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Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

Growing Grains and Ingrained Ideas in Colonial New England

Gregorio Coche Mendoza, Corn
Oil on Canvas, 7 x 15 in.
Bloggers' Private Collection
Gift of Homer Stavely Jr. and Mary Mayshark-Stavely

 

The English settlers arrived in New England in the early seventeenth century possessed of an ancient set of attitudes about which kinds of bread were more and less desirable. The most desirable kind—indeed, the only kind that was really desirable—was wheat bread. But their longing for breads made exclusively with wheat could only be satisfied in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, after the opening of the Erie Canal made wheat shipped from areas to the west affordable. Before that, in the 18th century, New England was a major importer of wheat, bringing it in from Pennsylvania and other Middle Colonies. This trade, however, was never carried on in sufficient volume to make wheat bread a dietary staple on all levels of New England society. With a short growing season, stony soil, labor for clearing acreage in limited supply, and the depredations caused by a fungus which farmers called "the blast," colonial New England was particularly ill-suited for growing wheat. Read More 

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"Flour bread," by Lydia Maria Child, as prepared by Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald

Our "Flour Bread," following the directions of Lydia Maria Child. Easy to make, great to eat!
 
 

Since the pandemic spring of 2020, we've been attending a wonderful online workshop, led by food writer and historian of bread, William Rubel, called "Bread History and Practice." There's a Facebook group, too, for any who might be interested. For the December holiday group meeting, we decided to make 19th-century American author Lydia Maria Child's "Flour Bread," from The American Frugal Housewife, 1829. (We used the 1833 edition, as reproduced verbatim and with commentary in our book, Northern Hospitality: Cooking by the Book in New England, University of Massachusetts Press, 2011). 

 

Baking in December, in a wood-heated house, meant moving the sponge and dough around quite a bit to warm (but not too warm) spots while it bubbled and rose. Making bread and ferrying it around the house is good winter exercise! Read More 

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