Country Yeast-Raised Bread

The sight and scent of a newly baked loaf have a romantic apeal which transcends all other Culinary Achievements. William Cobbett, chronicler of things English and rural circa 1830, expressed the traditional view of the English Victorian male: ” Give me for a beautiful sight, a neat and smart woman, heating her oven and setting in her bread! And, if the bustle does make the sign of labour glisten on her brow, where is the man that would not kiss that off, rather than lick the plaster from the cheek of a duchess?” (Rural Rides, William Cobbett,1830)

My grandmother remembers her own family’s pre-1914 baking day somewhat more realistically:

Our own wheat from our fields was taken to the miller to be ground into flour, and the miller kept a proportion for his services. More of the flour went to the baker as payment for the use of the oven.

Bread was made at home once a week, and it never went bad. Never. It went dry of course, but it had a wonderful rough texture that did you good. The oven was communal,a small brick building, no longer used, but still there, on one side of the square.

Our mother rose at 2am to start the leaven. At five, while the oven was being heated with a fire of wood and sagebrush, a crier would go round the neighbouring streets calling: ” ladies, time to make your bread.” All the ladies would knead and pummel.

when the oven was good and hot and the fire had burned down, the Master baker scraped out the ashes and hot embers so that the floor would be clean for the bread. By then the ladies were ready with their big family loaves, oval or round, plump and well-risen and ready for the heat. Such Bread!

The Recipe

7 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 tablespoon dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup each milk and water

2 tablespoons lard or butter


you will need a large bowl and a griddle or a heavy iron frying pan or a plan.

Sift the flour with the salt into a warm bowl . Mix the yeast to a liquid with sugar and the milk and water, warmed to body temperature.

rub the lard or butter into the flour, make a well in the centre, and pour in as much of the yeast liquid as you need to make a soft dough and put aside in a warm place for an hour to double in bulk.

Punch the dough down, knuckling well with your fists to distribute the working yeast. Mood the dough into a flat round loaf an inch thick. Leave it to rise again for 15to20 minutes. Put on a moderately hot, lightly greased plan, heavy iron frying pan or griddle. Bake gently for 20minutes.

If the plan is too hot, the crust will burn before the crumb is cooked.

split and eat hot with butter.



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