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View Full Version : Making bread in the 1600s (America)



sirensix
03-06-2009, 08:13 AM
So, if a person were to be zapped from New England in the 1600s to a modern-day grocery store, would they be able to identify the ingredients they needed to make bread?

What goes into making bread from scratch, Pilgrim-style, anyway? And what would the process be, and could it be done in a typical modern apartment kitchen?

Chumplet
03-06-2009, 08:47 AM
You don't know how to make bread from scratch? Do you have one of those pioneer villages (living museum) nearby? You can watch them make bread if you want a close-up view.

Flour, water, yeast, sugar. Mix, knead rise, punch, knead, rise, bake. I'm pretty sure they have the recipe somewhere on the 'Net.

A modern day grocery store will have all the ingredients, but the labels might be spelled different.

FennelGiraffe
03-06-2009, 09:11 AM
The biggest difficulty would probably be when your colonial baker tries to build a fire inside of a modern oven. http://www.culinarymedianetwork.com/video-colonial-baking/

Medievalist
03-06-2009, 09:19 AM
Gah.

The hardest part is the modern oven. When you cook bread in a brick oven, you gauge the temperature by time, and feel. Not by well, degrees.

Other than that, yeah, it could work.

pdr
03-06-2009, 09:24 AM
what about the raising agent?

Yeast? Where from or did they make it themselves?

Perhaps sough dough raising? - salt or potato?

Flour, a handy mill to grind the wheat or did they have to grind it themselves?

Baked in a bread oven or on the kitchen hearth by the fire under what we call a camp oven - a large iron pot?

I think the bread making in the1600s would be quite different from today and a modern supermarket would give the poor soul heart failure. The yeast today is usually dried stuff, wasn't in the 1600s.

Baking too. The 1600s cook would probably use an overnight method making a sponge first and then adding the bulk of the flour and maybe more yeast or sough dough starter next morning.

Today people tend to bung everything in a nasty noisy machine.

dirtsider
03-06-2009, 05:26 PM
Ok, I thought it was going to be the other way around with the modern day person going back to the 1600's. I think the preparing of the dough would be pretty much the same so that part wouldn't be a problem once they figure out out to get the ingredients. (See PDR's response.) But I agree - the biggest problem would be figuring out the oven unless they can find someone with a working hearth or period bake oven.

You might also want to check out the Pennsbury Manor website. They might be able to help you. Actually, try www.hearttohearthcookery.com. That's the website for Susan Plaisted. She's researched and recreated period receipts (aka recipes) and should be able to tell you not only a lot of stuff about 1600 period cooking, but probably a lot about the mindset of the person as well.

Sarpedon
03-06-2009, 05:53 PM
I make bread in my apartment kitchen all the time:

Add 3 1/2 cups warm water to 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 tbsp salt. stir in 2 tblsp melted butter. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons yeast on top.

(the colonial baker would have had a lump of yesterday's bread as a yeast culture, rather than our handy dandy dehydrated yeast packets. Historically, yeast cultures were preserved as doughballs, or even on 'magic' stir sticks. Brewers in Scandanavia had 'magic' sticks which contained their yeast samples (unbeknownst to them) which they would use to stir their wort (beer prior to fermenting) thus introducing the yeast. Yeast is everywhere, floating through the atmosphere, etc. Every breath of air you take contains milions of them. There are thousands of species. Some are good for cooking, others are not. That cloudy film that forms on blueberries? Yeast. If you leave anything out that is wet and sugary, yeast will start to grow on it (along with other stuff) There is a place in Germany that is so blessed with wonderful natural yeast that to make beer, they just open the window and let the natural yeast from the air come and innoculate their wort. This is not recommended in areas without such good yeast)

Let that sit until the yest forms a little tan cap over the water, and then dump into 9 cups flour. Knead. Divide into loaves. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. I like to add melted butter and basil on top, which is best done 5 minutes before bread is done. Really, making bread is very simple. So is making beer. Most people just don't know how easy it is.

The process is essentially the same today as it was then, except with more convenient appliances. However, there were a number of things they used to do which are no longer done. Consider: making a flat patty of dough, and sticking it on the inside of the chimney to bake. I forget what these are called, but you can't really get them anymore.

Its also just as unlikely that your colonial baker would be grinding his own flour as it would be today. There was a mill for that.

Kathie Freeman
03-06-2009, 08:33 PM
Early bread bakers got their yeast in one of 2 ways - a lump of starter from a prevous batch (or borrowed from a neighbor) or lacking that, just leave the dough on the windowsill overnight to get the natural yeast from the air. Sourdough is a form of starter that is more liquid than dough. I tried once to make some, but it "boiled" out all over my countertop. Worked, though.

pdr
03-07-2009, 03:41 AM
Really, making bread is very simple. So is making beer. Most people just don't know how easy it is.

True!

The process is essentially the same today as it was then, except with more convenient appliances.

Er, not really. Or maybe yes and no!

It depends where your 1600s person lived and whether s/he had servants and help or was a pioneer and virtually solo.

Today we make bread using the method outlined by Sarpedon, but that really is a short cut method for people with more time and less housekeeping and cooking to do.

When bread was needed every day, and there wasn't the nice big bread oven to do a week's bread in, bread would be set last thing at night. This meant making a sponge of flour and yeast/sough dough/starter and letting it work over night and then adding it to more flour, salt, and liquid, in the wooden bread trough, and mixing it, then proving and baking it. Baking would usually be on the hearth under the 'camp oven'.

There's a good book down in Genres Historical - Resources by Era - which has detailed pictures of fireside cooking. John Seymore's National Trust book, and, of course, Dorothy Hartley has pictures of hearth cooking in 'Food in England' and Elizabeth David has great information in her 'Bread' book.

When you cook bread in a brick oven, you gauge the temperature by time, and feel. Not by well, degrees.

You dip five fingers into cold water, flick the drops onto the bread oven floor, and count how long it takes to evaporate. There's even a rhyme to learn to tell you what to bake when.

hammerklavier
03-07-2009, 08:08 AM
They would most certainly use a 'starter' instead of yeast. What we call sourdough.

I think they'd be hopelessly lost in the grocery store. Maybe some friendly person could guide them. That would make for more interesting writing anyway with the way the modern person reacts to the historic person.

sirensix
03-10-2009, 05:18 AM
I actually really love the idea of the colonial girl trying to start a fire in the modern oven. So I'm going to have the modern guy stop her just in time.

Basically yes, she does have a modern host, but he just thinks she's crazy. I want to set it up so that he takes her into the grocery store and she wanders off and randomly ends up in the baking aisle so she starts getting stuff to make bread. If she saw a package that said "yeast" would she know what it was or what it was for? Or was it still considered "Magic" in the 1600s?

If she's not able to understand the use of packaged yeast and instead just buys flour, sugar, water, etc. - what would be the best way for her to make bread rise in his apartment? Would just letting it sit out in a New England apartment overnight be enough? I'm also trying to figure out why he'd allow this... maybe she hides it somewhere?

Or could storebought bread be used in some way to start it?

Fenika
03-10-2009, 05:22 AM
I think someone needs to do some hands on lab work :D

I used to make pizza dough from scratch. Now I have a bread machine to be my bi--- ;)

Sarpedon
03-10-2009, 06:38 PM
If she's not able to understand the use of packaged yeast and instead just buys flour, sugar, water, etc. - what would be the best way for her to make bread rise in his apartment? Would just letting it sit out in a New England apartment overnight be enough? I'm also trying to figure out why he'd allow this... maybe she hides it somewhere?

Sure she wouldn't know. I think it was Pasteur who figured it out. She could leave it out...but in a typical young man's apartment, you might get more than yeast growing on it...:p. Typically, if you want good wild yeast, you put it by an open window. If you keep it inside, there's a greater chance of nasties getting in.

It would be hard to hide it; it needs someplace warm. Like on top of the refrigerator is where I sometimes put my yeast to rise, or on a high shelf.

dirtsider
03-10-2009, 09:07 PM
This reminded me: a friend of mine, who does open hearth cooking, told me that the 75th edition of Joy of Cooking has open hearth cooking recipes (or a section on hearth cooking). You might want to check that out.

Smiling Ted
03-10-2009, 09:19 PM
She'd snag a bit of someone else's bread and mix it into her dough.
Whether that worked or not would depend on whether there was any active yeast left in the bread.

Barb D
03-10-2009, 10:55 PM
I don't have anything to add to the answers you've gotten -- except that your book sounds like something I'd love to read!

Also, have you seen the movie Kate and Leopold (with Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman)? Leopold comes forward in time, and there are some humorous scenes of him adapting to modern times. He does adapt, and rather quickly.




I actually really love the idea of the colonial girl trying to start a fire in the modern oven. So I'm going to have the modern guy stop her just in time.

Basically yes, she does have a modern host, but he just thinks she's crazy. I want to set it up so that he takes her into the grocery store and she wanders off and randomly ends up in the baking aisle so she starts getting stuff to make bread. If she saw a package that said "yeast" would she know what it was or what it was for? Or was it still considered "Magic" in the 1600s?

If she's not able to understand the use of packaged yeast and instead just buys flour, sugar, water, etc. - what would be the best way for her to make bread rise in his apartment? Would just letting it sit out in a New England apartment overnight be enough? I'm also trying to figure out why he'd allow this... maybe she hides it somewhere?

Or could storebought bread be used in some way to start it?

Kazel
03-13-2009, 01:26 AM
Just popping in to point out that flour was a very different beast before the invention of the porcelain rollers to assist in milling flour. Wheat that has been stone milled isn't broken down as much, and has oils in it that makes the flour go rancid after a few weeks. I am not 100% sure on the timing, but I think that it was the 1800's that flour stopped being stone milled. So your girl from the 1600's may not even recognize what we call flour as flour at all, because stone milled flour is not white at all. The oil content in the flour would also mean different recipes, and as stated before, the bread was likely made from a starter and not from yeast packages at all. Where they got their flour from was likely directly from the miller, and nothing like a modern store at all. So, I find it rather unlikely that your MC could go into a modern store, on her own, and find the ingredients to make bread.
If she asked for help finding flour from a store employee, they they might set her up with everything she needs and you could go from there. It is worth keeping in mind, though, that much of what we call food would not be recognizable as food at all to the people in the 1600's.

Tika
03-13-2009, 04:55 AM
quotes from The Williamsburg Art of Cookery
The most characteristic hot breads are those made from Indian corn. As early as 1608, the colonists had gathered Indian corn of their own planting and had learned to make bread of it in the Indian manner by mixing corn meal and water, shaping it into cakes or pones and were baked in hot ashes or on hoes.

Of prime importance is the use of proper meal which was ground slowly in a water grist mill. lol No generation of proper Virginia housewife was allowed to use sugar in her corn bread.

biscuits, muffins, waffles and other breads were served 'new' and made from wheat flour.

Some kinds of flat bread was baked on a gridiron

Yeast cakes were available in 1837 because there's a recipe for calls for it. I also found a recipe dated 1770 that called for a teacup full of yeast. One recipe said to put it in to rise before the fire the night before. Beat it over in the morning (I assume this is punching it down). Put it in a greased cake mold in time to rise before baking. Should you want it for supper, make it up at 10:00 in the morning in the winter and 12:00 in the summer. (cute :)

I hope some of this info is useful to you :)

Tika :)

Evaine
03-14-2009, 11:02 PM
Flour ground in a quern doesn't look that different to modern flour, and a gang of schoolkids can get it pretty finely ground, and fairly white, too. I do living history as a Viking and medieval lady, going into schools locally. I'm sure a lady from the 1600s would recognise modern flour as flour - though she wouldn't be able to see it in the grocery store, with it being in packets.

CoriSCapnSkip
03-15-2009, 12:35 PM
Hey, I was just wondering how they made bread back then without huge fields to grow wheat for all the flour.

Sarpedon
03-15-2009, 11:25 PM
What do you mean? They had wheat fields.

They tended to be smaller, as there were no mechanical harvesters.

GeorgeK
03-15-2009, 11:50 PM
Anyone from 1600's dropped into a grocery store of today (assuming they recovered from the whole witchcraft debacle) would revel in the produce isle and or the winter isle (Things actually frozen in just a corner of the store!"). Canned goods would likely be painted rocks until someone opened a can and then, "Oh my!"

Sarpedon
03-16-2009, 05:14 PM
I think someone from 1600 would be able to grasp the concept of a metal container. Especially if they were able to read the label.

GeorgeK
03-16-2009, 10:25 PM
I suppose I did assume illiteracy, but can you imagine them opening a can with a hammer?

Sarpedon
03-16-2009, 10:34 PM
I didn't say they'd know how to open it. I said they would understand the concept, and not mistake a can for a rock. After all, if you shake a can, you can feel the stuff moving inside.

GeorgeK
03-17-2009, 12:23 AM
One of my sons, despite being very intelligent, tried to cook food in the can in the microwave. Thankfully I had just walked into the kitchen to see what those sounds were. After explaining again how the microwave works, a couple weeks later he put a paper plate of food in the toaster oven. All the smoke alarms in our house are wired together.

Sarpedon
03-17-2009, 12:27 AM
I'm glad no one was hurt. But what does that have to do with anything?

I don't think there's any danger of the person from the 1600s making improper use of the microwave, except perhaps to store stuff in.

GeorgeK
03-17-2009, 12:36 AM
I'm glad no one was hurt. But what does that have to do with anything?

I don't think there's any danger of the person from the 1600s making improper use of the microwave, except perhaps to store stuff in.

Things that the OP can think about for the inexperienced regarding modern kitchen appliances...I assumed that if they are trying to buy ingredients to cook with, that they'd also try to cook with them.

sirensix
03-17-2009, 02:57 AM
This is all helping me a great deal in envisioning my little scene.

So it's shaping up kind of like this. Modern man takes Colonial Lady into a grocery store, and she keeps touching and picking up everything saying "What's this? What's this? What's this?" And he tells her, impatiently, like she's a child. She can read a little, so she'd recognize flour by the label. When he says "That's yeast" she might ask "what's it do" since she's from the pre-yeast-awareness era (I think) and he's say, "it's the stuff that makes bread rise" and that'd be enough for her to know to toss it in the cart.

She is tossing a lot of random things in the cart and he's just humoring her because it keeps her out of trouble, and she runs up like a $250 bill when he just went there to get some instant coffee or something. The fact that later she bakes him a loaf of bread is just kind of a shock to everyone, because he's been writing her off up to this point as completely crazy and useless (but cute).

Sound about right? Any details I should consider?

waylander
03-17-2009, 03:15 AM
I presume she would be fascinated by all the strange fruit and veg she's never seen plus all the stuff that is available out of season

sirensix
03-17-2009, 11:38 PM
Oooh yeah, for sure. I'll have to look up what sort of fruits/veggies they actually had in Colonial New England, and also what they have available for sale in modern New England. I live in California where we have literally everything all year round, but I'm not sure for example if a store in a small town in New England would sell avocados or mangoes. I'm guessing not.

Sarpedon
03-18-2009, 12:28 AM
Apples, Pears. Technically squashes and tomatoes are fruits. Cherries, possibly apricots. Raspberries and similar berries. Cranberries, which are native. No strawberries, which, I am amazed to learn were only created in the 1700s and are actually not technically a fruit at all. Plums. blueberries (native)
a list of fruits, with area of origin included. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_culinary_fruits

I remember reading how they had a horrible problem trying to grow grapes in the USA. Apparently our native varieties weren't any good for wine making, and European ones didn't do well. Thomas Jefferson, wine connosseur, spent a huge amount of money trying to come up with either a drinkable native or a hardy crossbreed, to little success. I think finally they managed to make a hybrid that would yield rootstock that they then grafted the european strains to. But it took a long time.

Oh, and remember, in those days people didn't really eat apples or pears. They made them into cider. Eating apples only became popular during prohibition. Those prohibition maniacs carried hatchets for the express purpose of cutting down apple trees.