May 23, 2018
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Stale bread can replace flour in brown bread

By Sandy Oliver

Most of us do not equate breadcrumbs with flour, but in past times, breadcrumbs were used to thicken sauces and substituted for flour in some baked goods. When Donald Marsh in Holden sent me a brown bread recipe four years ago, I saved it because I saw the trick of using stale bread in place of meal or flour.

The standard brown bread recipe in New England usually calls for wheat flour, cornmeal and rye meal in equal parts. Variations call for at least two of the ingredients, and usually cornmeal is one. In this recipe, stale bread and cornmeal with just a little bit of flour are the main ingredients.

Donald found this 100-year-old recipe in The Maine Jubilee Cookbook, submitted by Melvina W. Johnson of Gorham. He said, “This recipe is so easy that you won’t believe it unless you try it.” So I did.

The stale bread I had was a wheat and oatmeal loaf. I broke up the bread into fairly small pieces and mixed them with the milk, molasses and cornmeal. I’ve made lots of brown bread over the years, and since my bread was really stale and dry bread to begin with, I thought I needed more milk. You will have to use your judgment. If you are using day-old white bread, you will need less milk than if you have stale whole wheat. If you have a food processer, consider pulsing the stale bread to get coarse crumbs.

Minnie McCormack of Dover-Foxcroft also had written to me about brown bread, saying, “We had it often while growing up in rural Maine. We used to eat the leftovers with cream and sugar for dessert. I haven’t done that for a long time.” Minnie still makes brown bread, and if she is baking beans, she bakes the brown bread at the same time in greased cans in a water bath in the oven. A good idea.

I used a double boiler for this batch and included a generous handful of raisins. It’s better than cake.

Old-Fashioned Brown Bread

Serves 6-8

¾ to 1½ cups sour milk

? cup sugar

¼ cup molasses

½ cup cornmeal

4 slices stale bread, torn into small pieces

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt


Heat water to boiling for steaming brown bread. Grease a pudding bowl, coffee can, tin mold, loaf pan or, if you have one, lard pail. Combine milk, sugar, molasses and cornmeal and add breadcrumbs to it. Let soak. Meanwhile, sift together flour, baking powder and soda and salt. Stir milk and crumb mixture, and if it is dry rather than like stiff dough, add more milk. Add flour mixture, stir to mix, and put batter in baking container. Put in a hot water bath in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit or in a steamer on top of the stove over low heat. Bake or steam 2½ to 3 hours. It is done when it pulls away from the sides, and a tester inserted comes out clean.

Looking for … Maple Syrup Pie.

John Pincence in Lincolnville remembers his mom making French Canadian maple syrup pie. I’d love a recipe or two for that if one of you is willing to share.

Send to Sandy Oliver, 1061 Main Road, Islesboro 04848 or

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