Sunday, January 27, 2013

Brown Bread I

Brown Bread, or as it is more commonly known, Boston Brown Bread, was always a mystery to me, growing up. How could bread come in a can? It stayed a mystery because my mother, always resolutely opposed to any kind of ethnic food, never bought it. Our bread was Arnold's White Bread, plain and simple. Even the "New England" restaurants we went to did not serve it. They served cornbread. When I went to college and started baking my own bread, well, that was whole wheat bread, because of the article I read some time in the early 70s about the pernicious effects of white flour on the body.
After I made brown bread, and tried it, even though it is not gluten free, I found it quite tasty and easy to make. A minute's research on the Internet gives us the why as well as the how. The Pilgrims came from England, where farmers grew wheat. They called it corn, but never mind that. When they got to New England, they discovered that the soil, and the climate, absent the Gulf Stream, were not really conducive to good wheat crops. The Indians taught them how to grow corn, as we all know from elementary school projects about Thanksgiving.
So inventive Pilgrim cooks came up with a bread that used less wheat flour and more corn. (Some brown bread recipes use rye flour too, but this one does not.) In addition. the early settlers lived in wattle and daub houses without brick chimneys or real fireplaces. Their houses lacked anything like an oven, so bread had to be made by steaming in a kettle like an English pudding. The Pilgrims and early settlers made their bread in crocks. We make it in cans.
Don't agonize over what kind of can to use. I did, for no reason whatsoever. I even advertised on our neighborhood listserv for clean, 40 ounce cans. Surprise. I didn't get any offers. My husband bought a two pound can of red kidney beans on a foray to Safeway, and I made enough vegetarian chili to last us for a week. What I ended up using, however, was not my large empty bean can, but two 20-ounce tomato cans that I emptied to make the chili. They worked fine, and the bread slid out of the can in one piece, looking beautiful.
The occasion for BBB was the church's hospitality hour. When one lives in a two person household where one person is gluten intolerant, and the other person is limiting his carb intake, there just isn't a whole lot of call for two loaves of bread. I can report that the 11:15 congregants snapped the stuff up and reminisced about how they used to eat it as children. A huge hit, along with the Ham and Egg Canapes and the Clam Biscuits. Sorry to report, the Fruit Candy was not such a hit. People took some, but they did not come back around for more helpings.
The idea of steaming a food in a can may seem tricky, but it is not. I poured the batter into the can, filling it about two-thirds full, covered it with tinfoil, poured two or three inches of water into the pot and left it to steam for two hours.
The hesitant cook could do worse than start a bread making career with BBB. One does not have to knead it, let it rise, or do any of the things that make bread baking fraught with indecision. You just mix up the batter, fit the tin foil over the top of the can, and steam away. As long as the water doesn't boil away, you can't really burn it.
About the buttermilk. I actually bought buttermilk to make this, but you can always put a teaspoonful of vinegar into two cups of milk, which makes it sour.

Brown Bread I

3/4 cup graham (whole wheat) flour
3/4 cup yellow corn meal
3/4 cup flour (white)
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
3/4 cup molasses
2 cups sour milk or buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1. Grease two coffee tins (or large cans that contained tomato sauce or beans) each with a one quart (32 ounces) capacity. Or use other one-quart utensils suitable for steaming. (Whatever those might be.)
2. Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and pour the batter into the prepared tins. The tins should be about two-thirds full. Cover with aluminum foil.
3. Steam in a closed steamer (stockpot) two hours. Makes two loaves.

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