counting and competition--what's not to love?!

  4. Anna, where did you get all of the relevant meals (rye meal, graham, meal, etc.)? Can you get sour milk at the co-op? (I assume sour milk isn't just milk gone sour, right?)

  5. Holly, well the problem with trying to use a 1914 recipe is that it refers to ingredients that aren't in common use any more. I really just included that one to give a glimpse into food history and the way that recipes used to be written. For a modern recipe, this one: looks pretty good, and calls for whole wheat flour, rye flour, corn meal, molasses, and regular milk, which are all easy to find in our neck of the woods. This recipe is even simpler, and calls for just whole wheat and all-purpose flour: Hope that helps!

  6. The recipe is from Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking.

    We had a great time, and it turned out well! Thanks, Anna.

  7. Thanks for the links, Anna and Kevin!


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