Tuesday, September 28, 2010


This evening I built a fire in the brick oven at the Kimball house in preparation for bake day tomorrow. Some people say that if you fire an oven too quickly it could crack the oven, so its best to build heat gradually. So we built a fire, and once the fire was built, naturally, we cooked a pizza. Yes, I know, pizza isn't a historically appropriate Pioneer food. But it was delicious. Watch for details about tomorrow's bake coming soon.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Let's Bake!

First, a big "Thank You" to my good friend Glenn for the redesign of the blog. We'll be adding some tabbed pages soon, and hope to diversify the experience. Out of curiosity, what do you think of the name? It comes from a Mormon pioneer woman who, upon reminiscing about her pioneer food, said, "Our food was plain but wholesome..." Also, thank you to Sherm for straightening out my understanding of sourdough, and introducing me to the fine folks at Sourdough International. Advert link coming soon.

But for the main business, I just wanted to invite all of my very closest friends to a baking session. On Wednesday next week (Sept. 29th) I will be baking at the Kimball home at This Is The Place Heritage Park. The home is a fairly decent reproduction of Heber Kimball's opulent downtown SLC home from the 1860s. There's a traditional wood-fired brick oven in the kitchen, and I'll be bringing my gi-normous dough trough. I think that from one firing we should be able to do three loads, maybe more than three dozen loaves. I'd love you to come and help!

I'll be starting the firing of the oven around 8a.m. and I hope to start kneading dough by 9a.m. I imagine we will have (some of) the loaves in the oven by 2p.m. and be all done by 5p.m. Perhaps we will do some lighter pastries after the oven has cooled a little. Anyone who comes to help gets to take home a loaf.

I hope that anyone interested might come join for a time, if not the day. There is a $6 admission, but I think it will be well worth it. Please RSVP in the comments if you plan to come. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sourdough, again...

I was looking through my King Arthur Flour catalog the other day, and they sell a sourdough culture which they claim goes back 200 years. It wasn't made exactly clear, but it seems they were saying that their culture has literally been culture-ing for that long. There was a slight nuance that might be interpreted to say, "this type of culture has been used in New England for 200 years."

So I was wondering... do any of you know of someone who has a sourdough culture to which they claim this sort of longevity? Maybe a culture which you can attribute to a Mormon pioneer seven generations ago? Or even a Daughter of the Revolution?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dough Trough

Today I made bread. My main ambition was to give this big dough trough a spin to see what it was all about. In a previous life I had done an oral history interview with a woman who worked as a cook on a ranch in the 1950s. She told me about baking a dozen loaves of bread every day for the ranch hands meals. I imagine she had to have a dough trough or something like it to work up that much dough. My grandmother did it on a big board on the table.

I started by multiplying my standard bread recipe which uses about eight cups of flour to make two 10-inch round loaves. I took this to the eighth power. Sixteen pounds of flour should do it. I had worked with twenty-five pounds before, but for that I had a Hobart floor mixer.

.I made a poolish last night to get the yeast going. This morning I mixed the poolish up with the remaining water and some flour to get the dough going. Here's the poolish just going into the flour
I was a little worried that the round bottom on the trough would be unweildy to work with. Once it got the weight of the dough however, it settled just fine.

I was also worried that it would be difficult to organize the dough in the trough. That wasn't a problem either. The volume was sized to fit the tool. Here's the dough after it came together.

I was also worried that kneading it would be difficult in such volume. In fact it might have been easier. I didn't knead it with the usual punch and pull. Instead I streched it out into a long flat mass, and then just kept folding the ends over again. I kneaded it for about 20 minutes once it came together. Here's the "window" test to show it well kneaded.

When it is well kneaded, you can stretch a small piece of dough until it gets thin enough to be opaque, so that you can see light through it, without tearing. Here's the dough after rising. I can't remember if I took this before or after I punched it down. Its a lot of dough.

If I had only done this much and no more, Dayenu. I really just wanted to figure out what was necessary to work with a large volume by hand. But once I had the dough, I thought I should bake it. I had to borrow bread pans from two neighbors. If I ever get to bake on a hearth in large volume, I'll have to have more brotforms for rising loaves. Making the loaves turned out to be the most tedious task. I weighed each loaf for consistency.

While the loaves were rising I had a little extra dough, so I made a pepperoni pizza.

So anyway, my oven holds 4 loaves at a time. I made sixteen loaves. Some turned out quite lovely, others stuck to the pan and had to be torn out. Some I'll give to neighbors, others will be made into croutons. This was a lot of bread.

So based on this, I think I could do even larger volumes. It mostly depends on having enough forms for rising. A bigger oven would be helpful. And it might be nice if I had a little help. All in all, it was an interesting lesson in volumes. I think that for the most part, the pioneer accounts I've read talk about larger volumes than just a daily serving.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


On Saturday we went to This Is The Place Heritage Park to make sauerkraut. Thousands of Mormon pioneers from Switzerland, Germany and other parts of Europe made sauerkraut from cabbages they grew once they reached Utah. Elsewhere on the blog I believe I've posted a recipe from pioneer Mary Helm. Today I just want to share photos of our adventure...

Here you see a row of cabbages dwarfed by yellow summer squash. The squash was planted late, so the cabbage had plenty of time to find its roots before it was overtaken.

Here's my hand reaching out to cut a cabbage.

Just for sense of scale... beautiful, don't you think?

First step is to peel off all the outer leaves. We found plenty of slugs and even a black widow lurking inside.

The heads all cleaned. I felt so proud of the harvest! They were bigger than any I've seen at the grocery store.

I used this old fashioned cabbage cutter over a bowl to slice it thin after quartering the heads. It didn't have all the pieces, and it sorta worked.

My good wife preferred to use a knife and cutting board, and it seemed to be just as efficient.

Next we added salt to the shredded cabbage. We used one pound and a little bit more for 45 pounds of cabbage. It worked out to about one tablespoon or a little extra for each head. After letting it sit for a few minutes in the salt (tossing the shreds to distribute) we pounded it with the poundy pounder to bruise the shreds and work the salt in.

After a good deal of pounding, the cabbage began to yield its water. We started thinking it would work into the three gallon crock. It soon exceeded the crock.

So we began adding the pounded shreds to a five gallon bucket, and mixing it thoroughly to incorporate the emerging brine to evenly distribute. In the end, we filled the bucket. After we took it home, it continued to exude more water content, and filled the bucket to overflowing with brine.

Now at home we have it weighted down with a plate and a weight on top of the plate. The kraut has to stay submerged in the brine to keep it isolated from airborne contaminants. We check it each day and clean out any suspect-looking crud. It should be done in about a month. It has begun to have a fairly funky smell, but the smell mostly stays downstairs with all the other funky old-house smells.

Its that simple!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

'Tis the Season...

Dear Friends,

I just harvested ten large heads of cabbage from the garden. Headed now to Pioneer Town to make sauerkraut. Watch for an extended photo-documentary soon!


p.s. also coming soon, the folks at Pioneer Town said I could use the beehive oven for a bread adventure. Maybe a video documentary for that adventure...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jealous Much?

Now brace yourself. Remember the "don't covet" commandment. I just want to share my latest bit of excitement.

My good buddy Cody (see previous posts) was driving down the road one day and there was a traveling flea market selling antiques from Europe. Among other things, there were several dough troughs. You may have seen dough bowls before, but these were troughs. And of course, he bought one for me. Here's a photo or two...

So how much flour do you think such a trough would hold? How many loaves would come out of it? How big an oven would one need to bake the loaves as they come, before they blow out from rising too much? I have half a mind to buy twenty pounds of flour just to see how it works, even if I can't actually bake it all efficiently.

And the best part...guess how much it cost?

Nope. You're all wrong.


Hahahahahahaha!!!! Isn't Cody the best?