I have many fond memories of "bread in a can". Yes, a can. It's called Boston Brown Bread, and it's a New England colonial classic made with corn meal, rye or whole wheat flour, and enriched with molasses. As a kid, it was a treat to pluck a can of this dark, moist, mysterious bread from the grocery store shelf, slide it out, and slice it up. It's especially good when when spread with cream cheese and served alongside a big ole pot of baked beans. And that's exactly how we did it.
This bread is still sold in a can and the reason is simple. Boston Brown Bread, essentially a baking soda leavened "quick bread", has an unusual cooking method: it's steamed. To cook, the batter is poured into greased cans (often a coffee can), covered with parchment or foil and secured with string, and then set in a pot with a few inches of water. The steamy heat gently cooks the batter into a cylindrical loaf with a wonderful texture that is sliceable but unbelievably moist. Because the batter lacks any real structure (no eggs, no gluten producing flour), the can is there to hold it all together until the starches gelatinize and set.
If only my family knew then what I know now: this bread is incredibly easy to make. There is no reason to ever, ever pop it out of a supermarket can. Whisk up all of the ingredients and you're done. It's that simple. And by choosing smaller cans to bake the batter in, the breads (I got 3 small loaves) take about 30 minutes to cook on the stovetop. If you can, try to resist the urge to eat them right away. This bread is even better toasted up the next day.