Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Idealised Past; Home-Baking Edition

This may be the greatest slogan ever for a baker: "Staff of Life at a fair and equitable price".

Classified Advertising. (1803, September 18). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842), p. 4. Retrieved August 19, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article625784

The internet is full of people justifying their choices by referring to an idealised version of the past - whether the Palaeolithic period or the 1950s. The choice to bake bread at home is often justified by the belief that this is the way bread has been baked from time immemorial up until just before the wretchedly decadent present day.

It may surprise you, then, to read the opening lines of the following article from 1870:
THE BEST WAY TO MAKE HOME-MADE BREAD.-Some of our readers who may reside in the country, at a dis- tance from a good baker, may not be unwilling to try a method of making bread, which can be confidently re- commended from many years' experience of its excellence.
Household Recipes. (1870, August 27). Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907), p. 21. Retrieved August 19, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70461620

There are two reasons why many people in the colonial era chose to outsource their bread production to the local baker.

The first was that many poorer households didn't have an oven, or the fuel to run their oven just to make bread. The second was the sheer amount of labour that went into running a household in the era before vacuum cleaners, washing machines and dishwashers. Women welcomed any way of reducing the burden of keeping everybody fed, clothed and clean. If you want to know just what could be involved in making bread without instant yeast, take a look at the recommended process in the article quoted above.

So does this mean that you shouldn't bake your own bread, because your great-great-great grandmother probably didn't?

Of course not. There are many reasons to bake your own bread, including having control over the ingredients, producing a superior loaf to your local branch of Baker's Delight, or enjoying the chance to take out some of your frustrations during the of the kneading process. I'm a big fan of a home-made loaf myself. But, unfortunately home-baking friends, we cannot claim that we are replicating a lost era where everyone shared our craft.