Monday, December 06, 2010

Busting Out with Bread.

I hope you will indulge my love of old food words over the next few days in posts that may be brief as I move house. I am on a constant voyage of rediscovery through old dictionaries and glossaries, and have been saving my gleanings for a busy time such as this.

Meals can be rather ad-hoc, as one prepares to move house. The staff at the cafĂ© across the road from my ‘old’ home have become like a second family to me recently, and I particularly love the very ‘seedy’ bread with which they make their sandwiches. It is delicious, but it is not ‘Bust-coat.’

‘Bust-coat’ may well have been familiar to Samuel Pepys, although I don’t recall any reference to it in his diary (perhaps because he was a city man). According to Nathan Bailey’s Etymological Dictionary (1675), bust-coat is a country word for ‘Tosted Bread, eaten hot with Butter.’ In a later edition of this work, Bailey’s Etymological Dictionary (1773) bust-coat is ‘soft bread, eaten hot with butter’, and in The Philological Society’s New English Dictionary (1861) it is simply ‘hot bread.’ The Oxford English Dictionary cannot be our arbiter, for – most inexplicably sadly – it has no entry on ‘bust-coat.’ It seems however, that the consensus is that bust-coat, as the name suggests, is a particularly indulgent and irresistible form of warm bread oozing with melting butter.

I give you the following recipe, from the marvellous Eliza Acton’s The English Bread Book (1857)

(From the Wife of a Parish Clerk.)

The good woman whose receipt for bread is given here, is often called upon to supply it to persons who cannot otherwise procure it homemade without much difficulty; and as one feels assured in eating it that it is composed of honest country flour *, and as it is light and well-flavoured, it is often peculiarly acceptable in London and elsewhere. She makes it even for the family of the clergyman of her parish, when their own servants cannot perform that duty; and the constancy with which it is required from her is sufficient evidence of their deficiency in that respect.

"Mix with about five gallons and a half of flour, a teacupful or about six ounces of salt, and three pennyworth, or rather more than a pint, of yeast. Make these up into a dough at once, with something more than a gallon of warm water; let it stand to rise until it is quite light, and in the meantime, kindle the fire in the oven, and heat it well. A fourpenny faggot is all the fuel that is used for it; but it is always heated once a week, and sometimes twice, so that it requires less than ovens which are not so regularly used. Divide the dough into four-pound loaves, and bake them well. They will be nicely done in about two hours."

This bread, when carefully stored, remains perfectly good in cool weather for ten days; and has occasionally been found quite eatable at the end of a fortnight, which it would not have been unless it had been wholesomely made and thoroughly baked. I think it might be slightly improved by diminishing a little the proportion of yeast used for lightening it, and allowing it to be rather longer after it is kneaded down, before it is put into the oven. A portion of milk, too, is always a desirable addition to bread when it can be had. Flour (resembling what is called households, but excellent of its kind), four gallons and a half; salt, one small teacupful; fresh brewers' yeast, three pennyworth (or rather more than a pint); water, four to five quarts; made into a firm dough at once, and left to rise for an hour; kneaded down, and shortly afterwards divided into 41b. loaves; baked in well-heated brick oven two hours. Remark.—The proportion of fresh yeast for this bread being large, it becomes light in a shorter time than that specified for the second rising of the dough in the generality of the receipts contained here; but slower fermentation is to be recommended. In cottage life, many laborious avocations falling often on one individual, the same time and the same minute attention cannot well be bestowed on any of them as in families where the work is divided between several persons. The "clerk's wife," cited above, has to make bread for a large family of her own, as well as for her customers, yet the order and neatness of her house, even on the busy baking days, and the attractive appearance of her " batches" of wholesome-looking bread, have been remarked with pleasure by accidental visitors.
* Occasionally with that of the wheat grown in her own allotment ground, or with that which her family have gleaned, — the leasing corn,—supposed to make the best bread of any; and hers has been certainly most sweet and nice in flavour.

Quotation for the Day.
The flesh endures the storms of the present alone; the mind, those of the past and future as well as the present. Gluttony is a lust of the mind.
Thomas Hobbes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like the comments that less yeast and longer rising makes for better bread!