Thursday, July 10, 2014

Compressed Bread for Travel.

On two previous occasions whilst travelling I have posted on the topic of ‘travellers bread’ (here, and here) and it might be thought that there is not much more to be said on the topic. I have, however, discovered a couple more options for solid sustenance while on the road.

The first is mentioned in A Concise History of the Introduction of Protestantism into Mississippi and the Southwest, published in 1866 (I do try to find a variety of sources for my little food stories.)  The book tells the tale of Mississipi Baptists in the late eighteenth century, and includes multiple mentions of their difficulty escaping from the clutches of the ‘gospel-hating’ Spanish Catholics. At one time, several of these zealots were planning a ‘long and perilous journey’ of escape to exile through ‘the various tribes of Indians inhabiting the vast region between the Natchez country and Georgia.’ Naturally, supplies of food had to be found for the journey, and these included a very simple form of travellers’ bread:

“Travelers’ bread was made by a union of corn meal and bear’s oil, and other articles were added in the way of food such as they could carry.”

And here is yet another idea, found in the Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art (New York, 1870) :-

Preserving Bread.
Bread becomes mouldy and sour from the action of the moisture it contains.  When carefully dried, bread will keep sweet for a very long time. Any process by which fermented bread can be preserved for an indefinite length of time would be a great boon to travellers in countries where bread cannot be procured, and to sailors, who would find it a very agreeable change from ordinary ship biscuits. The following process for effecting this object has been lately patented, and it possesses this advantage, that the bread being compressed can be packed in a smaller compass, and is therefore very portable. Well-made and well-baked bread is exposed to a current of dry air; the evaporation of the moisture should be slow, in order that the bread may not crack. The duration of this drying process varies from eight to fifteen days, and depends on the size of the loaves and the form of drying apparatus adopted. If the bread were compressed in the state in which it is left by the desiccation it would break; and to prevent this it must, before being pressed, be submitted during four or five minutes to a heat of from 150° to 200o C., in a stove filled with steam. To effect this operation the bread is arranged in layers, separated by iron plates, which form moulds in which the bread will assume the shape and size previously determined upon. These layers are loaded upon a cast-iron carriage running upon rails, and thus introduced into a stove which is immediately closed, in a few minutes the bread becomes soft, although it will have absorbed but a very small quantity of water; the load or batch is then withdrawn and pushed by means of a carriage between two pressing plates, in order to be compressed. Any press will serve, but as the pressure should be rapid and powerful the hydraulic press is best. The bread should remain in the press for twenty-four hours; it may then be removed, is dry and cold, and will preserve the shape which has been impressed upon it. Bread thus prepared should be put in cases to preserve it from the attacks of insects, and should be stored in places free from damp; it may thus be preserved for several years. This compressed bread has a nice color, the teeth masticate it without effort, the fluids of the mouth penetrate it rapidly, it has an agreeable taste and digests readily; a piece three ounces in weight, thrown into broth, will absorb, in three or four minutes, fifteen ounces of liquid and swell considerably.

For stay-at-homes, a common problem was that of trying to keep bread ‘fresh’ as long as possible. The Lady's Annual Register and Housewife's Memorandum Book (Boston, 1838) gives the following suggestion:

Preserving Bread Moist.

The other day I saw a lady wash her loaves with cold water. I inquired the reason. She said there were two objects in doing ti – one to wash off the ashes and coals that might adhere, and the other to keep the bread from becoming too dry and hard. After washing the loaves moderately, she put them in a barrel and covered them closely with a clean cloth.

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