September 14, 2011

A Whole Pint of Yeast? A Definition of Mid 19th Century Yeast

Many Civil War Era recipes call for a lot of yeast. While the proportions seem ludicrous to us, there were many liquid based forms of yeast that are no longer used anymore. While much of their yeast was still in the liquid form, they did have cakes of yeast and dry yeast also; therefore, many of these recipes relied on the cook to know which kind to use given the proportions in the recipe. During the 1850s, yeast was used in cakes and confectioneries as well as in bread. Today we tend to think yeast gives a sour flavor and prefer to only use yeast in bread.

Here is a recipe for yeast that is easy to make today. It was reprinted in Godey's Lady's Book in 1860 but was featured in many publications before that:

"How to Make Yeast
Boil one pound of good flour, quarter of a pound of brown sugar, and a little salt in two gallons of water, for one hour. When milk-warm, bottle it and cork it close. It will be ready for use in twenty-four hours. One pint of this yeast will make eighteen pounds of bread."  

Other recipes at the time suggest that you allow the yeast to cool before bottling, leave some room at the top for froth, and to not cork it too tight.

Some recipes that call for yeast (liquid and not):

From The Art of Cookery by John Mallard, 1836


From The Improved Housewife, 1851

From Mrs. Hale's New Cook Book, 1857

From the United States Cook Book by William Vollmer, 1856

There will be a continuation of this post sometime later this week. This yeast is something I might try when cooking over an open fire. I feel strange letting things boil for hours on a modern stove top. I would like to try it though because different kinds of yeasts have different tastes and I would love to get the flavor of things as close as I possibly can.  


  1. I know what's coming next! I love insider information! I can't wait to finally see the Civil War bread tutorial you promised!

  2. It's coming but I actually have to make the tutorial first. Maybe Thursday!

  3. This actually clears this up for me. I was hesitant to put a pint of modern yeast into a bread recipe I was going to try. Thx.

  4. I love this. :) I am going to try some of these recipes.


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