Read to the bottom for today's give-away.
In the course of experimenting with the sourdough cultures I was struck with the sophistication of food-related bacteria cultures in pioneer food. The sourdough culture requires particular feeding and fermentation temperatures. It took some doing for me to get it right; it must have been even more difficult for pioneers. Or maybe they just weren't so fussy because they didn't know all the delicate details.
To get the necessary temperature control for fermentation I followed Dr. Wood's instruction for making a fermentation box. Basically you take a cheap-o styrofoam cooler, add a light bulb and a dimmer switch on an extension cord. Come to think of it, I should use this for proofing all my loaves, sourdough or not. Here's a couple of photos.
In the future I might buy a larger cooler. Dr. Wood recommends using a flame-tip bulb instead of the 100 watt that I used. My bulb tends to get too warm. When I dim it down, it goes out. A smaller wattage or a smaller bulb would work better.
Of course sourdough is just one example of a fermented food from pioneer times. As I got thinking about it, this fermentation box is the perfect answer for salt-rising bread, which has to ferment at 115F. Sauerkraut, on the other hand, ferments well at 75, though its tolerance for higher temperatures does better than sourdough. Fermented pickles work on a similar principle. Bread generally requires yeast cultures of some sort. Fermented sausages are another example of bacteria cultures at work. Who can forget the natural yeasting of apple cider? And so on.
In short, bacteria and yeast cultures played a huge role in many nineteenth century foodways. Achieving the specific temperature controls seems to be a tricky thing for a modern home kitchen. The sophistication of Mormon pioneer foodways continues to astound me.
Today's Give-away: Congrats to Sherm for winning the last contest. Jana and MissC both come in as runners-up. If the three of you would send your mailing info to pioneerfoodie at gmail dot com we will work out your prizes.
TODAY I am giving away a pound of raw honey harvested from hives that feasted on the summer wildflowers in New York's Adirondac hills. How to win, you ask? Get a friend or two to add this blog as a "follower". You introduce them to us in the comments section. On your marks, get set, go!