This recipe originated with Frona Spooner, who lived from her marriage in 1860 until her death in 1917 at the Spooner House on Plymouth’s North St. She styled it “Gurnet Brown Bread,” perhaps indicating that it was suitable for, or she wrote it down during, a shore excursion, as the Gurnet was a popular chowder party and clambake destination.
As Mrs. Spooner wrote it in her notebook, which is in the collection of the Plymouth Antiquarian Society:
Gurnet Brown Bread
2 cups rye, 2 cups indian, 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup molasses, 1 level tea spoon soda, 1 ½ pints of milk or cold water. the former is preferable, salt. Put in a pudding mold + set it in a kettle of boiling water + steam it 4 hours – Very nice indeed.
I take half Indian + half rye, 1 cup sour milk + the rest cold water, which makes as good a bread without flour.
This recipe makes two medium loaves, filling a couple regular-sized coffee cans. It freezes perfectly and makes a great gift so I always make the full recipe or more, since the major technical consideration is boiling a pot of water for a few hours—might as well work to capacity!
The first time you make this you may have to fiddle around to figure out your moulds, especially since the coffee can has gone the way of the wood-fired oven, but is probably not worthy of a comeback. Crimping on foil works fine for lids, so don’t sweat that detail.
The Plimoth Grist Mill grinds all the meals appropriate for this, including cornmeal made from 8-row flint corn. Stop in and say hey to your neighborhood miller when you stock up!
2 cups (9 ounces) whole rye meal
2 cups (11 ounces) medium or coarse cornmeal, 8-row flint corn preferred
1 cup (4 ½ ounces) whole wheat flour or meal
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups buttermilk or combination of milk and plain yogurt
⅓ cup molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons warm water
1 - 1 ½ cups raisins (optional: not Frona’s thing)
Get out a large pot, and fit it with a rack. (Make sure that the molds will fit in with a little room around and over.) Add water, just covering the rack, and set the pot on to boil.
Prepare your moulds by greasing them and pre-fitting squares of heavy duty foil.
In a large bowl, whisk together the meals and salt. In a separate bowl whisk together the milk variations and molasses. Combine the soda and water in a little dish. Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients, and scrape the mixture into the molds, aiming to get them about ¾ full. Pop the foil on top and crimp down smooth along the outside of the cans. Place in the steamer, and keep at a simmer for 3 hours. (Less time for teeny molds -- say an hour for tomato paste cans!) Check water level periodically, and add boiling water from the teakettle as needed.
Take the breads out of the steamer carefully with mitts, and place on a rack to cool ten minutes, without the foil lid. After the rest period, pick up each can and shake it back and forth a bit; the bread will loosen up from the edges. Sometimes a discreet whack upside down on the counter is persuasive. Then shake it out of the can gently onto the rack and turn upright to cool completely. Brown bread slices most cleanly when cool.