How To Make Bread in a Can

Reader Contribution by Tess Pennington
article image

Food storage is more than putting some extra supplies away in the cupboard. It pays homage to our heritage and traditions. For instance, did you know that brown breads are as old as our country is? That’s right!

According to American Food Roots, “At the time of the American Revolution, wheat flour was a luxury. Cornmeal and rye flour were more common. So the three grains were combined in what were called “thirded” breads. A bread born of necessity 300 years ago easily could have been invented this morning by a nutritionist. It’s high in fiber and low in calories — like a giant bran muffin without all the sugar. Some recipes use brown sugar, but the more traditional ones rely on molasses for s

Boston brown bread ingredients include whole wheat flour, cornmeal, rye flour, buttermilk and molasses.

Since few early American homes had ovens, bakers poured the bread dough — leavened with baking soda – into a cylindrical fireproof container and steamed it over an open fire. They’d been taught by Native Americans, who also showed them how to use corn as a grain for bread. Cornmeal often was called ‘indian.’

In her directions for making brown bread in ‘American Frugal Housewife’ (1828), Lydia Maria Child wrote: ‘Put the Indian in your bread pan, sprinkle a little salt among it, and wet it thoroughly with scalding water. … Be sure and have hot water enough; for Indian absorbs a great deal of water.’

In later years, thrifty New Englanders used empty coffee cans as cooking vessels. Today’s brown bread can be steamed in the oven or on the stove top.” 

A Recipe Cloaked in History

This tradition of coffee can bread making was revitalized during the Great Depression when everything was used – and that included coffee cans. This baking strategy was a way to make multiple loaves of bread when one was short on space. Raisins and nuts were added to the recipes for added sweetness when sugar was hard to come by.

A note of caution: Ensure that the can you use does not have the plastic BPA coating inside of the can as this can lead to plastics and chemicals leaching into your bread loaf. You can use a #10 can or even large Mason jars to make endless loaves of bread.

Brown Bread Baked in a Can

This recipe celebrates our heritage and our history of our hardships this country has endured.

(Makes 4 cans)


  • 3 tablespoons soft butter for preparing cans for baking
  • 1 cup fine white cornmeal
  • 2-1/4 cups rye flour
  • 1-3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2-1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2-3/4 cups blackstrap molasses
  • 5 eggs  
  • 1 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)


  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter your cans using a pastry brush.
  2. In a large bowl, add dry ingredients and whisk lightly to combine.
  3. In another bowl, add all the wet ingredients, whisking to combine.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just incorporated. The consistency of the dough should be similar to thick pancake batter.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared cans until they are about 3/4 of the way full.
  6. Place filled cans on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Then, turn the pan and rotate to bake for another 20 minutes.
  7. Test the bread by inserting a long wooden skewer down the center of the bread; it should come out clean. If not, bake 5 to 10 minutes more.
  8. Remove cans from the oven; allow to cool, 10 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges of the breads; slide the loaves from the cans. Cool completely.

This is a great way to bake crustless bread for the picky eaters or given as gifts to friends and family. Try it today!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368