September 20, 2011

Civil War Bread Recipe

I meant to make this a tutorial, but didn't think it entirely through. While my hands were covered in sticky, partially kneaded dough I decided that I should take a photo of it and realized that I had no hands to do so. So, this is a very photo light tutorial.

During the mid-1800s, bread was a stable food. Like today, there were many different types of bread and bread mixtures. Cornmeal, rye, potatoes, rice, hominy, buckwheat and other variant ingredients were used to make different kinds of bread. Most of these breads had a base of wheat flour and a smaller proportion of another type of flour or ingredient.[1]  Bread was thought to be unhealthy when warm; so many books advised waiting a day before eating.[2]Bread was available for purchase at bakeries but many houses still made their own bread.  Bread was also being manufactured by machine at this time.

[1] The Complete Confectioner (Philadelphia: J. B Lippincott, 1864), 143-154.
[2] Mrs. Beeton’s Dictionary, 45

The recipe I used was from Mrs. Hale’s New Cookbook that was published in 1857. It was for "English Rolls."


-8 Cups Flour
-1 Pint of Warm Water, which should be between 105 degrees and 115 degrees, or you will kill the yeast.
-3 Tablespoons Yeast, The fast acting kind is fine. If you use period liquid yeast, omit the pint of warm water.
-2 ounces of Butter, softened
-1 teaspoon Salt
- Enough water to make a dough that does not stick to your hands. 


Add the yeast to the water and let sit for a few minutes. Put flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast liquid and the butter, mix with a spoon, then with your hands until the dough is well mixed. Knead the dough for about 5 -8 minutes (this may be easier in two smaller batches.) Form the dough into a ball, place in a clean bowl and cover with a warm, damp towel and place under a lamp to rise. When the dough doubles in size, about two hours, remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and punch the dough down. Divide the dough in half and in half again until you have 12 lumps of dough. Form the dough into roll shapes and arrange on cookie sheets, leaving space in between rolls to let them rise. Cover the rolls with a warm, damp rag and let the rolls rise for about 30 minutes. Score the rolls with a serrated knife or razor blade. Bake in an oven preheated to 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes. They do not get very brown, so be sure to make sure they don't get too hard.    

If you are curious about what ways to shape your bread. Round loves with crosses on the top were popular as well as bread baked in tin loaf pans. Here are some loaf examples:

A traditional style of bread baked in a tin loaf.

This style of loaf was popular in England but not in the U.S.
An illustration of the Bread Riots. Look at all the different kinds of loafs.

For more reading, The English Bread Book by Eliza Action in 1857, is a very good start. For different kinds of American bread recipes try, The Improved Housewife, published in 1855, particularly pages 125- 128.


  1. I love homemade bread and bread recipes! This sounds (and looks) good!
    God bless.

  2. The rolls look great! Well done, Steph.

  3. Thanks! It didn't taste too bad. It wasn't modern bread but it did make a good filler for the soup we had it with.

  4. My father’s side of the family is descendents of Robert E. Lee and even when I was little, bread was a staple in our home and was made daily. My great aunts had clothing from the civil war and still insist on the same manners of decorum to be impressed upon the young ladies in our family. It was the era of change and my aunts did not always follow along with their idea. But when I think back to my childhood I am ever so grateful for their influences, however fleeting I was at the time.
    Mrs. J.

  5. Mrs. J, that is fantastic! You are very lucky to have heirlooms from your ancestors.

  6. Stephanie,

    Thanks for the receipt. I am always interested in new bread receipts.


  7. i am just about to try the recipe...Thanks for sharing this to us.meilleur chef cuisinier de france

  8. I am using this recipe for a school project, and it is sooo fun. My class will be so blown away when they taste this!!! Thank you so much Stephanie!


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