The Taste of Maine: Bread in a Can

It is a Maine/New England thing that anyone outside the area or the culture just can’t seem to wrap their hand around. Bread in a can.

Yup, bread that comes out of a can. Sounds like some futuristic vision or a joke whipping around on Twitter or Tumblr. The idea of a baked good from a can doesn’t sound like something anyone actually eats, let alone enjoys. When it gets mentioned some immediately get the image of those online pictures from years ago of dumping a jellified whole chicken out of a large can and then expected to cook and eat it with all the seriousness of a hamburger or a hot dog.

But guess what folks. Canned bread is not only a thing you can actually buy. It is pretty damn good!

It is a real thing and it has been around for hundreds of years. It’s not the type of bread you would make a sandwich or cover with meat, cheese, or tuna. In fact is has little resemblance to the sliced white stuff that you find at the grocery store. It’s better known as Brown Bread and if you are looking for it, it would be over where the canned soups and foods are, specifically the cans of baked beans. Not only are they a perfect match, but the making of baked beans is where we got brown bread from in the first place. You’ll find brown bread from the days of big kettles of beans, often times at the big New England Bean Supper. It was the perfect side to the meals that came when the townspeople would bring over their pots of prepared beans to the ye old town baker who would slow cook everyone’s meals to be enjoyed later that day. It was a great way to meet your neighbors and fill their bellies. It is part of the New England charm that has stuck with us all this time.

New England style Brown bread is made with the Molasses as a flavoring (along with cornmeal, and a few different types of flours), usually left over from cooking and flavoring a lot of Baked Beans. The dough is often poured into the same type of cans as the beans would be. The dough was steamed instead of oven baked and would come out warm and good. After cutting the top of bottom lids off, the cylinder of brown molasses flavored yummy goodness would be ready to do as you wish.

As much then as today, keep to warm later, preferably cut up to make some risen hockey pucks of yum that go with anything. But the textbook serving style is a slice alongside a big plate with a big serving of baked beans and a hunk of pork or some cut up hot dogs.

The entity that has been helping keep this old New England tradition around is B&M, located in Portland Maine since the 1800s. The large building (jokingly called “The Fart Factory” by locals) makes a lot of baked beans in their brick walls and with it a lot of cans of brown bread, both in a natural “plain” flavor as well as some that come with raisins. Not sure how traditional the raisins are in all this but it doesn’t matter. It’s good. It can work in all three meals of the day or even a snack if you got some of the stuff around, and since it’s sealed in cans you get a lot a storage life with it before you decide to get the can opener and unleash the sweet smelling goodness all over your kitchen. Cooked in the oven, on the stove, the toaster, or even the microwave, it is a food that goes with whatever meal and whatever your imagination and your stomach allow.

So when you ever hear of “bread in a can” don’t think of some Orwellian nightmare dreamed up of a science fiction future. Think of the tradition of the New Englanders sitting down to a hot piping meal with their family and neighbors as say “Yes please!”

Trust me, you’ll love it too.

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