STEAMED BROWN BREAD
Recipe adapted from “Cooking Down East: Favorite Maine Recipes” by Majorie Standish. Traditionally, brown bread was steamed in a 1-pound coffee tin. But most coffee these days is packaged in cardboard, so I used an empty 21/2-pound can of kidney beans instead. In an attempt to channel my inner frugal Mainer, I used whey in place of the liquid called for, as I had it around, and needed to use it up, after making ricotta. I’ve wanted – and intended – to make brown bread for years and was so thrilled with how simple and delicious it was when I finally did.
1 cup rye flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup molasses
2 cups sour milk, buttermilk or whey
1/3 cup currants or raisins
Remove the lid from 1 end of your tin. Grease the tin well and set aside. Set a kettle of water to boil.
Whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the molasses and milk. Stir in the currants. Pour the batter into the tin. Cover it with tin foil and secure the foil with string.
Put the tin in a large pot. Pour boiling water around it halfway up the sides. Cover the pot with a lid. Steam the bread on the stovetop over very low, even heat or in a 300-degree F oven (if you’ve been a clever planner, steam the bread while you are baking the beans) for about 21/2 hours; recipes give wildly varying suggestions for the time, so keep an eye on it. Test the bread for doneness by poking a clean straw through the foil.
Remove the tin from the pot. Let it cool for 10 minutes, then remove the brown bread from the tin. (If you’re having trouble, some recipes suggest you open the other end of the tin with a can opener and push the bread through.) Serve with baked beans and/or good butter.
This recipe is an amalgam of several, as well as a few ideas of my own. You can cut the hot dogs into chunks or leave them whole and slash them, which, I have it on good authority, will make the dogs curl attractively. I do several things that are against some bean orthodoxy here – I skip the soak (out of laziness) and I salt the beans from the start. Also, classic Maine recipes often leave the onion and the salt pork whole.
“I think the reason we have beans in Maine Saturday night is so you know Sunday is the next day,” my guest Elsie Maxwell said over a Friday afternoon Maine foods lunch. “You’ll get all mixed up if you don’t have them Saturday night.” Sorry, Elsie!
1 pound Maine yellow-eye beans (about 21/2 cups)
6 ounces meaty salt pork, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup molasses
11/2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
5 red snapper hot dogs
2 sprigs fresh thyme
About 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, or to taste
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Mix the beans, salt pork, onion, salt, molasses, mustard and sugar together in a Dutch oven. Add 5 cups water (or enough to cover the beans by about 1 inch). Clamp on the lid on and bring the mixture to just below a boil on the stove top.
Transfer the pot to the oven and cook for 4 hours to overnight. The time varies widely depending on the age of your beans. When the dish is done, you want soft but not mushy beans and a concentrated but not stodgy sauce. Add more water as necessary to keep the beans covered while cooking, and in the last hour or so, remove the lid to let the liquid concentrate, and stir in the hot dogs. When you remove the beans from the oven, stir in the cider vinegar to give the beans some zip.