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Monday, January 20, 2014

Colonial Baking with the 17th Century English Housewife

When the English housewives stepped onto the shore in New England in the early 1600's, they missed their pippins, cream, butter and honey. Most of
all they missed their English wheat. Corn was the native crop, and the Indians generously shared their knowledge of planting, harvesting and preparing the golden kernels.

The immigrants wasted no time to plant their own crops of wheat with the seeds they brought from England, but it did not take well to the colder New England climate and the colonists soon discovered their survival depended on adapting. They could plant more corn per acre, and with less work. 

Grinding the corn into samp, as the Native Americans did, boiling water could be added for a porridge or pudding. 

Still, the colonial cook could not forget the beautiful wheat dough she pounded

and molded into beautiful loaves. Bread made with ground corn was flat, heavy and coarse. And so once again she adapted. She stretched her small stores of wheat and rye flour with the addition of the more abundant corn meal.

The early thirded bread, named for the three grains, was leavened with barm, or ale yeast, and baked in a round loaf. Boston brown bread is a later adaptation, using baking soda to leaven, and steam to cook the round loaf. 

It wasn't long before English cows were imported, and the English housewife could add milk to her samp porridge. So the next time you pour milk over your cornflakes, think of those brave colonial ladies who adjusted to a New World!

Here's a recipe for thirded bread, easy to adapt for today's kitchen!

Colonial Thirded Bread

1 cup wheat flour                1 teaspoonful salt
1 cup rye flour                    3 teaspoonful sugar
1 cup corn meal                  1/2 cup ale yeast 

Scald milk and cool. Mix your flours and meal together, then pour in milk until stiff enough to hold shape. Put the dough in the mounding board and set in a warm place overnight. In the morning, cut a criss-cross in the risen bread to give it one last spring and place in a hot oven.


A colonial oven was usually located outdoors, heated by a fire. After clearing out the hot coals, the dough would be placed directly on the floor of the oven with a shovel-like tool called a peel. The minute the oven door was opened the oven began to cool down, so the bread would need to bake for about 3 or 4 hours.






Rebecca DeMarino's passion of family, history, travel and writing collided when she boarded a plane with her mother and flew to Horton Point, Long Island and discovered her roots. Her debut novel, A PLACE IN HIS HEART, releases from Revell this June, book #1 of The Southold Chronicles. For more information please contact her at www.rebeccademarino.com and www.facebook.com/AuthorRebeccaDeMarino 

8 comments:

  1. Very nice, Rebecca. I bake my own sourdough English Muffins and Irish Soda bread regularly. You have a very cool rustic kitchen if I may say so myself.

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    1. BTW I'd love to be able to bake my own sourdough English Muffins! How yummy!

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    2. What a fun opportunity to work in a colonial kitchen and make colonial fare.

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  2. Thanks, Janet! I wish that was my kitchen! I was actually at the Alice Ross Hearth Studio, where she gave me personal lesson in 17th Century cooking and maintaining a hearth fire!! We baked three kinds of bread and preserved orange rinds, as well as roasting a fat chicken in the hearth! She's located on Long Island,
    where my book's setting is.

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  3. Rebecca, very interesting. The Colonial Thirded Bread sounds good, but I would leave out the rye as I don't care for it. That is a long time to bake bread. I do bake my own bread, but it has been awhile. My husband loves whole wheat onion bread. If I bake it, then I eat it; otherwise I don't eat much bread.
    Blessings, Tina

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    1. It did take a long time to bake in the 17th century LOL! Thank goodness for modern ovens! There is nothing better than fresh baked bread, though, is there? :o)

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  4. Rebecca,I don't see the amount of milk used in that recipe. I would probably drive to Long Island to be able to use that kitchen. What a dream! Thanks for sharing. I have never had corn type porridge unless you count grits and even so I'm a northerner so it seems to only happen on vacation!

    Lovely post, Rebecca! I'm looking forward to getting to know you and hearing more about your writing and your new release!
    Stay Warm!

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    1. Thank you so very much, Debra! The milk in the recipe calls for just enough to make a stiff dough. The bakers in the bakers in the 17th century relied much more on taste, smell and texture for he amount of an ingredient! I'm preparing to relaunch my website that is under going a make-over and my blog will be featuring the research I did while writing my debut novel! I plan on including 17th century recipes such as this with a printable modernized version for each. I'm thrilled to be here on Colonial Quills and the chance to know all the lovely ladies (and gents) who write and visit here!

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