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Bread For Commoners

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

A page from the Modern Priscilla cook book outlining accurate measurements, advantages of accuracy, and equipment.
Page from the Modern Priscilla Cook Book, 1924

How many of you have had brown bread in a can? Have you ever asked yourself why there is even such a thing as bread in a can? Well, we have some answers for you.

Brown Bread made its first appearance in the early 1800s. Early settlers where trying to grow wheat, which was their preferred grain for baking. They soon realized that wheat did not grow well in the New England soil and this drove up prices. Corn on the other hand was a crop that flourished on the East coast, making the price of cornmeal much cheaper and readily available. Another cheap alternative to flour was rye flour. These two grains made up the main dry ingredients for the bread, occasionally whole wheat flour was added and eventually became a mainstay on the ingredient list. Molasses is added and gives the bread its signature rich color and sweet flavor. Because we are using baking powder and soda as our leavening agents as opposed to yeast, we are able to complete cut out having to factor in a rise time and can go straight from mix to dish to cook.

Another key element that sets it apart from most traditional breads, is the cooking method. Brown bread is typically steamed in a can of some sort until finished cooking. At the time, this was in large part due to the fact that this was a bread for the common people. Using the cheaper grains made this an affordable bread to make at a time when wheat was at an expensive price and not easily affordable to all. Steaming the bread in a can over a fire or stove top made it assessable to most, especially those that didn’t have a wood-burning oven. Somewhere along the way, most likely in the 1920s, brown bread started being steamed in coffee cans.

The following recipe came from the Modern Pricilla Cookbook published in Boston by the Priscilla Publishing Company in 1924. Catalog number 0400.1.107

New England Brown Bread


  • 2 cups whole wheat meal

  • 1 cup corn meal

  • 1 cup rye meal

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 5 tablespoons baking powder

  • 2 cups milk

  • 4 tablespoons molasses or honey

  • Currants (optional)


  1. Mix dry ingredients.

  2. Add milk and honey and currants if desired and beat well.

  3. Steam in molds and finish in oven.

Time in steaming, 3 hours. Time in oven, 20 minutes. Temperature, 325º


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