A fifteen minute period will be set aside for attendees to show and talk about historic American breads. You may work from your own recipes or use ones I suggest. I have not tested all of these – so might also look at other versions by searching on the recipe names and/or ingredients. Please keep searches to 1899 or earlier. I am a little behind, as usual, so well be adding to this throughout Monday, the 24th.
More specifically, for the bread sharing I want to focus on cornbreads and 19th century breads that either are for types of breads we rarely, if ever, see made anymore, like the 19th century multi-grained brown breads. I think we should also look at 19th century white bread recipes that include sugar and/or oil. Both of those ingredients seem to be American innovations. Should you know of non-American 19th century wheat breads with sugar or oil in the recipes please share the source in the comments, below! “French rolls” always had some butter in them so for this analysis, I am referring to the addition of oil, rather than butter in bread recipes.
Ingredients: Yeast. American breads in the beginning of the 19th century were made with yeast acquired from the brewer, as was the 17th- and 18th-century practice. Commercial yeast is an appropriate substitute as the yeast species is the same as that used for brewing beer. Women living in isolated farmhouses would buy yeast in town and then extend it by making a yeast nutrient solution. They would use thus between trips to town — and never for more than a few weeks. I am including a typical recipe for this homemade yeast recipe. It always includes hops, so if you are interested in this starter, you will need hops. Lastly, by the second half of the 19th century commercial yeast was becoming common. This was sold as cake yeast and was commonly available by the last decades of the century.
Ingredients: Cornmeal. There are two forms of corn — dent and flint. Dent corn has a small dent in the seed while flint corn does not. The differences between a dent and flint corn become obvious when the corn dries. Popcorn and the colorful corns sold as “Indian corn” around Thanksgiving time in contemporary America are flint corns. As the name suggests they are hard — flinty. Dent corn is more starchy and is the most common corn used for pozole and cornmeal.
Ingredients: Molasses. Molasses was part of the trade in enslaved Africans. New England, as the center of American shipping was at the center of the transportation of enslaved Africans to the Caribbean. They dropped their human cargo and came back with molasses which fed a large rum distillery business. It was inexpensive, widely sold, and common in cornmeal dishes, including cornbread, and in some other breads, as
Recipes Start Here
Virginia Ash Cake. Add a teaspoonful of salt to a quart [four liters] of sifted corn meal. Make up with water and knead well. Make into round, flat cakes. Sweep a clean place on the hottest part of the hearth. Put the cake on it and cover it with hot wood ashes.
Wash and wipe it dry, before eating it. Sometimes a cabbage leaf is placed under it, and one over it, before baking, in which case it need not be washed.—Mrs. S. T.
This recipe for ash cakes from Marion Cabell Tyree’s, Housekeeping in Old Virginia, Louisville, KY, 1879 includes this incredibly basic cornbread. Not only is the recipe made with no adornment — nothing but flour, water, and salt, but it is baked in covered in the ashes of the fireplace, or baked in the ashes in a cabbage leaf. If making this in your oven a workaround for ash baking could be wrapping in a cabbage leaf and bake that in salt. Salt under and over in a hot oven. Note that the meal is sifted, so if you make your own this is not whole meal. Also, I strongly advise missing with boiling water rather than cold water. That this recipe is in a cookbook in the 1870s attests to some real poverty.
CORN MEAL BREAD. Rub a piece of butter the size of an egg into a pint [500 ml] of corn meal, make a batter with two eggs and some new milk, add a spoonful of yeast, set by the fire an hour to rise butter little pans and bake it. The Virginia house-wife: method is the soul of management, Mary Randolph, Virginia, 1824 and many many many many editions up to the Civil War.
This is an important cookbook. People will have read this recipe in very large numbers. She was a best-selling author is the southern recipe. Not necessarily different from Northern one, but when it comes to cornbread these recipes largely disappear from Northern cookbooks in the second half of the 19th century. I think this one is worth trying I said to the east of cornbread, which is not super common in the cookbook literature