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Old-fashioned brown bread is steamed, not baked

By Karen Bjornland
Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Brown bread is not your average bread. It’s got attitude.

Made with wheat flour, bran, molasses and raisins, a loaf of this stuff is dense, dark and moist — and shaped like a cylinder.

The dough is steamed, not baked, and when you slice it, the thick circles of bread look like English muffins on steroids.

Toasted and smeared with butter, cream cheese or jam, the bread can be breakfast or a hearty snack.

In New England, baked beans and brown bread is a traditional cold-weather meal. I know this because my husband is a native of Freetown, a town in southeast Massachusetts that was settled in 1659.

Hubby’s family loves B&M-brand brown bread, which was made in Maine for generations, and is now available on Amazon.com. It’s easy to serve. You just open both ends of the 1-pound can, push out the round loaf, slice and toast.

But when was the last time you tasted a homemade loaf made by loving hands?

“Most people don’t want to bother with it. It takes a long time to make,” says Dorothy Rowland, a brown bread expert who lives in Greenfield Center.

A few weeks ago, Rowland was the brains behind a brown bread sale at Simpson United Methodist Church in the Saratoga County hamlet of Rock City Falls, just down the road from Greenfield.

When I saw the Pennysaver ad for “old-fashioned brown bread,” $5 a loaf, I called in my order. And on Nov. 20, I drove to a small wooden church topped with a bell tower, where “Brown Bread” signs were posted in front and at the back door.

From just one ad, Rowland, who is 87, and Cindi, another church member, received phone orders for 150 loaves.

“This is the first time. It’s an experiment,” Rowland said as she sat next to metal trays and shelves of round breads sealed in plastic wrap.

While this year’s sale is over, they will probably be making more brown bread in the summer. Rowland and a crew from the church make pies and bread for a farmers market that’s held each August in Rock City Falls.

For the November bread sale, Rowland and about 12 other volunteers spent many hours in the church kitchen, making 160 loaves.

Dozens of empty coffee cans collected by the congregation were scrubbed and greased. The dough was mixed, 10 loaves to a batch, and scooped into the cans.

Then the cans were set to steam in big kettles, partially filled with boiling water on top of the stove.

“It takes three hours to cook one batch,” says Rowland. “We can cook 34 loaves at once.”

Because the bread is so moist, it’s tricky to tell exactly when it’s done, she says.

But if anyone can tell, it’s Rowland. She’s been using the same recipe since 1948.

“An older lady in Porter Corners gave it to me when I got married 65 years ago,” she says.

A graduate of SUNY Cobleskill, Rowland worked for many years as manager of the food services department for the Saratoga Springs School District.

She and her husband, Henry, live on North Creek Road, less than a mile from the house where Dorothy was born. The couple raised three children, including their son, Dick Rowland, who was the manager of the Saratoga County Fair for 19 years until his retirement in 2009.

Dorothy Rowland has always made homemade bread for her family.

“We eat very little store-bought bread. We’re careful what we eat,” she says. “And I really like to bake.”

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