Boston Brown Bread (Eilene Williams)

Boston Brown Bread is one of those foods I have always known about, but really didn’t know much information about. I remember my mother having it in the house and I even had to buy it one time for her at the grocery store, but beyond that, I have no memory of what it tastes like. Both my parents grew up in the New York/Pennsylvania area, and traveled through New England, so that is likely where they came to enjoy Boston Brown Bread. From what I have read about it, it has a distinct sweet taste due to molasses.

While some information ties Boston Brown Bread back to “thirded bread” of England, no one seems to have an idea of why it is baked in cans. Thirded bread refers to using 3 different flours to help save on the more expensive ones – wheat, rye and oat were originally the flours used in English brown bread. When the Pilgrims came to America, they brought with them the recipes to make thirded bread – but apparently cornmeal was substituted for oats, and wheat was difficult to grow in the area. Again, still no idea why it’s in a can. The bread was steamed rather than baked, due to the use of open fire cooking instead of ovens being readily available. Once the cylindrical bread caught on in the Boston area, it no longer mattered if you had an oven or not – the way to cook this bread is in a recycled can. I’ll put some links for more reading under the recipe. Also of note, it’s a preference to include or omit raisins. Original recipes did not them. The use of brown sugar and a low amount of molasses suggests to me this recipe has been modernized – and of course it’s baked, not steamed.

Boston Brown Bread (Eilene Williams)

1 1/2 cup raisins

1 1/2 cup boiling water

Pour water over raisins and let cool

1 cup brown sugar

1 rounded tbsp shortening

1 egg

1 tsp molasses

Cream brown sugar, shortening, egg & molasses together.


1 tsp salt

2 tsp baking soda

2 2/3 cup sifted flour

Add these and raisins to liquid. Mix well. Add 1/2 cup chopped nuts. Bake 350 in 4 greased size 2 cans for 1 hour. Let cool in cans for 10 minutes



Further Reading

New England Classic Brown Bread Has Rich History – via The Ellsworth American

Brown bread, a dying New England staple, found far from home – via The Chicago Tribune

The History of American Brown Bread – via Chowhound

B&M brown bread in a  can – via New England Today

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