A taste of America’s past to put on local tables today.
By Ari Weinzweig
This bread has been one of my favorites for something like 17 years now. The first weeks of September will mark the anniversary of when the folks at the Bakehouse would have been putting the finishing touches on this, then-new, bread. I loved it at the start, and I love it still now.
The origin of Roadhouse Bread.
While the bread was new for us, it was actually a big favorite of 18th and 19th century New Englanders, where it was generally known as “Rye ‘n’ Indian” or also “Thirded Bread.” It’s featured in nearly every American cookbook from that era, but for whatever odd reasons of historical trends, completely fell out of fashion in the 20th century. (As far as I know, we’re the only ones in the country that bake it commercially). If you don’t know it, what we now refer to as Roadhouse Bread is a mix of organic wheat, rye, and corn, subtly sweetened up with a bit of molasses. Its origins go back to early years of European presence in the Americas. Europeans have long been insistent on eating wheat, but since it won’t grow well in the cold climate of New England, colonists eventually gave in to reality and began to bake with corn (which was indigenous) and rye which does better in cold climates (hence its wide use in Russia and Scandinavia). It was sweetened with molasses, cultivated on plantations in the West Indies by enslaved people.
A recipe for thirded bread.
If you want a super local connection, here’s a recipe for the bread from The Ann Arbor Cookbook. It’s on page 210. The book came out in 1904, which would be just a few years after the Disderide’s had the building built which is now the Deli. The book also includes Mrs. Robert Wenley’s recipe for Scotch Shortbread and Scotch Soda Scones. Her husband, Robert Mark Wenley, was a University of Michigan professor. I wrote a bit about him and his connection to anarchism and Emma Goldman in Part 4 (see the endnote that begins on the bottom of page 581, or email me and I’ll just send you the note). If you want a more modern recipe that will really work in your home kitchen, it’s on page 86 in the lovely Zingerman’s Bakehouse book.
Milling at the Bakehouse.
As of a few years ago, as part of the inspiring and insightful Grain Commission project, we began to mill organic rye from DKB Farms in Columbiaville, Michigan right here at the Bakehouse. That innovative work took an already great bread and made it better still. Fresh milling, we’ve learned repeatedly over the last few years, adds flavor and leaves natural nutrients intact. Studies are showing that this simple act makes an enormous difference in bread’s impact on our bodies. It also improves the flavor and texture. There’s just something a bit more vital, a little bit livelier, a touch lovelier, and the texture seems to hold its moisture a bit longer. Amy Emberling, Bakehouse co-managing partner, says, “Milling some of our own grain is one of the most exciting and transformative steps we’ve taken in years. It’s transforming not just our baking but also our relationship to our community.”
How to enjoy our Roadhouse Bread.
What do you do with the Roadhouse bread? It makes super marvelous toast—I love it with either the Creamery’s cream cheese or fresh goat cheese. It’s really good when you “double bake it”—put the whole loaf back in your oven at home at 350° (uncovered) for about 20 minutes. The crust gets crustier, the Maillard Reaction works its magic, the sugars get sweeter, the crust gets darker, the corn gets toastier and it all becomes pretty darned marvelous. We do it at the Roadhouse and you can do it at your house as well. The Roadhouse Bread is on the toast menu at the Coffee Company, where we spread on some Pimento Cheese from the Creamery. It’s also on the Roadhouse’s Southern Reuben—Nueske’s applewood smoked ham served on grilled Roadhouse Bread with chalet Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing. Try slices of Roadhouse Bread with the American Fried Bread on page 162 in Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon. Do that, pull a piece out of the middle of the slice, crack an egg into it, and you’ll have a splendid version of Rocky Mountain Eggs. In any case, come by the Bakehouse, Deli, or Roadhouse to try this terrific bread.