I must be honest, I have never really fancied ‘dyspepsia bread’. It may well be worth recreating on historical grounds, being a particular dietetic phenomenon of nineteenth century America, but frankly - notwithstanding the fact that many recipes sound delicious - I have real trouble getting past the name.
The health gurus of the time (and there were a lot of them) protested long and hard – and with considerable justification – about the poor quality, nutritionally depleted, and adulterated bread bought by the general public from bakers not worthy of the name. They promoted a return to the good old days when the good wife baked wholesome brown bread for her family every week, thus preserving their morals as well as their health. This whole-wheat brown bread was often called ‘dyspepsia bread.’ I don’t for one minute believe that the bread was intended to induce dyspepsia, although that is the image that pops into my head when I hear the phrase. I assume it was so named because it would avoid or relieve the dyspepsia caused by the inferior commercial product. I assume also that no marketing gurus were consulted in the naming of the product.
Even dyspepsia bread however was not always what it appeared. Here is an opinion (and a recipe) from the author of The Ladies’ Indispensable Assistant (1850).
Brown or Dyspepsia Bread.
This bread is now known as “Graham Bread,” – not that Doctor Graham invented or discovered the manner of its preparation, but that he has been unwearied and successful in recommending it to the public. It is an excellent article of diet for the dyspeptic and the costive; and for most persons of sedentary habits it would be beneficial. It agrees well with children; and, in short, I think it should be used in every family, though not to the exclusion of fine bread. The most difficult point in manufacturing this bread is to obtain good pure meal. It is said that much of the bread commonly sold as dyspepsia is made of the bran or middlings, from which the fine flour has been separated; and that saw-dust is sometimes mixed with the meal. To be certain that it is good, send good clean wheat to the mill, have it ground rather coarsely, and keep the meal in a dry cool place. Before using it, sift it through a common hair-sieve; this will separate the very coarse and harsh particles.
Take six quarts of this wheat meal, one tea-cupful of good yeast, and half a tea-cup of molasses; mix these with a pint of milk-warm water and a tea-spoonful of pearlash or saleratus. Make a hole in the flour, and stir this mixture in the middle of the meal till it is like batter. Then proceed as with fine flour bread. Make the dough when sufficiently light into four loaves, which will weight two pounds per loaf when baked. It requires a hotter oven than fine flour bread, and must bake about an hour and a half.
Quotation for the Day.
Bread is a staple article of diet in theory, rather than in practice. There are few who are truly fond of bread in its simplest, most pure, and most healthful state....Is there one person in a thousand who would truly enjoy a meal of simple bread of two days old?
William Andrus Alcott, 'The Young House-keeper' (1846)