Colonial Kitchen // Simple Common Bread
Did you see our little poll on Instagram? I've really been wanting to cook with a theme lately. The issue with that is: where do you even start?! If you know me, you know that I am huge history buff. I love learning about other cultures, ways of living, food + drink + dress + housekeeping + child bearing from people of the past. It's interesting, enlightening, and usually laughable. I mean, I love knowing that someone out there figured out how to make bread! Where did that even begin? Whomever it was that made the discovery, thank you. I am ecstatic that it happened because I cannot imagine living without bread.
If you saw our poll, then you know that I was struggling between the decision of following Medieval or Colonial cooking. I love both periods very much, and it was just too difficult to make a decision. Apparently it wasn't easy for our followers as well because the results came out at a tie, and most of them were saying, "Do both!" Well... maybe I will! For now, I think I am going to follow Colonial cooking. The reason for this is because we feel a bit more connected to that era. Quite of few of our ancestors were some of the first settlers in the American Colonies. Yes! For the past few years I have been tracking our family history on Ancestry.com (this is not a sponsored post; I just really love tracking our genealogy). While I am stuck in a few places, I have discovered a lot of my ancestors on both sides ended up living in the same place as one another. How weird is that?! Along with connecting to our family tree, we are also hoping to make our way to Colonial Williamsburg and other historical sites on the east coast this spring! Colonial cooking seemed extremely fitting. If you were hoping for Medieval themed cooking, don't worry, I might pick that up at some point, too!
How does one begin researching colonial style cooking? First you might need an update on when the colonial period was and how people were living at the time. I don't plan on dumping a bunch of information on you all at once, but know that I love research and I'll probably be sticking little history lessons throughout. Today, I want to talk about the period, how bread was baked, and also my own ancestors!
Colonization in America happened between the 16th and 18th centuries. Historians place it between 1607-1776, but we know that countries like Spain, France, and England were beginning to colonize eastern North America in the late 1500s. Personally, I would like to focus my attention right now around 1640-50, which was when a few of my ancestors were born - the first to be born in the new world. For a long time, we thought that our bloodline hailed from Germany and Switzerland - which it does - but that's what our relatives had told us. It was easy to know that my great grandfather was born in Germany - he told me himself! What was interesting to find was that the ancestors on my maternal grandmother's side all came from England, and not only that, they were some of the first settlers in their place of birth, Southold, New York.
Southold is a small village located on Long Island, the very first English settlement to be established on the island. English Puritan, Reverend John Young, founded the village and brought his followers with him, many hailing from the neighboring village of New Haven, Connecticut across the water. Southold was under the supervision of the Connecticut Colony until 1674. In 1635, my direct ancestor John Tuthill was born in Salem, Massachusetts and was part of one of the original families to live in Southold. Pretty cool! Another direct ancestor, Captain James Reeves, was also logged as a member of the founding community. Within that community, many of the men were farmers and clergymen. They farmed the land (only 54 square miles!) with wheat, corn, and rye while the women tended to potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and melons. The town of Southold was unique as they had a very close union of church and state, often severely beating and banishing members who disagreed with them (you can read more about that here). John Tuthill III, the great grandson of John Tuthill, along with his son Francis were listed as patriots during the Revolution near Southold for fighting against their commanding officers and were often punished, along with several other families, including sons born to the Reeves, though not my direct ancestors.
After discovering all of this information, I couldn't help but keep digging deeper and deeper. I was so fascinated to find that my direct ancestors were Puritans along with becoming Patriots. Amazing! So much has changed about how our family sustains since then, though I think being a patriot is somehow branded into your blood. I then began looking into what the common man would have eaten. Most meals in the colonies were made up of bread and porridge, then meat and vegetables (oh, and beer. lots of beer). Those were the staples, and bread was difficult to make. Most grain + salt was milled by hand, making the bread coarse, and cornmeal was what most bread was made out of. Because it was so time consuming, bread was usually made once a week and lots of it was baked at one time. It was baked in a beehive oven, most likely shared by the community, which were about three by five feet and took four hours to heat over an open flame. Maple sugar or syrup was used to sweeten the bread.
Today, I am going to show you how to make a simple white bread for us commoners - LOL! I really just want this series to be a fun way to see what they ate then, modernize it a bit (because we won't be baking in a beehive oven - sorry!!!), and enjoy where our food comes from! Having a fresh garden will help tie into that as well. This year we are sticking to our guns and becoming as sustainable as possible and waste free. I think my next attempt at colonial bread will be a bit more authentic - Rye 'n' Injun!
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 tsp salt
- 4 cups flour
- In an electric mixer, dissolve the sugar in the water. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let sit, without stirring, for 15 minutes. When the yeast has fluffed up and activated, carefully stir it in and the salt.
- Slowly begin to incorporate the flour, mixing with a dough hook on low speed. Once incorporated, increase the speed and beat for a few minutes until combined and dough begins to form. This dough is extremely sticky!
- Transfer the dough to greased bowl and turn it over once or twice to coat all sides in oil. **Because it is so sticky, this may be a bit messy! Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm spot free from drafts for 1.5 hours or until doubled in size.
- Punch down the dough and separate it into the vessels you wish to bake it in. You do not have to knead the dough. I chose four little oven safe ramekins. It's going to turn into a giant bread ball, so have fun! Cover and let rise again for 30 minutes.
- Preheat your oven to 425. Brush your bread with melted butter. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375. Bake for another 15 minutes. Done!
So tasty, so fluffy. This bread is incredibly easy to make - you really can't fail! Especially considering you don't have to knead or shape it. I can see how this could have been an easy bread to make at the time. Because these turned out so perfectly sized for one person, we ate ours individually with our stew last night. It was a really great pull apart bread! You could bake it in a crock or in a bread pan. The options are quite endless - I would make this everyday it was so simple!
I found this recipe originally here if you'd like to check it out! Have fun making your bread. This is perfect for a beginner!