The Coarse Cheat, Maison Rustique, 1619, Gervase Markham, ed.

(Notes for my talk on the Markham edition of Maison Rustique March 31, 2022)

” the next to this is course cheate bread, the which is made of the coursest meale as being boulted as cleane from the branne as it can possibly be got, and the boulter which is for this purpose must bee a course searse or a fine temze: this bread must be made light with leuen onely, neither is it much materiall how spungie or open it appeares; for this kind of bread is euer to be puft vp and made to appeare in as great quantitie as possible it may bee: “

“Course cheat” is the third bread that Markham describes in the Maison Rustique. — The best bread is the manchet, followed by cheat, followed by this course cheat.

I interpret “the coarsest meal as being boulted as clean from the branne as it can possibly be got” refers to a flour that leaves as much bran behind as is practical, which means retaining 100% of the endosperm. – the fine flour along with the middlings. This describes a flour that is around 80% extraction from a #1 grade 60# per bushel wheat. it is a basic household flour, This is the lowest grade white flour. It produces a bread with a crumb similar to white breads, but it is way too brown to call white.

This is my favorite grade of flour. It is an excellent flour for everyday. Some years ago I bought sieves in a hardware store in Jaipur, India, that are used by many women for making chapati. This is the grade of flour that is produced with my Indian sieves.

There are two parts of this text that are important. The first part is when he says that the bread is always leavened with leaven, but not yeast. Is this true? Is there a fixed idea at this time that super white manchet grade flours along with lesser grades of flour, not quite “white as snow” but still whitish, are made into yeasted breads while sourdough is always used with brownish bread — even when made with a flour that is lacking bran?

It is a big confusing to me that this text is an English author taking over a French text. Is it an accurate take away from this text that this grade flour, which will have been very common, was always leavened with sourdough in England in the first decades of the 17th century?

The documented use of sourdough in English breads is sparse. All the assize breads were yeasted. These are the breads produced under price controls. William Ellis, writing in the 1750s, unambiguously describes sourdough being used by the women in poorer farming families when they make bread. Is this the same tradition we are seeing here? The flour described here — one that is without bran but includes the middlings along with the finest starch makes breads that have a taste and texture profile that works with sophisticated meals — in contrast to denser whole meal breads that are not really compatible with fine dining.

There is no tradition of sourdough recipes in English cookbooks. There are not enough recipes in a three-hundred year period to even suggest a living tradition. For Markham to make this statement, however, we need to assume that he is referring to a living tradition. But, it is truly difficult to evaluate this given the paucity of other information.

The other part of this passage that is important reads, “neither is it much materiall how spungie or open it appeares; for this kind of bread is euer to be puft vp and made to appeare in as great quantitie as possible it may bee.” This is the first and only reference in the English bread literature that I know of in which an open sponge-like crumb is mentioned. I am thinking that what we are seeing here is a reference to home-baked bread — female baked bread — and that it was easier for the home baker to work soft dough. This flour was cheaper than the fine flours, but made bread that fit within the hierarchy of better breads. A whole meal bread is never “spongie.” You can’t get big air holes into whole meal bread.

I think that we may be finding out way to seeing cookbook recipes as largely breads from the commercial tradition in which a stiff dough is easier to work and thus the recipes make fine textured crumbs vs breads made by home cooks which might be so wet that they are kneaded with the arms which are wet prior to kneading so the dough doesn’t stick.

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