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June 8, 2009

Anadama Bread

( A famous artist, a mean old wife, and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles )

I was given this recipe by my husband, who baked bread fairly often when he was younger and had more time. He made this in a sort of bucket apparatus with a crank handle…a non-electric “bread machine,” as it were. There are lots of recipes for Anadama bread; the only common required elements are the corn meal and molasses…you can substitute milk for some of the water, or you might add in some whole wheat flour–vary it as you like.

A few years ago I requested the Maine ANADAMA license plate for my island jeep, with which I made bakery deliveries. The worn-down lady behind the counter at Motor Vehicles gave me a suspicious look. “Ana Dam a? What’s that all about?” She did not appear to harbor much of a sense of humor. I told her the admittedly lame story that you’ll read from time to time in New England cookbooks…about the “old sea captain” or whatever he was with that singularly prickly wife.

The legend says that she fed him corn meal mush–day after day, she always prepared the same tedious meal. Eventually, in a fit of boredom and an unlikely culinary initiative the creaky old salt added yeast and flour to his daily hot cereal and baked himself a loaf of bread, all the while muttering, “Anna, damn her.”

Sure. Anyway, the lady at Motor Vehicles was having none of it. It looked like a rude word to her. “I’ll have to call Augusta.” We’d heard on the local news once that there was a particular official in Augusta, a single BMV staffer who got the final say on vanity plates. Her name, according to the news story, was Vicky. Vicky said it was OK. I could have the ANADAMA plate. She must have known about the bread.

Bo's-AnadamaA couple of years later, into my summer bakery walked one of this area’s well-known artists. Unlike our sister island to the southwest we cannot claim a sizable population of artists of widespread repute, but Matinicus is home (or the part-time home) to a few. Our neighbor Bo doesn’t eat a lot of junk food, to be sure, but he might indulge in the occasional brownie or a loaf of homemade bread.

He purchased a particularly humble-looking loaf that summer day…most likely it had been about a hundred degrees in my kitchen and the bread had risen so fast that it got ahead of me and didn’t have the prettiest shape. The lumpy-topped loaf would have tasted fine but that, I later discovered, was not what Bo Bartlett was looking for. He painted it.

 Bo gave me a snapshot of the loaf of bread in his Wheaton Island studio across the harbor and before it, in the photo, is the start of a painting…of a loaf of bread.  A couple of years later, I saw the painting hanging in a public art space. I remember wishing he’d chosen a pretty loaf. Does that make me a Philistine?

“It has character,” my friends said. It has lumps, I thought. His work is respected, valued, loved by many. He didn’t choose a perfect loaf, one that would look like a picture in a cookbook. I have to assume he knew what he was doing. I took a picture of a more handsome example of my Anadama efforts later, just to satisfy myself.


A few months ago, a large package was unexpectedly delivered to my house. It was the Loaf of Bread painting, the original, in its frame. It had made its way home. I don’t know why he chose to do that, but Bo, if you see this, I thank you.

Herewith, the recipe:

Anadama Bread
1 cup corn meal
1 cup molasses
¼ cup oil
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups boiling water
1 cup cool water
3½ Tablespoons yeast
14-16 cups unbleached flour

Stir first five ingredients together a bit to prevent lumps and allow to sit until cool enough to touch comfortably (cool enough for the yeast). Add cool water (you can add this at the earlier stage instead, but do give the corn meal some time to soak up and soften) Add yeast, allowing a few minutes for the yeast to start.

Add unbleached flour (start with 12 or 13 cups), keep adding until you have reasonably firm dough. It shouldn’t be stiff and resistant, but if it is too soft and sticky, it might not hold its shape and look as nice.

Knead, rise, form into four large loaves in traditional bread pans, let the loaves rise, and bake at 425° for 15 minutes, then at 375° for 25-30 minutes. Brush tops with melted butter if desired.

Half this recipe works fine in a KitchenAid or other substantial mixer with dough hook.

Yields 4 loaves.

Eva Murray first came to
Matinicus as the teacher in the island's one-room school. She is a
freelance writer, an EMT, runs a small seasonal bakery from her home
during the summer, is married to the island's electrician and has
raised two children on Matinicus.


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