"My kids want to try this," a friend of mine recently posted on Facebook along with a photo of a product I had never seen before: It was raisin bread ... in a can.
Intrigued and a bit confused, I clicked on her post and read through comments from people who grew up in the New England area, many of whom expressed fond memories of eating B&M Brown Bread, which is available in both plain and raisin varieties.
When I asked more people about the product on social media, I learned that this New England staple inspires some real nostalgia in some, as well as very strong opinions.
"Gross!" wrote my high school english teacher, Elizabeth Coronado. "Growing up in New York and Connecticut, Thursday night New England dinner was baked beans and brown bread! We used to cram as much in our mouths as we could and then ask to be excused to the rest room so we could christen the commode with it!"
Another friend, Kim Nupp, wrote, "I loved that! I remember as a little girl we didn't have a lot of sweet treats around the house, so this was a yummy sweet delight."
Coronado, who now lives in New Mexico, later told me that, growing up in the 1960s, it was her dad who was a fan of canned bread. Her grandfather was a lieutenant colonel in World War II, leaving her grandmother to raise her sons alone, so she had to handle mealtimes during a time when food supplies were limited.
"He was a war child — and during the war, my grandma would feed him and my uncles baked beans and brown bread," Coronado explained. "My dad then introduced my mom to it. She would put canned beans in a crock with dark molasses and a chunk of uncooked bacon.
"Once it was bubbling, she'd take it out and drizzle dark maple syrup over it. The bread would be taken out of the can and heated with tin foil, then served sliced with butter. And, if you were serving hot dogs with it, they had to be broiled until dark."
"In 1977, we moved to Seattle, Washington, and my mom couldn't find it there," Coronado recalled. "Praise Jesus."
Nupp, who has more fond memories of the product, grew up in Maryland in the 1970s. She recalls eating the bread as an after school snack during her elementary school years.
"I would slice it and put butter on it. I thought it was cake in a can," said Nupp. "I think I liked it so much because it reminded me of eating pumpernickel bread with butter with my great grandmother and great aunt."
"We just had it occasionally, which is why I thought it was a special treat," she added. "My mom was a single mom, and we didn’t have cake or ice cream a lot. So that brown bread must have been a treat we could afford."
Interest in canned goods has surged since March and, according to Google, searches for canned bread have risen steadily over the past month.
I was curious enough to try it but living in Florida, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to find B&M Brown Bread in my local grocery stores. However, after securing some on Amazon (where the product comes highly rated), I found cans for sale at my local Publix, right in the baked beans aisle.
My family decided to go the traditional route for trying the bread, grilling hot dogs and serving baked beans on the side. We were admittedly nervous about trying bread in canned form, but after we all tasted it, we were pleasantly surprised.
I can confirm that it was not gross! I even found myself going back for more.
Leading up to trying the product, I envisioned it being overly moist — perhaps even slimy — inside the can. But when we opened the can, I was surprised to see that the outward appearance of the bread was like that of a muffin.
The bread reminded me of rye bread, but the raisins were hard to detect — both versions tasted similar to me. My husband commented that the bread was "like zucchini bread, but without the zucchini" and called it "very dense." I'd have agree.
My neighbor, Tiffany Wells, has a degree in baking and pastry design and runs a local baking business (Marmalade Sweets), so I delivered some cans of the breads to her and asked for her professional opinion as well.
She tried the canned bread toasted at breakfast, slathering some slices with cream cheese and honey and others with butter and apple butter.
"I was pleasantly surprised at the freshness of it," said Wells. "My mother liked it, too, and has great memories of she and my grandmother having cans of brown bread as a treat when she was young."
"I'm a big fan of molasses, which was the first smell and flavor that hit me," Wells added. "That alone would have been enough for me to keep eating, but I actually did like the bread."
For those not in B&M's distribution area, does Wells think bread in a can is something home bakers can recreate from scratch?
"People could definitely create this at home, there are so few ingredients and they are all readily available at any market," said Wells. "You would just treat the can like a regular baking pan, and I think it would be much easier to choose a recipe like a molasses cake than a 'bread' specifically."
A representative from B&M told me that the baked bean manufacturer started making bread in a can in 1928. Today, the company produces nearly 1 million cans of bread every year.
"The canned bread category is very small and we’re proud to create a product that’s beloved by consumers who want to keep the one-of-a-kind New England tradition going," the spokesperson said. "Brown bread is historically significant to New Englanders. They would put their ingredients for bread in a can and bake it in the oven as a way to preserve the food when the canning industry was booming."
"Our product is a New England regional bread that offers a feeling of nostalgia for many consumers — we often hear about consumers stocking up on B&M Brown Bread when they are in the New England area and bringing it home to areas of the country where we are not distributed."