Bake Homemade Herbed Breads: Marion’s Steamed Bread

| December/January 2006

  • Photo by Susan Belsinger

Marion Spear is a woman I met while giving a presentation in the Ozarks in Arkansas. We became great friends and I admire her for her down-home cooking. She cooks year-round on an old-fashioned wood cookstove and she often makes bread by steaming it in a big pan on top. This is an age-old way of cooking bread without an oven and Marion has perfected the process and come up with many variations over the years. Once the bread is a few days old, this bread works well for toast. Marion also will slice and dry the bread in a warm oven, then crumble it and eat it with milk, like cereal. Traditionally, this bread often was baked in cans, but a ring mold works well.

The basic recipe is below. You can add other chopped nuts like walnuts or almonds. Often raisins are added, but if you prefer, try dried cherries or other dried finely chopped fruits such as dates, prunes, apples, pears or apricots. When using dried fruits, dust lightly with flour to keep them from sinking to the bottom. Experiment with different herbs; this version uses thyme, but lemon thyme, cinnamon basil and marjoram all work very well. To make a savory loaf, try sage with onions. To clabber the milk, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to it and stir. Makes one bundt-sized cake 

• 1 cup unbleached flour or 1⁄2 cup unbleached flour with 1⁄2 cup bran
• 1 cup rye flour
• 1 cup cornmeal
• 3 teaspoons baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup sorghum molasses
• About 2 cups clabbered milk
• 1 tablespoon fresh minced thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
• 1⁄2 cup currants dusted with flour
• 1⁄2 cup chopped pecans

1. Bring water to a boil and pour it into a pan or kettle large enough to hold the ring mold or coffee cans. Use enough water to fill the pan halfway. Oil the inside of the ring mold or coffee cans.

2. In a bowl, combine flours, cornmeal, baking soda and salt, and stir. In another bowl, combine molasses and clabbered milk and stir to combine. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, along with the thyme and blend together. Stir in the currants and nuts just to mix them in. Pour the batter into the oiled pan.

3. Place the pan into the larger pan or kettle with the boiling water. Add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the ring mold or cans. Place a plate or flat pan over top of the ring mold or cover the top of the cans with foil. Put the lid on the pan or kettle and bring to a slow boil. Steam the bread for about 11⁄2 to 2 hours. It is done when it is springy to the touch and no longer sticky. Remove the bread from the hot water and cool for about 10 minutes. Carefully turn the hot bread out of the ring mold or cans and place on a rack to cool. Slice and serve warm, plain or with butter or cream cheese. The bread should keep for about a week, and also freezes very well.

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