Saturday, February 21, 2009

All about YEAST!

So then, y'all may have seen my recent appearance in the DesNews via "Mormon Times". You can see the whole article here. Basically it was a rehash of the Brigham Young doughnuts I posted a month ago. I was rather flattered with all the new hits that showed up here on the blog. Thanks to all my new friends. I hope you might tell me what sort of historical foodways you'd be interested in reading. I'd be happy to drum up a bit of new research for an appreciative audience.

But back to the doughnuts... they spent a little effort looking into the saleratus issue. Bancroft's History of Utah says that the pioneers used naturally occurring saleratus (like a natural form of soda) gathered near Independence Rock in Wyoming. Bancroft says this was their exclusive leavening for the first five years in Utah. I'm not sure I buy that... why would they suddenly be robbed of a technology they were familiar with before they came to Utah?

At any rate, it got me thinking about the yeast issue again, so here's a short bit of information on yeast. Naturally, the pioneers didn't have Fleishmans' dry active yeast to work with. Individual pioneers kept their own yeast cultures in spite of very inaccurate understanding of microbiology. Pioneer Regina Erickson remembered her mother's stoneware crock where she "used to keep a start of live yeast, set on top of the coal stove warming oven near the back where the temperature was right. I remember licking off the bubbles of yeast as the jar overflowed, and it tasted good.”

The DesNews gives us some specifics about how this culture could be sustained. Naturally, you'd have to have a bit of yeast to begin with, and then this could be multiplied over time, and replenished as it was used. On Nov. 30, 1854, the DesNews published these directions for maintaining a yeast culture:
“To Make Yeast: Hop yeast may be most conveniently made in the following manner: Boil a double handful of hops in a gallon of pure soft water for fifteen or twenty minutes; strain off the liquor while scalding hot; stir in wheat meal or flour till a thick batter is formed; let it stand till it becomes blood warm; add a pint of good lively fresh yeast, and stir it well; then let it stand at a place where it will keep at a temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, till it becomes perfectly light. This yeast will keep from one to two weeks, if corked tight in a clean earthen jug, and kept in a cool cellar.”

A strikingly similar direction is given in the Deseret Cookbook (1981). Though these early settlers knew next to nothing about microbiology, they still managed to propagate yeast for baking. Some bakers bought their yeast instead of culturing it themselves. Both bakeries and beer breweries in Salt Lake City advertised yeast for sale to home bakers and brewers in the 1850s.

So there ya go... a bit of history about yeast. Someone go give it a try and let us know how it goes!


Snickerdoodle said...

I am so glad to find your blog via the Deseret News article. I have been looking for pioneer and early settlers recipes and like you said, they are hard to find. I would like to find out what they ate and how they managed to survive with so little. I am interested in their more common foods as well as any wild foods they may have collected. Thank you

Brock said...

Well then I'm glad you found us here! Hope the new post gets you started on the wild foods...