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Boston/Welsh Steamed Brown Bread

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I’m putting together a little series of Welsh breads. I’m not looking for “authenticity” – there don’t seem to be many sources of authentic recipes. I’m just taking what there is and if it’s yeasted, converting it to sourdough, if it’s cooked in a cast iron pot trying out versions that can be made in an oven, trying to work with local flours.

Anyway, I’m reading Bobby Freeman’s “First Catch Your Peacock” and she gives a recipe for Steamed Brown Bread from Caernarfonshire, now part of Gwynedd where I live, which she says comes from “Farmhouse Fare” 1966 edition, a compilation of recipes from Farmers Weekly magazine.

She says it was baked in stone marmalade jars which made me think of Boston Brown Bread being baked in coffee tins. So I dig out a recipe for Boston Brown Bread and …. the recipes are identical.

At first I think, “Wow, Boston Brown Bread must have come from this traditional Welsh recipe!”. But then I think, someone sent this recipe to a farmers’ periodical in 1966. Did they just happen to have an American recipe that they thought other people might like to make?

Can anyone cast light on the origins of Boston Brown Bread or about Welsh Steamed Brown Bread?

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You have opened a very interesting thought about the anthropology of foods and recipes. At one time, people did not venture far from their home villages so recipes, ingredients and customs were all local. As countries and areas within countries progressed, commerce began to expand and ingredients, along with cooking implements from other areas were more readily available in larger sections. When there were great migrations, especially across the oceans, we know how people brought what they knew with them.

Steamed brown breads are likely also found in other areas of the British Isles and in other areas of the United States. Maybe as the Welsh and the English came to America they brought steamed brown with them. Maybe in America, Boston made the largest volume of this bread and gained the reputation and name. Then again, who knows there could have been a returnee who liked what they ate in Boston and reversed the flow of custom.

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Given the paucity of references to steamed brown bread from Wales, Caernarfonshire or Llanuwchllyn (where Freeman speculates the Caernarfonshire recipe might have originated), doesn't it seem more likely that this recipe was actually imported from New England where this style of bread is famous?

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Where is the Old Foodie when we need her? I know quite a bit about New England cooking and in general (and I emphasize that this is a generality) much of New England cooking hails from the Britain. Brown bread is steamed, common in Britain. But New England brown bread traditionally contains cornmeal--if the recipe you describe does also, then it probably did come from New England, as corn is an American Indian addition. Here is my recipe.

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Thanks you for your contributions.

I'm no food historian but I've never heard of steamed bread in the UK. There is no cornmeal in the recipe - that's about the only difference.

Be interested to hear from someone with some historical knowledge.


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Haven't made any progress on the historical side of matters.But a restaurant I supply bread to is having a New England week so I finally got round to trying Janeer's Boston Brown Bread recipe.

Boston b bread 01 small.jpg

This is a test bake. came out too small for the tin, is pale because I had to substitute golden syrup for molasses, but is quite delicious

The hardest part was, as usual, converting cups to metric weight. The final weights for a UK 250g coffee tin work out at:

Wholemeal Wheat Flour 99g

Cornmeal 40g

Wholemeal Rye 40g

Salt 2g

Baking Powder 2g

Egg 29g

Molasses 99g

Buttermilk 235g

Walnuts 29g

Raisins 58g (unsoaked)

Water (for soaking raisins) 47g + a splash of whiskey

Steaming time was about 2.5 hours

Thanks you Janeer

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