Pilgrim Seasonings

Plymouth Colony Foodways: Notes and Recipes from a 17th Century Kitchen

French Bread, 17th century style

September 29th, 2013 by KM Wall

Excerpts from a translation from the French. Thank you Lisa Whalen!

Country Delights by N. Bonnefon

Book One

Of Bread

Chapter 1

 

The most necessary of all foods that God’s goodness has created for sustaining the life of Man is Bread; so does his blessing extend over this nourishment such that never does one distaste it; and the most costly of Meats cannot be eaten without Bread; Thus this is where we will begin our work; with the manner of making Bread, of every sort that is fashioned in Paris, the place where meet Men of all Nations and Provinces, who with one common voice agree, that in Paris is eaten the best Bread in the World.

To make good Bread, not only are good corns preferable to lesser; but also the Mill, the Water, the Oven, & the Manner must needs contribute.

As for Corns; whole Wheat, clean [net][1], healthy, of good color, this we must esteem above the other grains; as Rye, Oats, Barley, Peas, Beans, Vetch, & other grains that the Poor put into their Bread for cheapness.

….

For the Waters; their goodness is so necessary that it is one of the principle components that makes excellent Bread; as we see by the example of Paris, where the Bread is made in the manner of Gonesse even though it is wrought by the same Bakers, & with the same Wheat, nevertheless it is much inferior both in savor and goodness, than that made in the place itself; which is why one must necessarily believe that this is because the Waters of the Country wholly contribute.

There are four sorts of Water: to be acquainted with, water from the River, from the Spring, from the Well and Rainwater, which is kept in Ponds or Cisterns: Draw a pint of each and take the lightest[1] as the best; if every time you want to make a trial of Bread; this will be the most certain way to judge its goodness.

…..

And for the METHOD; we will speak first of Common Bread, the more wheat, the better the bread, nonetheless if you wish to make a good sort of Bread for the Servants, put to the Mill four Minots[1] of Rye, one minot of Barley; (which is around the Oven) & bolt it an a large Bolting Cloth.

Of this Flour, you take about a Minot at ten in the Evening and put it to leaven, that you cover well with the same flour.

To moisten it; it is necessary that in Winter the Water be hotter than you can tolerate with your hand; in Summer, it is sufficient that it be a little warm; and thus tempered proportionally in the two other seasons.

On the morrow, at dawn, you put the rest of your Flour to leaven, and knead the whole, brewing [brassant] your Paste a long time, keeping it stiff enough, for the softer it is, the more bread you will have; but also the less it will last you in that one eats much more when it is light, than when it is stiff.

Your Paste being well worked, return it to the Trough, turning the top under and driving your Fist into the middle of the Paste, to the depth of the Trough, in two or three places, and cover it well with sacks & covers.

At the end of a certain time (more in Winter & less in Summer,) look at your Paste, & you will see your holes entirely filled; this is the sign that the Paste is sufficiently risen; so have a second person heat the Oven (because it is nearly impossible for one alone to attend both Oven and Paste;) divide it in pieces, making them each about sixteen pounds in weight, or a little more; then turn this Paste into Loaves, & lay it on a Table Cloth, making a fold between each Loaf, for fear that they don’t kiss in ripening.

Your Oven being hot, which you recognize when by rubbing a staff against the Roof, or against the Hearth, you will see that there will be small sparklings of fire; this is an indicator that it is hot, so you will cease heating it, and remove the Firebrands and Coals, setting some few of the burning Embers in a bank near the mouth of the Oven, & clean it with the malkin that will be made of old linen, the which you moisten in clear Water & wring it before you swab[2], then you it up to allow it to abate its heat which blackens the Bread; & a little time later open it, to fill the oven as quickly as you can, set the largest Loaves at the back and sides of  the Oven, finishing filling the oven near the middle.

He that heats the Oven, take care not to burn his wood all over at the same time, but heat it presently of one side, anon of the other, continually cleaning the ash and drawing them out with the Oven-fork.[3]

The Bread having been set in, close well the mouth of the Oven and stop around with wet linen cloths, in order for him to well conserve his heat; four hours after, which is about the time necessary to cook the large Loaves; pull out one, to see if it is cooked enough, & particularly underneath, which one calls having the Hearth [avoir de l’Atre], and knock it with your fingertips; if it sounds, and it is firm enough, it be time to take it out, if not allow it still some more time, until you see it cooked, experience will soon render you able to know; because if you leave it in the Oven past perfect cooking, it will redden inside and will be unsavory.

Your Bread being removed, place it on the most cooked side, so that it regains moisture while cooling: for example, if there is too much Roof (which sets in the way when one doesn’t withdraw the ashes while heating the Oven,) so put it upside down, and if it is equally well backed, prop it against the Wall, placing it on the side that is most cooked.

Let your Bread cool well, before shutting it in the Hutches, where you always put it on its side; so that when it is put away, it has air equally around it; & in Summer put the Hutches in the Cellar to preserve the Bread’s moisture.

Always eat first, those that are the worst made, & least baked, because the better baked will re-soften with time.

Household management wants one always to have a batch of stale bread when one makes new.



[1] Minot is the half of a mine; or three French Bushels although a minot of oats, salt or vegetables (except onions) contains four bushels. (A minot of onions or nuts is a different measure.) Cotgrave.

[2] Neither “swab” nor “mop” are appropriate English usage for early 17th c. Usually in English they said “clean with a maulkin,”

not nearly so evocative. In French they had a very handy verb, a single word that meant the same thing.

[3] “Termed in Lincolnshire a Fruggin wherewith fuel is both put into an Oven and stirred when it is (on fire) in it”. Cotgrave

 

 


[1] I think lightest in weight not lightest in color

 


[1] Evelyn translates “net” as weight, which it may be but I think that the passage is describing wheat that is good looking.

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2 Responses to “French Bread, 17th century style”

  1. Cate says:

    I’m a little frightened of baking bread for four hours! Maybe it’s because the author suggests 16 pound loaves? This is where I got lost and the “thing” I love about understanding/translating receipts from earlier centuries. I read it and thought – wow a 16 pound loaf. I read it again and thought – oh, turn the paste into loaves, they must be breaking the 16 pounds down into more manageable loaves. THEN I got to baking for four hours and came back to thinking of 16 pound loaves. So many clues and no Miss Marple or Hercules Poirot in sight!

    • KM Wall says:

      It seems like a long time to keep bread in, but large loaves and a falling oven… I’ve made Markham’s brown bread, which are 8 pound loaves with 4 hours (she says off the top of her head…)I have also baked bread of Indian corn that Winthrop recommends leaving in overnight, which we have, and the oven is still warm the next morning.

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