As part of my low-maintenance prepper campaign, I’ve been thinking about ways we could cook if a major earthquake led to a loss of electricity. We’ve got a burn barrel and a Weber outside, and if the gas were still on we could manually light the stovetop (but not the oven).
We’ve got tons of staples on hand and could likely outlast a major emergency, even if all our shiftless relatives showed up to camp at the house with a fireplace insert and loads of flour and beans. One thing we couldn’t do easily? Bread.
Thus I’ve been researching recipes like stovetop corn pone, tortillas and other relatively simple staffs of life. When I recently got a copy of “The Kitchen Stories Cookbook: Comfort Cookin’ Made Fascinating and Easy,” my eyes fell upon a recipe for Boston brown bread.
The result is literally steaming in the photograph. (DF snapped the picture shortly after the first pieces were cut.) It was the perfect antidote to a cold winter night when paired with a thick soup made from boiling-bag broth, a pint of home-canned turkey, and whatever vegetables we had on hand.
My theory is that fresh bread, or even fresh tortillas, can make an ordinary meal – or an emergency one – seem much nicer than it actually is.
Ours was never a steamed-bread family. In fact, we made bread recreationally rather than regularly: cinnamon rolls or challah on a weekend because such things tasted great. We never kneaded up Italian bread to go with stew or loaves for sandwiches.
As a kid I remember reading about Boston brown bread and wondering what it tasted like. But at that point in my life the idea of brown bread – healthy bread – didn’t sound like fun. We were all about white bread, a dozen loaves at a time from the bakery outlet. So I never even thought of making it.
A non-traditional steamed bread
What I made on Monday wasn’t a true Boston brown bread, which is traditionally made with rye, graham and wheat flours. The “Kitchen Stories” recipe uses all-purpose flour and cornmeal, although it suggests you can substitute other grains.
I liked this version: nicely gritty because of the non-degermed cornmeal I used, and sweet from the molasses. “It tastes like a big cookie,” DF noted.
The loaf was as dense as a freshman senator, though, hitting the breadboard with a serious THUNK after it slid out of the can. Not surprising, since it doesn’t have a touch of yeast; only a bit of baking powder. While I greatly enjoyed the bread that night, I wondered if it would be edible – or even cuttable – the next day.
Slicing it the next morning was kind of like sawing through a cement block. Yet the bread was quite delicious after a quick stint in the toaster oven and a gloss of butter. We’ve been eating it every morning and it still tastes like cookies.
Not the healthiest bread in the world, surely. But in the event of a prolonged power failure we could produce it without an oven. And in the event of a prolonged failure, a hot loaf of fresh bread could do wonders for morale.
Nourishing us twice
Bonus: It was a fun project. You might want to try it yourself.
I used a Costco-sized peanut can, well-greased, set in a slow cooker. If there were a power failure, of course, we’d use a pot on the stove (if the gas were still available), or on the Weber or burn barrel.
Although I worried that the slow cooker wouldn’t be hot enough, but it was done right on schedule: after three hours. It doesn’t have to boil, incidentally – just steam.
Many years ago I interviewed a single mom about dealing with dark winter days in Alaska. She had a bread machine and a slow cooker, and she programmed them both before she left for work each morning.
When she and her hungry kids got home each night they were met with the irresistible fragrance of fresh bread, which made whatever she had in the slow cooker taste marvelous. To paraphrase Thoreau, fresh bread feeds us twice: once with its aroma and again with its taste. That’s true of even the densest of steamed loaves.