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Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can

Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can
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Try this simple way to make Boston brown bread in a can – a perfect addition to any meal (or snack!)

In a previous post I shared my experience of steaming a loaf of classic steamed Boston Brown Bread in a can – one of my most memorable Yankee kitchen adventures to date. The sweet and hearty loaf was like nothing I had ever tasted, thanks to the unique and rustic combination of molasses mixed with rye flour, whole-wheat flour, and cornmeal.

I knew Boston Brown Bread was supposed to be eaten with baked beans for Sunday supper, but before I could try that, I enjoyed the whole of my first loaf as a series of breakfast treats, slathered with butter and jam. Oops!

Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can
Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can

It was only a matter of time before I made another loaf.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I was eating a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich at Timoleon’s Neighborhood Restaurant in downtown Keene, NH.  As I ate, I heard the gentleman at the next booth order a special off the menu — a plate of Boston Brown Bread, served with “beans and frankfurters.”

I was immediately curious about what his plate was going to look like, and when it finally emerged from the kitchen, it did not disappoint.  Thick rounds of grainy brown bread were arranged like medallions, and topped with generous scoops of baked beans.  Two hot dogs spooned the bread and beans like a pair of commas.

I nudged my friends and whispered, “Look at that perfect plate of New England food!” – and I knew I would soon have to recreate the dish at home, modifying it first to suit my vegetarian diet.

The opportunity finally came this past weekend, when I decided to try steaming four smaller loaves of brown bread instead of one large loaf, so I could freeze two for later.  Not only is this practical, it also helps since smaller 15.5 oz. tin cans are a lot easier to come by these days than their 2-quart counterparts.

The batter came together quickly, but this time I spooned it into four 15.5 oz. greased cans, which were then covered with greased aluminum foil and secured in the traditional fashion.

Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can
Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can

Note to self — I really need to invest in some sturdy string instead of always resorting to yarn!

Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can

The last time I steamed brown bread, I used a few small cans (like the kind tuna fish comes in) to rest the batter-filled cans on to keep them off the bottom of the pot, but this time I used the rings from my large stash of empty mason jars.  They worked perfectly.

Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can

Two steamy hours later, the loaves were done and ready to come out of their aluminum hiding spots.

Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can

Then I was finally able to recreate the dish I had been dreaming of.  I heated up some vegetarian baked beans (doctored with a little maple syrup), pan-fried a few veggie dogs, and added them to a few slices of perfect brown bread.

Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can

Hello Sunday supper!  It might have been only 1 part tradition to 2 parts modern, but sometimes that’s the best we can do, and it was certainly good enough for me.

View and print the original recipe for Granny’s Homemade Brown Bread.

View my original Brown Bread steaming adventure and learn more about the history of this unique New England dish!

Aimee Seavey


Aimee Seavey


As Yankee's Digital Editor, Aimee manages, produces, and promotes content for Yankee's digital and social media initiatives. A lifelong New Englander, she loves history and a good Massachusetts South Shore bar pizza.
Updated Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

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12 Responses to Boston Brown Bread Steamed in a Can

  1. Jen @ January 8, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    So glad that you were able to recreate this dish! It looks like comfort food at it’s best.

  2. Amy April 9, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    We do enjoy Boston Brown Bread with baked beans and sausage in our cold damp winters here on the west coast. But what I want to share is that my Great Aunt Iva, did something different with Boston Brown Bread, in warm weather, that you may find interesting.

    She lived in Detroit, Michigan and in the summer, when I would visit… this being the early 50’s she would always take me on a big three decker boat to a small amusement park located on an island, in the Detroit River. Boblo I believe. It was an all day adventure and she packed the same lunch every year. Slices of Boston Brown Bread filled with a mixture of cream cheese, mayonnaise and sliced Spanish olives including a bit of their juice,
    I believe a bit of finely minced onion, but maybe not. Oh my they were good.
    The sweetness of the bread and the creamy acidic tang of the filling was perfect.

    Thank you for a sharing that brought back a treasured memory and if I google maybe the recipe for the filling will be found. :o)

  3. Tamara January 11, 2015 at 8:54 pm #

    Um where is the recipe ??????????

    • Aimee Seavey January 12, 2015 at 9:23 am #

      Hi Tamara. If you click on “Granny’s Brown Bread” where it says “View and print the original recipe for Granny’s Brown Bread” at the bottom of the article, you will see the complete recipe. Thanks!

  4. Jeanette Armstrong June 21, 2015 at 10:23 pm #

    I made my Boston Brown Bread this morning and used 4 small soup cans. I cut circular pieces from parchment paper to put in the bottom of the can making it easier to release the loaf after they had cooled. Worked super. I also used a rubber band to hold the foil cover on and that worked great too. I love this bread and it’s easy to make. I am serving mine to guests as open faced sandwiches with a smoked salmon and chive spread. They are delicious together.

  5. Mederick Black January 4, 2016 at 11:44 pm #

    Those dogs need to be red.

  6. Katy January 5, 2016 at 12:32 am #

    I made this with my mom as a young child in Maine. Yummy

  7. Jane January 5, 2016 at 7:13 am #

    Looks wonderful…the only thing is…that should say SATURDAY night supper…not Sunday! LOL

    • Will January 6, 2016 at 1:09 am #

      Agreed! It was always a Saturday night dish, and quite often, especially in the cold months, the beans were homemade by my mother!

  8. Elizabeth January 6, 2016 at 9:42 am #

    I see the original recipe calls for 2 to 3 hours to steam the large loaf. Does it take 2 full hours to steam the small loaves? Seems like it would take less time. Thanks.

    • Aimee Seavey January 6, 2016 at 9:58 am #

      Hi Elizabeth. It’s been awhile, but I do recall the small loaves still took the 2 hours to steam. The large loaf takes more like 3. Unfortunately, steaming is a very slow method of “baking.” If you’re short on time, but still want that delicious brown bread flavor, a batch of Concord Brown Bread Muffins is a great alternative (I omit the candied ginger) and take around a half-hour from start to finish!

  9. Mark S January 20, 2016 at 2:36 am #

    Look around for a small smooth sided can ( Crisco ) for making Brown Bread. The one I use has been handed down for two generations. Makes a Family size loaf for dinner when split in half. The remaining half seldom lasts more than a day or two. Hot or cold the rest is soon consumed. Saturday night is a bean supper which w/o Brown Bread would not pass muster summer or winter.

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