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Pilgrim's Bread: Historic Bread Baking

guerrillafood's picture

Pilgrim's Bread: Historic Bread Baking

Pilgrim's Bread: Historic Bread Baking

I teach cooking classes in a health food store. In a few weeks I am doing a class on the original Thanksgiving. I am going to strive to make the menu as original and true to the actual menu prepared that day way back when. For example, they ate venison (not turkey), there were no green beans (harvest failed that year), no pumpkin pie etc…

I was wondering if anyone had any insight as to what bread they might have had at that time and area. I’d love to bake some original Thanksgiving bread.

Any ideas?



mkelly27's picture

 As refined flour was probably pretty scarce in those days, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the bread of the day was probably "Anadama" bread.  There are many permutations of this bread and even some modern recipes for it.

    My recipe comes from a colonial foods cook book.  It is a yeast-risen corn bread to which some (precious) flour was introduced.  The recipe has you almost pre-cooking the cornmeal into polenta before cooling it and adding the yeast to it.  Flour and salt are then kneaded in.


Two wrongs don't make a right. Three lefts make a right

guerrillafood's picture

Could you post your recipe for this bread. I am extremely interested to see exactly how it is made.


mkelly27's picture

I am lucky to be able to pound out a few sentences that make a paragrph on these forums, but for you and all of the fine folks here I will hunt and peck my way throug hthe recipe. This recipe in it's entirety comes from a cheaply made plastic spiral-bound cookbook usually found for sale at various charity events. It's title is "Anadama Bread and Lalla Rooke" it was compiled by Anna Good 1974-1976 as part of "Bicentennial Birthday Study Group, American Association of University Women, Dearborn Branch"


Here's the recipe.

"Bread of all wheat flour was rare in New England until well into the 1700's. Wheat was slow to take in the too-rich soil and required more space when cleared land was at a premium.

Anadama bread was a popular raised corn bread. Some precious was mixed with the corn meal to provide gluten so the bread would rise, Legend has it the it was named by a fisherman whose lazy wife would not bake bread for him , only mush. He made his own bread --Anna Damn her.


Anadama Bread


1/2 cup corn meal

4 Tbs. butter cut into 1/2" bits, plus 4 tsps. butter, softened

1/2 cup Molasses

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup warm water plus 2 cups water

1 package active dry yeast

4-5 cups flour


In a heavy 1 to 1 1/2 Qt. saucepan bring the2 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Pour in the corn meal in a slow, thin stream, stirring the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon so that the water continues to boil. Cook briskly for a minute or so, then remove the pan from the heat and beat in the 4 Tbs. of butter bits, the molasses and salt. Pour the corn meal mixture into a deep bowl and cool to lukewarm. Meanwhile, pour 1/2 cup of lukewarm water into a small bowl and sprinkle yeast over it. Let the yeast rest for 2 or 3 minutes then mix well. Set in a warm draft-free place for 10 minutes, or until the yeast bubbles up and the mixture almost doubles in volume. Add the yeast to the corn meal mixture and mix well. Beat in about 4 cups of flour , 1/2 cup at a time, and continue to mix until the dough can be gathered into a compact ball.


Place the ball on a lightly floured surface and knead pushing the dough down with the heels of your hands...


<<Transcribers note>> The rest of this recipe is handled as you would normally handle any "Loaf pan" bread. For the love of all things sacred, do not ask me to type out any more of this 30 yr. old recipe (we have much better techniques these days) The ingredients and initial mixing techniques are what makes this recipe interesting. I transcribed it word for word so feel free to adapt it to your needs.

Any typing errors are the property of me (two fingers) and may not be reproduced in any way without the expressed written consent of me.


Two wrongs don't make a right. Three lefts make a right

KipperCat's picture

I think rye breads were the most common at that time. Rye is what the settlers brought with them from Europe.  I remember this as much as anything because of the Salem witch trials.  Historians postulate that some of the bizarre behaviors were real, and caused by the ergot that grows on rye in damp conditions.

Paddyscake's picture

check out her post "19th Century Bread Making", from Sept 07..oops, wrong century, sorry, but still good reading

dmsnyder's picture

The reference to witches and ergotism pertains to northern Europe, not New England, as far as I know.

The predominant bread at that time in England may have been made with barley, at least in rural areas.
If they were dependent on locally grown grain, I wonder if some form of corn bread was eaten. I recall stories about the local native Americans helping the pilgrims grow corn. I don't recall any stories about wheat, or barley for that matter, being grown in America in that era.

KipperCat's picture

Here are a couple of references.  I remember the History Channel did quite a program on it, though of course it's purely speculative at this date! 

andrew_l's picture

was more Scottish, as were oats. England has a long history of "wheaten" breads going back to pre-conquest times.

Ramona's picture

"The Light and the Glory" by Peter Marshall and David Manuel is a book based on the journals of that time period and others that settled America.  Governor Bradford actually declared a day of public Thanksgiving to be held in October, I believe the Canadians practice it this way also.  The Indians did arrive with 5 dressed deer and more than a dozen wild turkeys.  They taught the Pilgrim women to make hoecakes and a tasty pudding out of cornmeal and maple syrup.  The Indians also showed them how to roast corn kernals in an earthen pot until they popped, fluffy and white popcorn.  The Pilgrims provided many vegetables: carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, cucumbers, radishes, beets, and cabbages.  Using some of their precious flour, they took summer fruits which the Indians had dried and introduced them to blueberry, apple, and cherry pies.  They drank sweet wine made from wild grapes.   This Thanksgiving lasted 3 days. 

wholegrainOH's picture

you might want to check out some sources in your library; a quick search locally turned up the following:

Curtin, Kathleen.  Giving Thanks:  Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie.  New York:  Clarkson Potter, 2005.

No idea if it would be helpful, but it would be a start!  Let us know what you find out.  I tried to reconstruct ancient Greek bread a couple of months ago, with an interesting and quite tasty barley/honey bread, which was more an imaginative construction than anything I'd try to pass off as historically accurate--




subfuscpersona's picture

You might find this online source helpful,  Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project although the earliest cookbook available on the site was published in 1798. There are a number of cookbooks available there published 1800 -1810. Nothing is available prior to 1798 so it may not be early enough for your purposes.

This is a fun site for anyone interested in historic cookbooks. You can browse or search the site or even download entire cookbooks if you wish.

parousia's picture

here are some pulications that i found.


New-Englands Rarities Discovered



1 cup cornmeal 4cup water

1.5 cup WW 1tsp salt


Country Contentments

Gervase Markham

1623 pg 231-2

Cheate bread


The Thanks Giving Primer

Acomplete guide to recreate the first harvest festival for your family, friends or church.

A plymouth plantation publication