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Making Bread From Barm

Jonathan Townsend

Posted on November 03 2016

Transcript of Video:

We’re here today again at Genesee Country Village and Museum and they’ve got a great episode for me today. We’re making bread with barm. Thanks for joining us today on 18th Century Cooking.

[Jon] I’m here today with Peggy Roll. She’s the hired cook here in this house and she’s going to show me exactly how to make bread with barm. So, I can’t help but notice, this is a huge kitchen. Can you tell me a bit about the house and maybe even the kitchen?

[Peggy] Alright, well this house was built in downtown Rochester in 1827 a miller, Mr. Livingston, and it was right after the Eerie Canal came through around 1825, and so a lot of wealth was coming into this area and he could afford to have a big house like this, but then the mill started moving west and he became bankrupt and so he sold the house to a Dr. Backus in the 30’s and Dr. Backus lived here. He was the second Doctor to come into the Rochester area and he lived here until the 50’s and he had a hired cook, and that’s me. He became a state senator later on too, so Dr. Backus and his wife, I’m sure, were doing a fair amount of entertaining, and I would have been cooking for them.

[Jon] Yeah, this is an amazing, amazing kitchen, you know, fully equipped, nice and large with this wonderful…

[Peggy] We have a lovely bread oven that we use and she probably would have baked once or twice a week and baked the breads and pies and cakes and everything for the family.

[Jon] Great. So, let’s talk a little bit about this barm and getting it ready for baking bread. What do we have here?

[Peggy] Well, I got some barm from the local brewery

[Jon] Right

[Peggy] and I was able to make a liquid starter from it, and so what I did was, I started out with a little bit of flour, add a little bit of cold water just to mix it up and added two quarts of boiling water.

[Jon] Okay

[Peggy] And then I added some brown sugar and I let that cool down.

[Jon] Ah, Mmhm.

[Peggy] I had to cool it down, because otherwise it would have killed my yeast.

[Jon] Right.

[Peggy] And then I added 4 tablespoons of my fresh barm and stirred it up and I put it in front of the fire overnight and then the next day we can use that for our bread.

[Jon] So there’s more that we need to know about barm. I’m going to go over to the brewery and talk to Brian Nagel about where barm comes from and what it is.

[Brian] There’s been a strong connection between bread and beer for about 8 thousand years. Ever since they started brewing back in the fertile crescent in the Mesopotamians and Syrians, there’s a connection with the bakeries and the breweries, so we’re very happy to be able to continue that tradition here at the museum by offering up our bakers some of the barm, the yeast that’s coming on the surface of the wort here. Our yeast is worting very nicely. The worts beginning to ferment here in the fermenting tub and I do know that our village cooks are quite excited about coming in to collect some barm from us for baking some breads in the village kitchens. So, I’m going to dip in and pull out some of that barm, some of our top fermenting yeast, for them to have, to do some bread baking. There’s a great painting by Lewis Miller, a Pennsylvania German artist from the early part of the 1800’s showcasing a lot of the villagers coming to the brewery to glute not only beer, but also to pick up some barm for their baking as well, so we’re quite excited to be able to do that here at the museum as well for our village cooks.

[Peggy] So now what I’m going to do, is I’m adding this to about 8 cups of flour.

[Jon] Okay

[Peggy] and I’m just going to make a well into my flour and I dump it right in.

[Jon] Okay so we have our flour, we have our yeast.

[Peggy] And I’d like to make what’s called a sponge.

[Jon] Okay

[Peggy] And so I’m going to try to stir in some of this. I’m not going to stir in all the flour right now because we’ll need to add a little bit more water to it.

[Jon] Okay

[Peggy] But I’m going to stir this in like this

[Jon] Okay

[Peggy] and then Mrs. Leslies cookbook tells us that we’re supposed to scatter a little flour on top and then when you can see it bubbling up through the flour then we’re ready to go.

[Jon] Okay.

[Peggy] So we’re checking to make sure that our yeast is active by making a sponge.

[Jon] Okay, so you’re going to set this aside? How long are we going to wait?

[Peggy] You know, it might be about an hour, maybe, and sometimes a little longer, and then what I’ll be doing is adding some more water. This is sort of reversed to the normal way we’d make bread; in that I start out with the flour that I want and add the liquid that I need.

[Jon] and do we set this by the fire or just somewhere sort of warmish?

[Peggy] In a warm place. I would cover it up, then I will be able to set it in a warm place. I usually put it on a trivet near the fire but not right next to it.

[Jon] Okay, wonderful.

[Peggy] So here I have a nice ugly little mess here.

[Jon] You can tell it’s active and it’s ready to go.

[Peggy] I do have to add a little bit of salt, so I put about 2 teaspoons of salt in here. I’m going to put some flour on my board here and a little flour on top so we can dig it out of here, so then we can start kneading it. It’s really nice dough.

[Jon] It’s so very wet and very white too.

[Peggy] It is. Well, this is a wealthy household, so we probably would have gotten the finest flour we could have gotten.

[Jon] I’m here today with Pat Mead. She’s the head of Foodways here at Genesee Country Village and Museum. We’re talking about this recipe. The recipe that we’re making this bread from is…

[Pat] Is from Mrs. Leslies cookbook and Mrs. Leslie is an author from Philadelphia, but she sites in her book, “When you make bread, you need to use the finest ingredients, and especially your flour” and she also says, “you should purchase it from Hyrum Smith from Rochester, New York.” Now, where we are here, in the village or so, is Wheatland and this is where they would be growing the wheat. It is also mentioned in books that Queen Victoria ordered her flour from here, because it was known as the some of the finest flour around.

[Jon] That’s happening right here in Rochester.

[Pat] That’s right.

[Jon] So it was a wheat growing area, specifically a good wheat growing area and it did have lots of mills in the area too?

[Pat] It did. A lot later on, they moved out west, but there were quite a few here and also what was very interesting is that down in Mumford, not too far from here, is the Presbyterian Church, and you can find Hyrum Smiths window there. Stained glass window in memory of him.

[Jon] So he probably paid or his family paid for a special window in the church right here in Mumford.

[Pat] Right.

[Jon] Wow. So, I want to thank Pat for giving us this little bit of extra knowledge about wheat and the flour that came from right here in the Rochester, New York area. Thank you so much.

[Pat] Thank you.

[Peggy] So I would knead this probably for 8 or 10 minutes until it’s nice and stretchy and you have a nice ball, but this is actually pretty good, and you’re just making it nice and firm. You’re developing the gluten, but you notice I didn’t add any butter or oil or sugar to this, this is a very simple receipt and it just has flour and salt and this barm starter and that’s it.

[Jon] and water, yeah.

[Peggy] It gave wonderful flavor. So, this was a double batch of bread and so I’m going to cut the loaf here in half and make two rounds out of it and I’m going to put it in my butter dish here just like that and I will cover it up and I’ll put it in my warm place for an hour or so.

[Jon] Okay

[Peggy] and I’ll wait for my bake oven to be ready and

[Jon] So you’re just going to let this rise about an hour?

[Peggy] Right, about an hour. That’s right.

[Jon] Until it, maybe, doubles in size?

[Peggy] Yeah, it’s about doubles in size. That’s right.

[Jon] So here, this one is ready. This one’s risen an hour.

[Peggy] Right.

[Jon] Is it ready to go in the oven just like this?

[Peggy] I think it’s ready to go. I think we can see and we can feel it’s sort of soft around the side.

[Jon] Alright, okay, so this one’s ready to go in the oven, what about this oven?

[Peggy] This is our bake oven over there that we use. To use my bake oven, I heat it up for 3 hours with very good fire and that’s going to bring it up to a quick oven, about what we would call 425 degrees, so I’m going to use my peel and I’m going to take all the coals out of there and then I’m going to sweep it out with a wet broom and by sweeping it out with a wet broom, not only am I getting the rest of the coals out, but I’m also adding a little steam to the oven.

[Jon] So I just saw you stick your arm in there. What were you doing?

[Peggy] Well, I’m feeling the temperature of the air that’s in the oven. I’m not going to touch anything, I’m not going to get burnt, I’m just going to stick my arm in there. If I get up to 7, its about 425 degrees.

[Jon] So this loaf is just out of the oven.

[Peggy] Right.

[Jon] It’s baked about 20 minutes.

[Peggy] 25 minutes. I checked it and put it in for another minute or two.

[Jon] and out it comes in the oven. What are we doing now?

[Peggy] well we wrapped it up in a damp cloth and they liked soft crust.

[Jon] Okay.

[Peggy] And so we have a damp cloth and we’ll let it cool here and then I will put it in a dry cloth and we’ll put it in our bread box.

[Jon] So we’re not just going to cut it open right away and start trying to eat it?

[Peggy] They didn’t like that. We do, they didn’t like it that way.

[Jon] Well,

[Peggy] They didn’t even think it was healthy.

[Jon] Mmm

[Peggy] They thought, you know, you really should let it sit for a day or so, before you try to eat it. Here’s our loaf of bread and we could cut this and try and see what it tastes like.

[Jon] Great, let’s go ahead and try out your bread. You don’t, obviously, you never know what we’re going to find inside of bread. Well, hopefully we’re going to find bread. It smells like a wonderful bread.

[Peggy] It smells good.

[Jon] And it’s got some wonderful crumb and texture. It’s a great shape.

[Peggy] Pretty good.

[Jon] Yeah, it’s got some nice rich flavor, it must have really developed some of that sponge there, sitting and waiting, it’s developed some wonderful flavors. Obviously, it’s baked the perfect amount. This looks really good and it’s a great and very easy.

[Peggy] It’s very easy.

[Jon] Very easy bread to make. Peggy, I so want to thank you for showing me this whole process and how to use this barm. Thank you so much for showing everyone here about this process. It’s been very, very interesting, so thank you so much.

[Peggy] Well, thank you.

[Jon] And I really do encourage anyone who is in the area, if you’re in this western New York area or even anywhere close, you should really come and visit the Genesee Country Village and Museum. It’s an amazing place with all these wonderful buildings and great interpreters and truly a great living history site, so make sure to come here if you’re in the area at all and I want to thank everyone as you watch these videos, you experiment, you experience these experiments in historical cooking and all these wonderful flavors that we get out of this. Thank you so much for joining us today as we savor the flavors and the aromas of the 18th and early 19th century.

I want to give a special thanks to all the folks at Genesee Country Village and Museum for all their help. Make sure to check out their website.

If you’re new to our channel, I want to welcome you. You can subscribe by clicking the button right up here, also check out our related videos. Thanks so much for watching.

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