My Pioneer Cookbook Adventure: Good Housekeeping 1903 ~ Boston Brown Bread

Hello all! Welcome to another edition of my adventures in cooking old school. As a brief summary, for those new to my blog, I have a small collection of cookbooks dating between 1895 to 1950. I am currently attempting recipes from a 1903 Good Housekeeping cookbook.


This week, I attempted to make BOSTON BROWN BREAD, an interesting experience, considering I’ve never had it before. As is the case with all the recipes in this book, you receive very little instructions. Here is the recipe as it appears in the book:


So, yep, that’s all I had to work with. This prompted me to do a bit of research, which in turn prompted me to make a change in the recipe/length of cooking. I combined the ingredients from this recipe with the tips from SERIOUS EATS-EASY BOSTON BROWN BREAD. The main problem I had was what to put the batter in for cooking, as the recipe doesn’t indicate what to put it in or how to steam it. According to Serious Eats, Boston Brown Bread is indeed steamed, and mainly prepared in cans, either one large can, such as a coffee can, or several smaller cans. Yvonne, at Serious Eats, recommends 3 small cans, approximately 14 ounces each, for quick cooking time. (Instead of the 3 hours recommended in the recipe above!) She says that a 14 ounce tomato can is perfect. I used 3 bean cans. I cleaned the cans thoroughly,  buttered them and put parchment paper in the bottom. (Per a tip from Yvonne)


So, with problem #1 solved, I moved onto problem #2-just what is graham flour. Now, I know we’ve all heard of graham crackers, but what exactly is graham flour. I looked in my usual grocery store, with no luck, and I didn’t have time to go to Whole Foods. As I was walking around the grocery store, I googled graham flour, to see what else I could use. According to Wikipedia, graham flour is a form of wheat flour named after Sylvester Graham. Mr. Graham didn’t like discarding the germ and bran, as is done in the production of white flour. He believed in using all the grain in milling flour. and this could help heal the poor health back in his day (1794 – 1850). Here is a quote from the Wikipedia article:

“Graham flour is similar to whole wheat flour in that both are made from the whole grain; however graham flour is not sifted during milling (i.e. unbolted), and is ground more coarsely.”

I also consulted Yvonne’s article on Boston Brown Bread. She indicates:

 “…it’s a New England colonial classic made with corn meal, rye or whole wheat flour, and enriched with molasses.”

So, as is the case with many pioneer recipes, you use what’s on hand. So, I decided to use stone ground whole wheat flour.

Let’s move on to how things went for me.

Here’s what I used:



  • 1 cup Organic whole milk (and a splash of vinegar to sour the milk)
  • 1/2 cup Blackstrap molasses
  • 1 pasture-raised egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter – melted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (not pictured)
  • 3/4 cup Organic Stone Ground Whole Wheat (Bob’s Red Mill)

Here’s what I did:

  1. Grease three 14-ounce cans well and place a circle of parchment paper on the bottom of each can. fullsizeoutput_d3b
  2. Mix sour milk and baking soda in a bowl and add molasses. fullsizeoutput_d33
  3. Add egg and mix well. fullsizeoutput_d43
  4. Pour in butter. fullsizeoutput_d31.jpeg
  5. Gradually add flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until batter resembles a cake batter. I used approximately 3/4 cup. (perhaps a bit more)
  6. Using an ice cream scoop, dived batter evenly between the three cans. fullsizeoutput_d3d

  7. Cover each can with foil and tie with string. fullsizeoutput_d2b
  8. Place the three cans in a large pot, a couple of inches taller than the cans. fullsizeoutput_d2d
  9. Pour water into the pot, halfway up the cans. Bring water to a simmer, and reduce heat to low. Simmer gently until bread is pulling away from the sides of the can and set. Bread is done when skewer inserted comes out with moist crumbs. (about 35 minutes, not 3 hours)fullsizeoutput_d27
  10. Remove from pot and set on wire rack. Leave in cans until completely cool.
  11. THE HARDEST PART…GETTING IT OUT OF THE CAN!!! Run a knife around the can and remove by turning it upside down and knocking it onto the work surface. This is easier said than done. You can see the photo, I was not entirely successful.-notice all the crumbs!)+CMmwJVmRD+z8A1pfFCpXA


Final thoughts:

This was incredibly easy to make. As I said, getting it out of the can, was quite difficult. If I ever make it again, I’ll put parchment paper around the sides as well as the bottom. My son and I tried it both plain and with honey. My son didn’t really care for it, saying it was “Meh” (Teenage translation-neither good nor bad-it just is…) I quite liked it with butter and honey. According to Yvonne at Serious Eats, it’s normally served with cream cheese. I didn’t have any on hand. Maybe next time. I can see the draw to this bread. It resembles cake more than bread. It’s REALLY moist, which makes sense due to the cooking technique.

Have any of you tried Boston Brown Bread? Did you grow up on it? Have you tried the canned store bought version? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this unique bread recipe.






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