Bread Bakers, Listen Up!

In the old days (say the mid-1850s), the rural family baker had a flour barrel. From it she – you can be sure it was a she – made bread, pancakes, biscuits, and any other “breadish” baked goods. The barrel was not only her storage place for maybe a hundred pounds of flour, but it also served as her mixing bowl.

When she wanted to make bread, she removed the barrel’s lid, made a small “well” in the flour, and then poured in the rest of the ingredients. Careful mixing allowed the liquids to pick up the necessary flour, and when enough flour was absorbed to make a dough of the proper consistency, the baker would remove it and replace the lid on the flour barrel. The initial mixing complete, she could knead the dough on the table and then let it rise according to whatever recipe she was following.

I have baked a good many loaves of homemade bread, but pouring the liquid ingredients for a couple of loaves into my month’s supply of flour would make me pretty nervous, especially if I was depending on that bread as a mainstay of all three of the family’s daily meals every day of the week. Great-grandma could have showed me how, but she’s just looking at me thoughtfully from her old oval frame, seeming to wonder why I wouldn’t rather use a bread machine.


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