I do not know who was the original developer of jar bread, but I do know that it was a favorite in our home. My Granny taught me to make jar bread as a young child on holidays and I have always thought it was such a cute idea. First, Granny would tell me the story of her Mother, Grandmother Kittie being Melungeon and how our ancestry was multiracial so we got to have all the world’s people special food; right in our own kitchen.. One of our greatest times together was cooking old fashion recipes that were handed down orally and usually never written down. I suppose lots of folks know about jar bread but when I was a child and now as an adult I am the only one, at least in my family, who has ever heard of it. I love to fix up 12 different individual jar breads at a time. The key to making good jar bread Granny would say ,”is to grease the jar up with buttered olive oil or corn oil that had your favorite seasoning in it, then pour in your favorite bread dough mix, only fill it half full, and when the lid pops up on the jar the bread is done and sealed tight. If your jar gets stuck, open it with a jar opener.
Here are some of the “cookin’ tips that Grandmother Kittie Bailey passed down to Granny Hall, then to Mama, and then to me. Now mind ya; I was never allowed to write any of their recipes down so this is from memory. We fixed special jar breads for specific holidays since we were from multicultural ancestry of down home cooks. Our ancestors are Eurasian, South, Central, and North America, New Mexico, Spain/ France Basque, and Central Africa. Grandmother Kittie told Granny,”Our people loved to eat so they had to be great cooks.” My Mother was an outstanding baker and she loved to make breads, pies, cakes, pretzels, and donuts from our donut pan and donut maker but she did not much care for making jar bread because she wanted me to learn different cookin’ from different people so I would know about heritage and cooking and baking from scratch.”Everyone has their own way of cookin”, she’d say; some ways easier than others, but remember that when ya cookfor someone it has to be the very best or do not serve it to them. I know my Mama got her cookin’ ways from Granny and Grandmother Kittie and all the family and kinfolk down in Southwest Virginia, North and South Carolina, Cumberland Gap and way down South by oral traditions so out of respect to them; I won’t write exact amounts. Just use your own judgment on what you all think is the right amounts.Mama always laughed with pride when she would tell me she never measured nary a thing. Granny and Grandmother Kittie would tell her,”If in’ ya gotta do that old measuring” then ain’t doin’ our kind of cookin’!! Of course throughout the years, I have had to measure stuff because my memories of them a “cookin” is not the best. So I recreated some of their recipes by trial and error or recalling the kind of box or container an ingredient was in and how much they held between their fingers or in their hands. Naturally ,they would turn to the side thinking I could not see everything they were putting in their own secret recipes ;but I learned enough to know that if it smells right, feels right, looks right and taste right-” then it was the right amounts; and if it don’t then I start over and measure the ingredients differently until I get it right.
The long method of making jar bread is to make your favorite bread dough from scratch adding your special seasonings into it the last time you knead it and before it rests and rises. Then you just spoon it into the clean half-pint jars and bake it till the lid pops and is sealed. The short cut method is to buy a package of bread mix the flavors you like the most, follow the package directions, and instead of putting it into a loaf or bread pan you just fill a half-pint jar half full and bake it. The key is to knead your favorite seasonings into the dough and to grease up the half-pint jar with a little buttered oil and seasonings; that you prefer.
Below ,I have listed the jar breads I was taught to make and how we decorated the jars and for what holiday.
- Birthday Jar Breads: Grease the jar with butter and Cinnamon and knead in sprinkles or coconut or little Chocolate chips or whatever surprise you want to put in it. After its done baking you carefully put the jar on a rack to cool, not remember it just came right from the oven so its hot, hot, hot. After its cool do not open the jar because these are individual jars of bread and the person receiving it-gets to open it. Now when its cool to the touch you put their picture on the lid, or their age, or a happy face, or something nice like a little jar of butter cream icing sitting on top of the jar bread, or underneath it, its up to you.
- Holler Bread- This jar bread was only for folks that lived round ya in the holler or down the street, neighborly breads, they called them. These jar breads were for when someone was sad, or had bad luck, or a hang over, or just to do something nice for someone. These jars were greased with honey butter and the person’s favorite seasonings were kneaded into the dough. My favorite jar bread was banana; so Mama or Granny would mash bananas into the dough for me. Ms. Greer up in the holler, well she had back trouble a lot, so Granny always greased her jar bread with olive oil, and put chopped up hot peppers in the dough. Now, Mr. Tazwell; he could eat him some jar bread now; Granny always smiled and said that Mr. T. would fake a sickness or hurt leg just to get some garlic jar bread, but that was okay cause even though he was not kin folk;he lived in the holler and so he was just the same as kinfolk. He loved him some garlic jar bread and would smile like a cat when we took it up to him. Granny would squeeze the juice out of garlic by pressing’ it down on a spoon and then rub that garlic juice and butter inside the jar and chop up garlic pieces she soaked in butter then knead it into his dough. Granny always wrapped these in a little tea towel with a ribbon on it or knitted a little holder to go around it snuggly and had a draw string to pull it up over the jar to keep the bread warm. (Here are some great garlic presses for you!)
- Fiesta Bread- Now this jar bread was beautiful but it was way to hot n spicy for me. Why it made ya cry just smellin’ it. Mama always made this for Mardi Gras Day and we would put decorations up, fix punch with ice cream in it, eat lots of fry bread with molasses on it, and cut out little funny shaped sandwiches and panini ya ate with your fingers. Mama went to Mardi Gras a couple times but I have never been. I still fix this Fiesta Bread though and watch Mardi Gras on television. Grease your jar with havinavro cheese that has soaked in butter and Louisiana Hot Sauce. Then you knead Havanaro cheese into the bread and rub havinaro pepper juice on the top of the bread after you put it into the half-pint jar.
- OYSTER Bread- This was Granny’s favorite jar bread and I know, even though she would not admit it, that she would hide this one after it was baked and tell everyone, its all gone. Granny smeared olive oil and garlic butter on the inside of the jars. She baked her oysters until they were popping out of the shell and then put them in buttered salted water on the stove until they were done. She cut them up and kneaded them into the dough with a little “liquid smoke” and when they were done she would open them right away and dip this jar bread into butter sauce and before you knew it she had eaten 5 or 6 jars of it.
- Everyday Bread- This jar bread was a favorite of everyone because it was made from the Grandmother Kittie’s old time sourdough bread starter. Now I tried to make this a couple times but the sourdough bread starter took to long for me and it just never tasted like what I remember as a child. The jars were greased with real butter and I recall that she put little tiny chips of ice in the dough when she kneaded it. It was probably the greatest mouthful of bread I have ever had. This jars were wrapped in cheese cloth with a date written on it.
I suppose the greatest part of jar bread is that it is a small jar and its all yours and you don’t have to share it. Well, I am hopefully that others know about jar bread and I know your recipes are probably great also. I love remembering cooking” with my family and i reckon that’s why home cooking’ is called “comfort food”.
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