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Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

Recollections of B&M Brown Bread

B&M, the best in canned--yes, canned--brown bread!

 

 

If you grew up in or around Boston in the 1950s and '60s, as one of us did, then at one time or another you undoubtedly ate Brown Bread (aka Boston Brown Bread) from a can. Despite the word "brown" in its name, this was not some kind of before-its-time fresh-baked, super healthy bread. No, indeed. We're talking about a mass-produced, steamed, and highly sweetened loaf, sold—yup—in cans. True enough, even the canned variety was, and still is, made with whole grains—cornmeal, rye flour, and whole wheat flour—but its high molasses content will give you in just a single ½ inch slice almost a quarter of your daily recommended dose of sugar. The particular bread we're talking about is made by the B&M (Burnham and Morrill) company of Portland, Maine. There are few truly regional foods left in New England, but these cans of steamed Brown Bread certainly count as one of them, given their one-time ubiquity in the region and the vivid memories many people have of eating warm slices of B&M Brown Bread as children.
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Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first American Cookbook: #11 and #12

American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, 1796

11
According to historians of domestic interiors Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett and John E. Crowley, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, upper-class people coordinated their windows, mirrors, chandeliers, and candles so as to create an impression of "lustrous surfaces" wherever one looked. And according to clothing historian Aileen Ribeiro, this love of shininess was so comprehensive that the buttons on men's coats to be worn on formal occasions were "made of either diamond paste or marcasite (faceted crystalized iron pyrites)," so that they would "glitter in candlelight.”

12
Horticulture figured prominently in the efforts at agricultural improvement made by Boston gentlemen in the early years of American independence. But lingering Puritan attitudes meant that hothouses, ornamental flowers and trees, and even fruits and vegetables were viewed as potentially luxurious. Eventually, Boston gentlemen farmers concentrated on the apple. This was a fruit that, in the words of historian Tamara Plakins Thornton, “represented just the right combination of utility, still valued in a republican nation and a mercantile society, and beauty.”

These intimate details about life in the young republic--diverse forms of domestic refinement--paint a picture of early American society that we don't often see. How do such portraits of ordinary American life help us understand American Cookery by Amelia Simmons? Find out this November in our new book from University of Massachusetts Press, United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook.

 

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Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first American Cookbook: #9 & #10

George Washington's inaugural suit, made by the Hartford Woolen Manufactory

9
In 1794, the English cloth manufacturer Henry Wansey stayed at a Boston inn called the Bunch of Grapes, paying in today's money about $18 a day for a bed and all meals (including tea). Dinner, the main meal, was served at 2:00 p.m. Wansey noted the speed with which his fellow boarders dispatched their midday fare: “In half an hour after the cloth was removed every person had quitted table, to go to their several occupations and employments, . . . for the Americans know the value of time too well to waste it at the table.”

10
At the first American presidential inauguration in 1789, the cloth for the suits worn by President George Washington, Vice President John Adams, and the members of Congress from Connecticut was made at the Hartford Woolen Manufactory. Unfortunately, by 1795, this early U. S. industrial venture had failed. Henry Wansey, visiting Hartford after his sojourn in Boston, "found it much on the decay . . . I saw two carding engines, working by water, of a very inferior construction.”

These intimate details about life in the young republic--commercial dining, the beginnings of American industry--paint a picture of early American society that we don't often see. How do such portraits of ordinary American life help us understand American Cookery by Amelia Simmons? Find out this November in our new book from University of Massachusetts Press, United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook.

 

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