FREE-RANGE PIONEER SOURDOUGH BREAD
I came across a recipe for making bread in 1864. Yeast was used, and according to the recipe, it was necessary to use the best yeast available from the Brewery. Hence the name *Brewer's Yeast* that you may come across in some recipes. It's also used as a health supplement for a variety of health issues even to this day. Since most Pioneers had no access to a Brewery, Sourdough *yeast* was used, dating back to the Egyptians, along with evidence of brewing beer, whether the two were simultaneous is up to debate by food historians. Regardless, both brewer's yeast and sourdough have been used since ancient history. Until then, the breads were unleavened flat bread, and some cultures still rely on the unleavened breads in this century.
Wild Yeast is in the environment, and you'll notice that some days your sourdough is very reactive as it gathers those wild yeasts. Prospectors and explorers carried sourdough with them so they could make a leavened bread or biscuits.
It wasn't until the late 19th century that commercial yeasts were readily available, making it easier to create a pleasing loaf of leavened bread that was lighter in texture than sourdough bread. And not until the 1980s, that sourdough was once again revived, with the advent of more health-conscious individuals.
The 1864 recipe, was most obviously written from a resident of a progressive city that had access to the Brewer's Yeast, while the prospectors and pioneers were still using the tried and true Sourdough starter.
His diet was of wheaten bread.
Mixt with the rustic throng, see ruddy maids,
Some taught with dextrous hand to twirl the wheel,
To raise from leavened wheat the kneaded loaf.
Her bread is deemed such dainty fare,
That ev'ry prudent traveller
His wallet loads with many a crust.
Like the loaf in the Tub's pleasant tale,
That was fish, flesh, and custard, good claret and ale,
It comprised every flavor, was all and was each,
Was grape and was pineapple, nectarine and peach.
- 6 pounds of sifted flour
- 1 ounce of salt
- nearly 1/2 pint of fresh sweet yeast as it comes from the brewery
- warmed milk
Mix with the flour the salt, yeast, and a sufficient quantity of warmed milk to make the whole into a stiff dough, work and knead it well on a board, on which a little flour has been strewed, for fifteen or twenty minutes, then put it into a deep pan, cover it with a warmed towel, set it before the fire, and let it rise for an hour and a half or perhaps two hours; cut off a piece of this sponge or dough; knead it well for eight or ten minutes, together with flour sufficient to keep it from adhering to the board, put it into small tins, filling them three quarters full; dent the rolls all around with a knife, and let them stand a few minutes before putting them in the oven.
The remainder of the dough must then be worked up for loaves, and baked either in or out of shape.
A Poetical Cook-book (1864)
Another receipt from the Lady's Own Cookery Book (1844), called for 40 pounds of flour and handful of salt and a quart of yest and 3 quarts of water. Let us presume this was enough for a week worth of bread, or enough to feed a farm crew or ranch hands for a day or two. Mind you a pound of flour is equivalent to 4 cups, doing the math, I don't think the flour was scooped out by the cup or it would have taken all day just to scoop it out. Presuming that a flour scoop rather than a measuring cup was used, which is a little more than a cup measure, you would still be scooping it out a very long time to calculate 40 pounds of flour from a 100 pound sack. Ingredients were weighed rather than measured, regardless it would have taken a fair amount of time to scoop out the flour to weigh it, or a strong arm to heft the bag of flour to weigh out 40 pounds of it.
I love the vintage receipts and the insight to a simpler time and place. Though the above vintage recipe is as timely today as yesteryear if you have access to *sweet yeast as it comes from the brewery*, but making sourdough bread with the addition of yeast in my recipe below offers the flavor of sourdough and the lighter texture of a yeast bread. And even though sourdough lost popularity for much of the 20th century, our family has maintained a crock of sourdough for breads, biscuits and hotcakes that originated well over 150 years ago.
Pioneers had the bare essentials in bake ware and staple items, but bread was one thing always on the menu, and they had plenty of flour, salt and sourdough starter. Bread was most likely baked in their cast iron pans, not a fancy bread pan such as we would use today, and often the bread was baked in a bed of coals from a fire, rather than the convenience of an oven. This recipe is my rendition of what pioneer bread may have looked like, which today some call *Artisan* bread, but I prefer to call it Free-range, pioneer bread.
Free-Range Pioneer Bread
3 1/2 Cups flour
1 Cup Sourdough Starter
1 tsp salt
1 package yeast (this would not have been packaged loose, but in a cake or loaf)
1 1/2 Cups warm water
Oil, butter or Lard
Deep cast iron pan (cast iron chicken fryer is what I used)
Mix the flour and salt together. Make a well in the center and add the yeast. Pour the warm water over the yeast. Mix in the starter until all ingredients are incorporated. Cover and allow to set overnight. This is a very loose dough, so do not add more flour unless it is too fluid.
Grease a deep cast iron pan. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with cornmeal and a little flour. Roll the dough out of the bowl into the pan. Score the bread with a sharp knife Cover and allow to rise 2 hours. This is not a high rising dough, but should raise to the edge of the pan.
Bake at 400-425 degrees for 35-45 minutes. While warm, brush with melted butter and a light sprinkle of cornmeal if desired. Allow to cool for easier cutting.
Remember to replenish the sourdough with a cup of warm water and a cup of flour, and to keep it active, add a teaspoon of sugar. If not using for several days, refrigerate until ready to use.
* Refer to my instructions on making my simple sourdough starter if you do not have it on hand. http://justfowlingaround.weebly.com/recipes-for-self-reliance/category/how-to-make-and-use-sourdough-starter
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