Early American Recipe for Boston Brown Bread


The recipe below is an example of measurements in the 1800s.

Notice that a heaping coffee-cup of corn meal isn’t an exact measurement to modern cooks. Civil War soldiers cooked their supper in tin coffee cups, so it had to be much larger than our normal eight-ounce cup. Knowing soldiers used these cups as a cooking pots makes it likely they held over sixteen ounces.

You may also notice that two cups of sweet milk are required, not two coffee-cups of milk, so they used different measurements that cooks of the time understood.

1 heaping coffee-cup of corn meal

1 heaping coffee-cup of rye meal (rye flour may be used)

1 heaping coffee-cup of Graham meal

2 cups molasses

2 cups sweet milk

1 cup sour milk

1 dessert-spoon soda

1 tea-spoon salt

Sift the three types of meal together well. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat thoroughly. The mixture may appear too thin, but it isn’t. Pour the mixture immediately into a tin form that allows room for the bread to swell and place it in a kettle of cold water. Boil for 4 hours. (In the late 1800s, some homes had cook stoves. Others still cooked meals in the fireplace.)

Don’t allow the water to boil over the tin form and make sure to replenish the water as it boils away.

After the bread has boiled, remove the lid and set it in an open oven for a few moments to dry the top.

Serve it warm with Thanksgiving turkey. The bread may also be used as a pudding and served with a sauce made of thick sour cream, sweetened well, and seasoned with nutmeg.

This recipe calls for Graham meal, cornmeal, and rye flour. Graham flour, a coarse whole wheat flour, is available today, but it’s not clear if Graham meal is the same product. 

Modern recipes often call for flour, whole wheat flour, and cornmeal. Other Brown Bread bakers use whole wheat flour, rye flour, and cornmeal.  

I haven’t tried this recipe yet. I’m not sure what to use for a tin form these days. Some village museums may sell this type of pan. Internet searches suggest springform pans.

Recipes from the 1800s and earlier were written in paragraph form, making them much harder for today’s cooks to decipher, but it’s a lot of fun to try. 

Your comments are welcome!

This recipe is from Mrs. H.S. Stevens, Minneapolis, Minnesota in the referenced source.

-Sandra Merville Hart



Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 2011.







14 thoughts on “Early American Recipe for Boston Brown Bread

  1. Very interesting to read and think about how cooking has evolved. And it’s great that you posted the actual recipe in case people want to experiment. I think home schoolers, in particular, would enjoy this.


    • Janice, I agree. It’s fascinating to discover how our ancestors cooked. I’m not a chef, just a country cook. My posts will show my flops as well as successes so we can learn together. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like to improvise in cooking. How about crushed graham crackers for that flour along with sour milk to offset sweetness (I think that could be buttermilk). I know it’s not the same, but it sounds good!


    • Crushed graham crackers could work – what an inventive idea! I’m not sure that sour milk is buttermilk because some recipes refer to buttermilk directly, but they could be used interchangeably. Buttermilk will give a nice, different flavor, too. If you try it, I’d love to hear about it. Thanks sharing your ideas!


  3. You site is very beautiful and I look forward to reading more of your wonderful stories! Have a great day!


  4. I grew up outside of Boston and my mom used to bake her own bread. Usually white bread. When I saw the title to your post, it brought to mind a Boston brown bread she served us shaped like a can (such as for baked beans or vegetables), but the photo confused me. After reading the recipe and comments, it occurs to me that the bread I recall was called Anadama (sp?) bread…and I believe that I may have even seen it in a store (sold in a can, of course) within the last couple of decades–somewhere. The bread was dark and sweet and moist. Delicious.
    My mom used to tell a story about the bread’s name as being given by a husband who was angry with his wife, Anna. (The last syllable of his expletive being the word “her.”) I believe she delighted in telling the story for its wicked language–as she grew up a missionary kid overseas and was expected to behave in an exemplary manner at all times. (I suspect she disappointed her parents routinely. )

    Also, my mother-in-law, age 82 and raised on a farm in West Tennessee just recently told me about buttermilk. Fresh milk was left out to sour, and once soured would be churned. The remaining liquid, after the butter was formed, was called buttermilk. I asked her about it for clarification (as I now am blessed with whole, sweet, fresh milk), and she was quite clear in her answer.

    Thanks for this post. I enjoyed reading it and expect I’ll be back in the future.


    • Hi Cynthia, thanks for the comments! I love your story about your mom’s bread. She sounds like a talented baker with a great sense of humor. And I loved learning about buttermilk. Another reader suggested that sour milk was buttermilk. Another baker had told me to make sour milk by adding a spoon of vinegar. I did this in a recipe and it worked well. I’ll be trying this recipe with buttermilk now. Thanks!


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