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Molasses (Recipe: Boston brown bread)


Spring has sprung, and my friend Laura is back on the yard sale circuit. And -- lucky me! -- she's already scored a couple of vintage cookbooks to add to my collection.

This week's bounty includes a book of chafing dish recipes by Fannie Farmer, and a guide to restaurants (and recipes) rated tops by employees of the Ford Motor Company -- in the 1940s. That was the heyday of motoring, of Sunday "drives in the car", before environmental awareness and gas prices hovering near US$3.50 a gallon. I love reading the descriptions of some of the historic inns all across the country, and I love the recipes -- old-fashioned, made with old-fashioned ingredients like molasses.

Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar refining process. After raw cane juice is processed into raw sugar, the sugar is refined, and the syrup that remains after the sugar has been crystallized is called first molasses. It's then thinned with water and boiled down again, to extract more sugar. With each boiling, the syrup (molasses) becomes less sweet. After three or more boilings, it's called blackstrap molasses -- almost no sweetness, but rich in iron, calcium and potassium. The darker the molasses, the stronger (less sweet) the taste.

These days, the largest producers of molasses are India, Brazil, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and the United States, and it features in both sweet and savory dishes from each of those regions.

Store molasses in the refrigerator or a cool, dry pantry cupboard for up to six months after opening, and you'll be ready to make ginger spice cookies, marble molasses pound cake, Indian pudding, honey-molasses chicken or slow-cooked baked beans, all of which will help you keep up your strength for a morning of yard sale scavenging.

Boston brown bread

From The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places, published in 1946. This recipe comes from The Williams Inn in Williamstown, Massachusetts; the lovely historic inn pictured in the book was converted to a women's dormitory for Williams College many years ago, but the new inn that replaced it still uses some of the original recipes. For sour milk, substitute an equal amount of buttermilk. A #5 tin is a 56-ounce can (7-1/3 cups). Makes 4 loaves; recipe can be halved, and baked loaves can be frozen.


3 cups bread flour
3 cups yellow cornmeal
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking soda
2 cups raisins
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp ginger
3 eggs, beaten slightly
3 cups molasses
3 cups sour milk


Mix dry ingredients together first; then combine remaining items in a separate bowl. Add dry mix to this liquid and stir well. Spoon equal parts into 4 well-greased, tall #5 tins. Cover with lids or waxed paper tied on firmly, and steam for 3 hours.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Indian pudding
Gingerbread cookies

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That's my molasses!
My mom always made brown bread when we were growing up and I still love it.

OMG!!! My relatives in New England ALWAYS made this--it was like an instant shot of nostalgia to come across this! I have always loved molasses. I love it in hot milk especially. Yum.

The Boston brown bread sounds so lovely! Now that I have molasses on hand, I no longer have brown sugar in my pantry...I just mix molasses and white sugar in the recipe to make my own sugar as I need it.

I always wonder what molasses is and your write up is very informative!! :) The brand shown in your photo looks good and I will look for it on my next overseas trip! Once, I was looking for molasses for my gingerbread man, couldn't find unsulphured ones, and got to settle for Treacle instead =P Molasses contain sulfur by default unless stated otherwise?

I seem to recall reading that the sulphur in molasses keeps the beans in baked beans from swelling and exploding. Is that right? If so, would "unsulphured" molasses work?

I grew up with Boston Brown Bread, from a can in the supermarket, and always had it with cream cheese. Now I'm old enough to make it!

I must I only use molasses when I make gingersnaps at Christmas. Unfortunately, I can never remembemer if it's sulphured or unsulphured molasses I react to. I try and remember to keep the used container so I know which type to get, but every once in a while I forget and throw it out...


France is being overrun with American products, but I have never been able to find North American-style molasses here. There is only this very dark, almost black version that can be found in health food stores. It doesn't make for very attractive baked goods!

How interesting this must taste with the molasses!


I like the idea that the molasses is in a jar rather than the cartons we get. This bread would bring back some memories for sure:D

Gas was $3.75 a gallon yesterday so I stayed home and baked ... yes, with molasses! It gave my whole wheat bread a nice malty flavor. And, Boston Brown Bread is the best!

Ooh, ooh -- have your friend Laura pick me! Garage sale finds for vintage cookbooks? I'm all over it! (Any other great finds with the historic inns you've been reading about?)

Of course I enjoyed this recipe as well, especially the fact that it came from the old Williams Inn of Williamstown, MA, in 1946. History AND inn cuisine? An ideal combination! Thanks for sharing!

Molasses surely has a very rich and intense flavour and not to mention colour. I'm sure this bread does too :)

I'venever used molasses until I made my sourdough starter. This is great information for me to try it on other recipes.

Oh brown bread is the best. I love it and yet have never made it at home. I should!

Store molasses for only six months? Ahh...makes sense. I don't use it very often, but when I do need it, I end up finding a molasses lid jar that is so sticky and tight!
Thanks for more great info on molasses here and the recipes. Maybe I'll get around to using my newest molasses jar more before it dries shut!

The only time I've had molasses added into my cooking is through the use of worcestershire sauce which has got molasses in it!

I always mean to make brown bread and I never do...I share the bottle of molasses with my neighbor because we never bake enough each separately to go through it on time but the two of us combined and we are set!

MyKitchen, there's something comforting to me, too, about seeing this jar on the supermarket shelf. It's the one we've always had in the pantry.

Cakespy, I do love seeing this cooked in cans, though it will work in a cake pan, too. Such a New England thing.

Nupur, of course brown sugar often includes molasses, so you are wise to mix your own and still have the two ingredients in your pantry to use on their own!

Noobcook, molasses do not have sulphur by default; the sulphur is used to help "ripen" less mature sugar cane during the processing stage. So unsulphured molasses is made from more mature sugar cane, and that's the difference.

CousinMartin, I don't know about the effect of sulphur on the beans, so thanks for adding to my information about that. However, the original baked bean dish would have been developed with unsulphured molasses, as it comes from colonial times, before "green" sugar cane was processed in the way it is now, and sulphured molasses wouldn't have been available. So I have to guess that yes, baked beans work just as well with unsulphured molasses. Now if only we could figure out how to make them low-calorie....

Susan, isn't cream cheese just perfect on this? I love it that way.

Jasmine, I'm guessing that if you have a reaction to one, it would be the sulphured. For us it's actually more difficult to find sulphured in the supermarket (even in Whole Foods).

Betty, I'm not enough of a baker to know this for sure, but I'm guessing you'd have to adjust the amount of sugar in a recipe when you use blackstrap or other dark molasses.

Paz, this is a true New England classic!

B, we usually buy it in a clear jar (my favorite way, so I can see how much is left) or in a tin. I haven't seen it packaged in a carton. I think the glass jars keep it fresh for longer.

TW, if the price of gas goes much higher, I might have to take up baking more often, too.

Sandie, some of the restaurants in the book are still around, and some, like the Parker House in Boston, still make brown bread! And yes, everyone should have a Laura in their life!!

Kate, this bread is a deep, rich brown. And round!

Veron, I've never made sourdough starter with molasses -- sounds so interesting. Have you posted about it?

Peabody, if anyone can do something new and wonderful with brown bread, it's you.

WORC, I'm always very conservative when I give food storage information on this site. If the manufacturer of my product has a recommendation, I take that into account. Truly I have kept molasses for far longer than six months. Sometimes, though, when I bake (or cook), and the results don't taste quite right, I realize I'm using an ingredient that may be too old even though it looks fine. So I've learned to replace my pantry ingredients more often than I used to.

Tigerfish, true, it does contain molasses, though Worcestershire sauce doesn't taste particularly sweet.

Tartelette, please make brown bread, and then give it your special styling that will make something ordinary look extraordinary! I love the idea of sharing your molasses -- or any ingredient. I like to buy spices in bulk and split them with friends, so we can take advantage of having more fresh product in the pantry without things getting old and going to waste.

Molasses has always been so intriguing to me, as I could never figure out what's difference there is between dark and light (exepct the color) I love yard sale too, but have never had any luck finding vintage cookbooks; just dismembered toys ;)

Gosh, Lydia, just seeing this bottle brings me right back into my kitchen's where she makes the most luscious gingerbread ever. The sweet, sticky smell of molasses and ginger perfumes the whole house.
Now would you believe I haven't made brown bread before? Perhaps it's time I try, huh?

My mom always made sure there was a jar of molasses at home, Lydia - it reminds so much of her!

Warda, here's the difference: "light" is the molasses after the first boil-down; "dark" is after the second boil-down. With each boil, the molasses gets less sweet, and darker in color. (PS -- we have a bucket of dismembered toys from various yard sales and thrift shops, too!)

Susan, baking brown bread would make your California kitchen smell just like New England!

Patricia, we always had a jar in my pantry when I was growing up, too.

My grandmother always made this and the tin can thing fascinated me. It's just the thing for this weird wintery spring we are having here in Wisconsin.

That reminds me, Lydia, I am a longtime reader of Yankee Magazine and I recall reading about this molasses flood about 90 years ago. . .

Mimi, yes, that molasses flood... I wrote about it in an earlier post. It's one of the first things I learned about Boston when we moved there, so of course on our first visit to the North End on a warm day, we sniffed and sniffed to see if the smell of molasses was rising up from the sidewalk. Of course it wasn't! But the flood was very real.

I was going to mention the molasses flood -- turns out you and Mimi know too... Here's a link to this great story:

Hope you have fun reading your new (old) cookbooks :)

This bread reads like it would taste so good!

Susan, thanks for the link. It's quite a story!

Kelly-Jane, sometimes I read old cookbooks and realize that we'll never want to make recipes in the same way now, because we can't get ingredients or no longer use some things (like lard...). But other times, the old recipes still hold up, and they are wonderful. I really love reading through the old books.

Molasses is definitely a staple in my pantry. I use it to make wheat bread in my bread maker every week. Yummy.

Billie, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I love the idea of homemade wheat bread every week. I really must get a bread machine one of these days....

I have been looking for a brown bread recipe my grandmother use to make thought it was some type of Irish bread it was always moist. the steaming prcess has got me stumped; can I use anything besides the tins plus what did you put water in to steam.

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