Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Beetroot Bread.

Why not use beetroot in bread? Beetroot is a starchy root, and what is bread but a starchy staple? Almost any starchy root has been used in the past to make bread, and we have had bread recipes built upon potatoes, sweet potatoes, and parsnips in the past – and the recipe for ‘parsnep’ bread actually mentioned beets as an alternative.

Of course, not many of us would exchange our fine wheat bread for parsnip or bean or acorn bread by choice, would we? The substitution is usually made for reasons of necessity – and there were two good reasons for finding alternative bread ingredients in the mid-nineteenth century in Europe. One was the wheat shortage (and hence high prices), the other was the potato blight which precipitated the Irish potato famine. 

The nineteenth century seems to have been a time of great recipe creativity on the part of various authorities across Europe who were anxious to find a way of making cheaper bread – for the poor folk of course. The idea of using beets to bulk up bread dough and thereby save wheat is variously said to have originated in Paris or Vienna or Germany, but wherever it arose, it was certainly attractive to the British, who were facing the Irish potato famine in the 1840’s. Beets were one of the crops suggested as being a suitable potato alternative for its citizens in Ireland. 

I give you part of an article which appeared in Chambers Edinburgh Journal in 1847

A discovery has been recently made in Germany - namely, the production of on excellent nutritious bread from beet-root and flour mixed in equal proportions - which is likely to be followed by important results. The present condition of Europe as to food, in consequence of the late potato failures, has drawn the attention of several authorities to the subject; among others, Dr Lindley, who thus delivers his opinion in the ' Gardeners' Chronicle:' -' We have had the experiment tried, by rasping down a red beet-root, and mixing with it an equal quantity of flour; and we find that the dough rises well, bakes well, and forms a loaf very similar to good brown bread in taste and appearance. We regard this as an important discovery, because there is no crop which can be so readily introduced into Irish cultivation as the beet, and its varieties; because no crop will yield a larger return; and because an abundant supply of seed may be had of it from France. We have long since shown the great value of a beet crop in point of nutrition that, in fact, it ranks higher than any known plant which is cultivable. But there was always the difficulty of how to consume it, for men would find it a poor diet by itself, and the present circumstances of Ireland are not such as to justify the introduction of produce which can become food for man only after having been transformed into pigs and oxen. ...
Red beet produces brown bread; white sugar beet would probably yield a white bread, and of still better quality; mangold wurzel we have ascertained to form a bread of inferior quality, but still eatable enough.

And, so that you may try it for yourself, here are the instructions for Beetroot Bread, from The Horticulturist and journal of rural art and rural taste, Volume 1 (1847)

Beet-root Bread.
Take one stone of Beetroot, boil it until it becomes quite soft, pound or mash it fine, (just as turnips are mashed for table,) then add one stone (or equal parts) of wheaten flour, and bake with yeast, in the same way as bakers do wheaten or common flour bread. The same process will answer for making bread from a mixture of flour with Parsnips, or with While Belgian carrots. I also wish to state that the above mixture and mode of baking will do equally well for making griddle bread, which is important to all those who possess ovens, and that the addition of half an ounce of bread soda to 14 pounds (or one stone) of mixed Beet-root and flour, will answer the same purpose as yeast does, in making the common bakers' bread, light, wholesome, and nutritious.—T. O'Brien, Baker, Dublin.

UPDATE: Beetroot Bread does turn out pink! Check out this blog post at Inspired by Wolfe

Quotation of the Day.

The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip...
Tom Robbins.


Fay said...

I made beetroot scones when our garden was producing a surfeit of same. I used the Lady Flo Pumpkin scone recipe but substituted mashed cooked beetroot. They were a deep pink on the outside and a sort of pinky yellow inside and of the same texture as Flo's. Lovely earthy taste that you get with beetroot, but not overly sweet. Best with just butter.

The Old Foodie said...

The scones sound great, Fay! There is an 18th c recipe for pink pancakes made with beetroot too. I am delighted to fins that the scones were pinkisk. I havent made the bread but the article said it turns out brown, maybe from the longer cooking?

Keith said...

Must pass this one on to my wife, thank you.

chow and chatter said...

great blog love the food history

Inspiredbywolfe said...

Hi there, I wanted to let you know I tried this recipe was was delighted to end up with pink bread! You can read my account here:

The Old Foodie said...

I am delighted too, that the bread turned out pink! The dough looks gorgeous!