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A while ago I uncovered a recipe book from my great-great grandmother. It was full of recipes for brown bread. She was mildly obsessed with it I think. Maybe it tapped into her Puritan nature and she felt satisfied by its simplicity.

Then a while after that, I got the latest edition of our family recipe book in the mail, a compilation of six generations of recipes from the family tree, over 25 years since the last edition. Guess what was in it?

More brown bread.

And then I was seized with the overwhelming realization that I wasn’t a legitimate member of the family tree.

I had never tasted, let alone made brown bread.

It was time.

It was my destiny.

Brown Bread and Me would finally intersect in the history books.

It’s hard to make Brown Bread sound epic…

These are some of the things you will need.

You sift your dry ingredients (except for the nuts, don’t sift the nuts, it will send you to the edges of insanity).

It has some brown flower as well as white flower.

Notice how I spelled flour wrong? Now would be a good time to mention that I am a terrible speller. A nice trait to have as a writer. Something about it goes against my nature… something about not liking to follow the rules.

I went to a grade school that encouraged creative spelling and I never recovered. In fact, while I was in L.A. a few weeks ago, I reunited with a friend from 5th grade… and somehow it came up that she was a bad speller and in that moment, our friendship was forever cemented.

Butt bac to tha brede…

Corn flour too. Puritans like to be methodical and measured and unbiased.

But because I am not methodical and measured and unbiased, I added nuts.

In the older recipe book it said: “Sometimes we cram as many chopped raisins and chopped nuts in as our conscience will allow.”

My conscience allowed for nuts. It really did.

Baking Soda. Remember the difference between baking soda and baking powder? In case you forgot…

Buttermilk. This may or may not have been sitting in my fridge since last June.

I don’t like to waste. Oh… there’s the Puritan girl in me.

Add the buttermilk to the soda and stir… you will see bubbles as the soda activates.

Molasses. It’s my new favorite sweetener. I like its earthiness.

I also like that I can pretend I’m Jackson Pollock for 30 seconds…


Great great grandmother Evelyn and great grandmother Ada would not approve.

Grandmother Pellegrini would though. Right Grandmother P?

Mix ‘er up.

Combine with the dry ingredients.

Mix ‘er up some more.

You will have a sticky dough.

Now you will add it to a greased bread pan.

Distribute it evenly. If it has a puckered, rugged look on top, that’s how it will come out.

I went for rugged.

The soda really gives it a nice boost. No yeast needed.

I want to take a moment of silence to reflect on how good this was warm with butter. Oh man……………

And lemon curd. Oh man……..

Evelyn and Ada would approve.

Go make some Brown Bread!

“Brown Bread”

Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 1 loaf


  • 2 cups whole wheat or graham flour
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup walnuts toasted and coarsely chopped


  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Sift and mix the dry ingredients, except the baking soda.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the soda, buttermilk and molasses.
  • Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well.
  • Stir in the walnuts.
  • Pour the mixture into a greased bread baking pan and cook for about an hour until well risen and browned on top.


  • Grandma
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    Yes, I do approve and I'm so glad you have settled on a recipie and tried it and found it a success. I have made several attempts to do just that,without satisfactory results. I plan to follow your instructions to a tee.

  • HankShaw
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Very cool! My mum makes her brown bread in a coffee can. There is something about old, handwritten recipes that evokes magic. Nostalgia, I guess…

  • Nancy
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Never made brown bread before but I made it yesterday after reading your post. And, I changed it up a bit to make it gluten-free and vegan. It's delicious. Thanks to you and your great great grandma for the inspiration.

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