Wheatless Wartime Boston Brown Bread

“FUEL IS FOR FIGHTERS. Do not waste it. Save WHEAT, MEAT, SUGARS, AND FATS. Send more to our Soldiers, Sailors and Allies.”

As a professor of nutrition at Columbia University, Mary Schwartz Rose made it her ambition to show the American housewife that the above message from the United States Food Administration did not necessarily mean months of tasteless meals lacking in nutrition. In her 1918 cookbook Everyday Foods in War Time, Rose extols the virtues of the wheatless, sugarless diet. To give up wheat, so “soft yet firm,” takes “courage and resolution,” she admits. And sugar does tempt from the soda fountain, bakery and candy shop. But Rose reminds us that oatmeal is rich in iron, one-half pound of cornmeal is enough to furnish “everything needed by the body,” and a touch of calcium-rich molasses can protect against the siren song of cane sugar.

wartime ration poster for cottage cheese
An American poster from the First World War

The following recipe for wartime Boston brown bread is a perfect example of a recipe that proves more nutritious and delicious than its peacetime counterpart–Rose even makes a special point of mentioning that this recipe has “two and one half times the food value of a twelve-ounce loaf of white bread.” If desired, serve this bread with butter and honey, or with Mystic Baked Beans.

Wartime Boston Brown Bread

1 cup rye meal
1 cup corn meal
1 cup finely ground oatmeal
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup molasses
2 teaspoons baking powder

Mix and sift dry ingredients, add molasses and milk, stir until well mixed, turn into a well-greased mold, and steam three and one-half hours. The cover should be greased before being placed on the mold. The mold should never be filled more than two-thirds full. A one-pound baking powder box makes the most attractive shaped loaf for steaming; place mold on a trivet in kettle containing boiling water, allowing water to come half-way up around mold; cover closely and steam, adding as needed more boiling water. One cup chopped peanuts and one cup dates may be added.


Baumgarthuber, Christine. Fermented Foods: The History and Science of a Microbiological Wonder. Reaktion Books, 2021.

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