Graham Bread, Temperance Reformers, and America’s First Fad Diet

A brown rectangular loaf of bread cools on a wire rack on a white kitchen counter.

Graham bread from the Green Mountain White Ribbon Cookbook

Post by Angel Caranna, Research Services Assistant


Due to newfound free time exclusively spent at home, bread baking has become massively popular as of late. Americans collectively baked enough bread to cause a national yeast shortage. For me, remote work at home led to research on Special Collection’s culinary archive; and, desperate to preserve my last packet of instant dry yeast, I decided to find out how bakers before us made non-yeast bread. The answer is actually much like we do today: baking soda combined with an acidic agent to help it rise.

This, combined with my limited ingredients and my even more limited baking knowledge, helpfully narrowed down feasible bread recipes to a quick graham bread from Mrs. Mattimore, who contributed her recipe to the 1895 edition of The Green Mountain white ribbon cook book. The twenty first century version I managed to create in my kitchen can be seen above. Sweetened by molasses, dense but not dry: graham bread is a squat yet hearty loaf. All it needs is some butter or honey to make for a filling breakfast.

I had not only found a delicious new recipe, but as I found out, I also discovered a bread deliberately formulated by science to deter any “physiological effects” that cause immoral exploits! The Green Mountain is a cookbook written by a chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The temperance movement, which promoted alcohol prohibition in the nineteenth century, was the first and longest lasting type of American social reform. Supporters believed that excessive alcohol consumption led to un-Christian like behaviors that posed a threat to the American citizen, the family, and the nation.

By 1895, temperance supporters had moved to a more scientific approach. Religious persuasion alone had shown itself to be ineffective against restricting American’s alcohol consumption, especially after the Civil War. As a response, the temperance movement spawned dietary reformers that promoted increased physical and spiritual balance through nutritional eating. In theory, a balanced diet would eliminate the desire for alcohol. Forming their own wellness ideology, temperance supporters and dietary reformers aimed to keep people, families, and the nation healthy through food that existed in their “natural organization,” or in their “purest” form, free of any harmful additives and chemicals.


 

In many of the following recipes Cottolene is used for shortening. Cottolene is made of 8- per cent triple refined Cottonseed Oil and 20 per cent of choice beef suet, assuring users the purest possible shortening and frying fat, palatable and digestible. It can be used for many purposes in place of butter when it is impossible to use lard.

"In many of the following recipes Cottolene is used for shortening. Cottolene is made of 8- per cent triple refined Cottonseed Oil and 20 per cent of choice beef suet, assuring users the purest possible shortening and frying fat, palatable and digestible. It can be used for many purposes in place of butter when it is impossible to use lard."

Some Americans believed Cottolene brand shortening to be a more “pure” substitute for butter because of its ingredients. Unfortunately for the Green Mountain writers, Cottolene discontinued in the early 1900s and was replaced by its top competitor, Crisco.

The best example of dietary reform was Sylvester Graham. A temperance supporter, his wellness ideology inspired the creation of graham bread and graham crackers. Credited with creating the first fad diet, Graham believed consuming solely whole wheat grain products, with the fullest possible amount of bran and wheat germ, prevented acts of gluttony and debauchery. Though Graham died in 1851, the popularity of his methods lasted throughout the life of the temperance movement and into the present day.

So, if you currently feel concerned about backsliding into a moral corruption that will destroy your body and soul, your family, and your country, consider graham bread as a wholesome nutritional method to counteract your potential future sins. Or maybe you’re like me: a bored carb fiend looking to refine some baking skills, but who's too afraid to make DIY yeast (what if I accidentally grow mold?) and instead opts for an easy quick bread.

 

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Mrs. Mattimore’s Graham Bread

 

Ingredients:

3 cupfuls graham flour (or whole wheat flour)

1 teaspoonful baking soda

1/2 teaspoonful salt

1/2 cup of molasses (or brown sugar)

1 1/2 cups sour milk (or buttermilk)

 

Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine and sift all dry ingredients. Then, mix buttermilk and molasses together, and slowly whisk wet ingredients into the dry mixture until fully combined. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for thirty minutes or more, until a toothpick comes out clean. Wait till it cools before taking it out of the pan.

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This bread recipe is pulled from page 35 of The Green Mountain white ribbon cook book : especially adapted to young housekeepers and busy women, containing choice gleanings from many households and published circa 1895 by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Vermont. Two physical copies of this cookbook are available in the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive at the University of Michigan Special Collections Research Center, and its digital facsimile is available online full text through HathiTrust Digital Library here