Bread formed a large part of our diet in the old days, and it was always available, more so in winter when food was scarcer and bellies needed to be filled.
I made all our bread, and made the yeast starters that gave it a lovely rise.
Making the starter was easy. My sister used potatoes, but I preferred apples to grow my yeast. I’d cut up a couple of peeled apples and put them in a jar with a tablespoon of sugar and half a jar of warm water. There, that was difficult wasn’t it?
Keeping the jar in a warm place, mine went under the range, the apples start to ferment and bubble, you can tell it’s done when it smells a little yeasty! not very scientific but it works.
When its ready it got moved into the scullery (kitchen) where it was cooler. It can be used as it is once its well fermented, as long as you warm the required amount first.
Or, you can make a dough starter.
Put some of the fermented liquid in a bowl and mix it with some flour and leave when it gets warm and starts to rise put a pinch of salt in to stop the dough going sour. Then I would put it under the range overnight. It would be three times as big by next morning, far too much to use for my three daily loaves so half of it got put back in the scullery, covered with a tea cloth.
The starter dough gets mixed with the flour and water to make the bread and the rest lasts for about a week, but it never lasted that long at Knowle Cottage. Once you have made the starter dough you can just keep it going.
To keep the starter dough going it needs to be fed. A cup of milk, a cup of water and a cup of flour and back under the range it would go, salt added when it starts to heat up, and then back to the scullery and so on. That way you never run out. You must add salt though on days you don’t use it, just a pinch unless you like sour bread.
Sometimes things went wrong and the starter dough would be no use, like when I found the boys had broken it into bits and flicked the lumps up onto the scullery ceiling. I heard the whooping and hollering, they were seeing whose fell down first.
One lump never did, it was still there all those years later when I moved out!
The bread made with a homegrown starter has a very distinctive flavour, not of the fruit you made it with but it is different. The moist blocks of yeast that had always been available in town (30 miles away) made it to our village shop (4 miles away) in the late ’40’s and it took away a huge amount of work. Cut a chunk off, warm water and sugar…marvellous, I loved it.
Ern complained of course, and the taste was a little different but the time saved, and the flour and milk saved from making my own starter dough amounted to quite a bit over the year, and like I said to Ern, all those cups of flour and milk feeding it adds up to a lot of extra loaves…that changed his mind.
I’m sure you know, but American soldiers were given dried yeast, tiny little grains in packets, I got some swapped for fresh milk. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to use, the rise wasn’t quite so good but it was wonderful to have something that stored so well.
We tasted pineapple for the first time courtesy of the United States Army…but that’s another story.