I often become interested in a colonial dish only to learn that it’s perhaps not so colonial after all. This happened with anadama bread. It’s described in some modern cookbooks as an 18th century bread, but it doesn’t appear in 18th or even 19th century cookbooks. However, an Anadama brand bread was recorded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1850, and there is anecdotal evidence that it was made before then.
There are quite a few legends about this delicious, slightly sweet bread, most involving a fisherman on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and his wife Anna. In one version, she was a wretched cook who made her husband cornmeal mush every day. One night he got so fed up with her mush that he threw some yeast and flour in it to make bread, all the while muttering, “Anna, damn her!” (In another version, he throws a bag of cornmeal at her, and it spills into her bread dough.)
In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith explains what’s important about this bread, whatever its exact origin:
Whether created by a colonial settler, who added flavorful indigenous ingredients to an English yeast bread, or by a post-Revolutionary housewife, in a community whose cuisine harked back to seventeenth-century English cooking, Anadama bread embodies the fierce local pride and deep English roots of the North Shore of Boston.
Anadama bread can be made in loaf pans or shaped rounds. I did the latter, following Walter Staib’s recipe in The City Tavern Cookbook. This recipe was easy to follow and made two large loaves. The bread is wonderful with butter (of course!) or in sandwiches. It’s also very good toasted. (For a loaf pan recipe and a slightly different approach to this bread, see kingarthurflour.com.)
2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (110°F-115°F)
3/4 cup coarse yellow cornmeal, plus extra for coating the pan
1/2 cup dark molasses
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 cups bread flour
1. In a large bowl, gently whisk the yeast in the warm water and let stand for about 10 minutes.
2. Beat in the cornmeal, molasses, butter, and salt. Mix in the flour, one cup at a time, blending well after each addition, to make a moderately stiff dough.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic; add a little flour if necessary to prevent sticking.
4. Transfer the dough to a large bowl lightly coated with vegetable oil, and turn the dough to coat with the oil. Cover with a slightly damp towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free location for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until approximately doubled in size.
5. Punch down the dough. This is a good job for kids, if you have any lying around saying they’re bored.
6. Lightly grease a very large baking sheet with butter, then sprinkle with cornmeal. Shape each half of the dough into a ball. Place the balls, smooth sides up, on the baking sheet. Flatten each into a 6-inch round loaf. Cover with towel and let rise for 30 to 45 minutes, until almost doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F.
7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the bread is golden and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove the bread from the baking pan and cool on wire rack. Serve warm if possible.