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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 4, 1990



The weekly baking was one of the routine jobs for the homemaker, but it was a job which took a great deal of time. A really lengthy process produced good bread. Experience was required to know the right temperature to get the dough to rise and just when to punch it up again and put it into the tins for baking. Fortunately, we had a brick oven, which was heated by a wood fire inside. When sufficiently heated, the fire was drawn, the filled tins were slid in, and then the door was closed and sealed with clay mud. As far as I can remember, it took about one hour to cook the bread and there was a wonderful smell when the oven door was opened.

People made their own barm, as the yeast, or leaven, was called, which induced the dough mixture to rise. Hops bought from the store and potatoes were used in the process, and each week some barm was kept to get the next mixture to mature. My mother normally had two bottles filled, with the corks tied down very firmly with string. Sometimes one bottle would work too well, blow the cork, and the mixture would froth up and waste. Why did these bottles always choose to blow, with a loud bang, in the middle of the night?

A wonderful change took place when cakes of compressed yeast came on the market, and could be obtained from the storekeepers.

Eventually, baker's bread was delivered to most folk who were not too isolated. At first by horse vehicle, and later by motors. The loaves at that time weighed the full four pounds (1.814kg), but they were not wrapped. Wrapped bread is a much more recent development, made much easier with the adoption of light plastic bags. Ready-sliced bread was not available prior to their use.