I'm sorry for not getting back to this blog until now! It's been a busy three months. I'll be back to trying these old recipes again soon, including cakes, cookies, breads and rolls. While I was leafing through the cookbook, I discovered a couple of recipes for homemade yeast. How neat is that?? I thought I'd share it with you, so here's a little history lesson on making yeast back in the 1840s!
Just a little background:
Commercially-produced yeast became readily available during the 1860s, according to various sources. Dates vary, but in general, before this time women had to make their own yeast for baking purposes. Yeast is actually in the air we breathe every day, but capturing it and creating a useable form of yeast is another matter entirely. It would take several days to try and capture the yeast, and sometimes it didn't work. However, when it was captured, it was used over and over again (think Amish friendship bread starter). To make it keep for longer amounts of time, people started to form the captured yeast into cakes that could be shaved off and measured. There are a few websites that I've come across that give a little more information on capturing yeast, and some instructions on trying to capture it today. Their methods are not much different from those of the past:
Chickens in the Road
The Fresh Loaf
Now, here are the recipes from my 1845 book:
Boil one pound of good flour, a quarter of a pound of brown sugar, and a little salt, in two gallons of water, for one hour. When milk-warm, bottle it and cork it close, and it will be fit for use in twenty-four hours. One pint of the yeast will make eighteen lbs. of bread.
29. Yeast Cakes.
To have good yeast in summer is a desirable object with every housewife. She may have such, by the following simple process: ---
Boil a single handful of hops (which every farmer can and ought to raise, to the extent of household wants) in two or three quarts of water; strain and thicken the liquor, when hot, with rye flour; then add two or three small yeast cakes, to set the mass. If this is done at evening, it will be fit for use early next morning. Reserve a pint of this yeast, which thicken with Indian meal, make into small cakes the size of crackers, and dry them in the shade for future use. In this way the yeast is always fresh and active. Yeast cakes kept a long time are apt to become rancid, and lose their virtues. The fresher the cakes, the better the yeast.
While I don't plan to try to make the yeast or cakes from scratch at this time, I might attempt it in the future. If anyone out there tries this and has success, I'd love to hear about it!