Wednesday, December 24, 2008

About bread...

Bread is about as universal in time and geography as it gets. Flat breads go back thousands of years, and lighter yeast breads were often served on our 19th century ancestors' tables.

Just in time for the holiday season, here's an 1849 excerpt about bread from Victoria Rumble's OUTSTANDING compilation of historic foodways: Victoria's Home Companion (pp. 63-64)

"Bread made of wheat flour, when taken out of the oven, is unprepared for the stomach. It should go through a change or ripen before it is eaten. Young persons, or persons in the enjoyment of vigorous health may eat bread immediately after being baked, without any sensible injury from it; but weakly and aged persons cannot, and none can eat such without doing harm to the digestive organs. Bread, after being baked, goes through a change similar to the change in newly-brewed beer, or newly-churned buttermilk. During the change in bread it sends off a large portion of carbon, or unhealthy gas, and imbibes a large portion of oxygen, or healthy gas. Bread has, according to the computation of physicians, one fifth more nutrient in it when ripe, than it has when just out of the oven. It not only has more nutriment but imparts a much greater degree of cheerfulness. He that eats old ripe bread will have a much greater flow of animal spirits than he would were he to eat unripe bread. Bread, as before observed, discharges carbon, and imbibes oxygen. One thing in connection with this thought, should be particularly noticed by all housewives. It is to let the bread ripen where it can inhale the oxygen in a pure state. Bread will always taste of the air that surrounds it while ripening--hence it should ripen where the air is pure. It should never ripen in a cellar, nor in a close cupboard, nor in a bedroom. The noxious vapors of the cellar or a cupboard never should enter into and form a part of the bread we eat. Bread should be light, well baked, and properly ripened, before it should be eaten.

Bread that is several days old may be renewed so as to have all the freshness and lightness of new bread, by simply putting it into a common steamer over a fire, and steaming it half or three quarters of an hour. The vessel under the steamer, containing the water, should not be more than half full; otherwise the water may boil up in the steamer, and wet the bread. After the bread is thus steamed, it should be taken out of the steamer, and wrapped loosely in a cloth, to dry and cool, and remain so a short time, when it will be ready to be cut and used. It will then be like cold, new bread."

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