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an olive branch: {brown bread with sorghum butter}

This winter weather and all its polar vortexes (vorti?) have been the great equalizer among inhabitants of New England. I’ll explain how and share a recipe for brown bread with you, but first I need to tell you about a recent eureka moment.

In discovering more about the writing craft, I’ve been learning types of stock characters. One day recently, I had an epiphany about why I didn’t fit with Bostonians. I let myself become a stock character…

A variation on the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope, I’m the manic dixie dream girl {pun gloriously intended}. I’m the southern girl whose only role in the narrative is to cheer up Bostonians. The bubbly, available pal who says cute things like “Y’all” and “Bless her heart.” But most importantly, I have no complex issues of my own, and I never ever complain.

This personality description is of course oversimplified; that’s the point of a stock character, right? But it does at least partly fit me and my southern roots. Where I come from, the first rule of depression club is we don’t talk about depression club. Complaining about the weather, reporting the symptoms of your cold, or whining about your stress level represent a type of self-indulgence that is strictly forbidden in polite southern conversation.

I kept my mouth shut about the weather both due to my upbringing and out of fear that locals would laugh off any dissatisfaction as typical of a wimpy southerner. Oh, how adorable. You just can’t hack the New England winter! By attempting to prevent them from labeling me, I ended up pigeonholing myself into one (boring) interminably cheerful side.

But I lucked out this time. This winter has been different. Cold, different. It’s one of the coldest seasons we’ve had in something like fifty years. Like I said beforeeveryone is complaining. It’s great! I’m finally able to come out of my shell, to feel like one of the gang. Because, you know what? Sometimes that damn bear eats you, and pretending otherwise doesn’t stop it from being so.

Feeling like one of the gang is such a rare blessing in these past three years. I’d love to continue the trend. The way I connect emotionally is through food, so my olive branch to my new people is to become familiar with their local dishes. Baked beans were a no-brainer to start with; they’re as southern today as they are northern.

No Boston cream pie yet. Did you know it’s a cake, not a pie? I had no idea. I can’t say for sure since I’ve never tasted one, but it would be tough for that cake to beat a Boston cream doughnut, which I have tried and is basically a round eclair. What was I saying?

Oh right. I’m happy to report we did make corned beef and colcannon on St. Paddy’s, though I’ll be looking for a new corned beef recipe next year. The next logical choice–particularly since I’m testing lots of new breakfast recipes–was brown bread.

When I was a little girl, my mom would tell me stories from her childhood in upstate New York in which her mother served slices of raisin-studded brown bread from a can with a smear of cream cheese as a snack. I was fascinated with this particular story because of the word can.can of bread? New York might as well have been another planet.

My mom with her mom.

The bread is steamed in the can, traditionally speaking a coffee can. You can even buy it canned at the grocery stores up here, which still seems so foreign to me it makes me LOL when I see it. Well I be done seen about everything, when I see an elephant fly can of bread! 

{Anyone? That’s a line from Dumbo, one of my absolute favorites as a kid.}

I have to admit that I didn’t use a can when I tried out this recipe; I used a loaf pan instead. You can do that too if, like us, your coffee doesn’t come in a oven-safe metal can. Apparently you can also buy a brown bread mold if you like it enough to make it regularly.

Because my grandmother was Irish, I always assumed brown bread started across the pond. Actually, brown bread is one of the oldest American breads. Around the time of the Revolution, a shortage of wheat flour made people get creative with their bread construction, relying on the cheaper and more plentiful cornmeal and rye flour. Brown bread is what’s called a thirded bread, called such because it is made of equal parts of three kinds of grain.

My great grandmother. Did she eat brown bread? I’m going to ask my Grandma.

Rich blackstrap molasses is the sweetener; as I mentioned in my sorghum syrup article, blackstrap molasses is a nutritious, vitamin and mineral-rich ingredient, packed with vitamin B6, iron, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. With wholesome whole grain flour and textured cornmeal, this bread is healthy enough for breakfast.

When I first saw the ingredients for this bread, the cornmeal component jumped out at me as a natural connection to southern cooking, so I grabbed a pat of my whipped sorghum butter. If you like gilding the lily as much as me, you could even top it with an extra drizzle of sorghum or honey and some whiskey cream, and eat it for dessert. Up here they’re known to eat their discs of bread with baked beans for lunch or an afternoon snack; it’s also pretty good with cream cheese the way mom used to eat it. I don’t know why it didn’t catch on in the heart of Dixie, but I plan to remedy that omission by sharing this recipe with you, Reader (N.B.: no need to reinvent the wheel by posting it here; I made it exactly as it is written in that link). Pass it on!


Boston Brown Bread (photo)
Image Credit: Simply Recipes

If you try it, let me know. I’d love to hear how yours turned out. Ours was hearty and chewy, and it was well liked among my littles too, so it will surely make another appearance in our breakfast rotation. Later this week, I’ll be continuing my attempt to connect my southern roots to my northern locale by making johnnycakes.

Later gators, xoxo,

Author’s note: This post is part of Just Write