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Boston Baked Beans are known and enjoyed worldwide, but the traditional side dish to accompany the beans, New England brown bread, is largely unknown outside of New England. This is likely because this dish is best prepared by steaming rather than the usual baking. Much like Boston baked beans themselves, this bread is a dish that stems from the Puritan settlers, who used local grains to supplement their meager supplies of wheat flour; this resulted in a simple loaf of bread, which was often baked in a cylindrical-shaped tin. In the early-to-mid 1800s, brown bread enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in New England, and that was when raisins were added to the bread mix to produce a more enjoyable flavor. It was also in the 1800s that the new science of canning food was all the rage. The similarity of the original cooking tins for this bread to the cans used in the new canning fad led to this bread being made in a can; and so the tradition of steamed New England brown bread in a can was born.
Pans needed: Two medium mixing bowls for ingredients: 1 for wet ingredients, 1 for dry ingredients. One large can, such as the can from a 28-ounce can of tomatoes or pasta sauce. (Be sure to remove any sharp edges or metal burrs from the edge of the can.) Steaming equipment: Large stock pot for boiling water, steaming basket.
In one bowl, combine the dry ingredients: corn meal, wheat and rye flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt. In another bowl, whisk the wet ingredients: buttermilk, molasses, brown sugar and oil. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, and stir it all together into a batter. Stir in raisins.
Grease the inside surface of the can with shortening. Add batter to can. Cover can opening with aluminum foil.
To steam the bread, simply place the steaming basket into the stock pot, and fill it with about two inches of water so that the steaming basket is covered. Bring the water to a boil. Place the can into the water on top of the steaming basket. Cover the pot, and turn the stovetop temperature of your pot down to about one-half. Let the pot steam for about 70 minutes (1 hour plus 10 minutes). Remove the foil cover, and test with a toothpick: if the toothpick comes out dry, the bread is ready. Let the bread sit in the can for about ten minutes, then it can be removed and set on a plate.
This bread is a traditional side dish served with Boston Baked Beans. I find it has a taste similar to raisin bran. Enjoy!