Bread in the Adirondacks
Bread is not unique to the Adirondacks, but the traditions surrounding this food have played an important role in Adirondack women’s lives for generations.
Bread tends to be hearty and was a staple food for men mining and logging in the Adirondacks. Many routines have developed around the production of both “quick” and yeasted breads. They played a key role in domestic life, and women in the Adirondacks developed new recipes to make better use of readily available items.
In today’s society, store-bought bread is taken for granted and most people do not think of the time and effort that went into its production. Historically, before the days of instant yeast and power mixers, Adirondack women had to schedule their day around this process. While not a necessarily difficult task, it involved forethought and planning; the dough needed to rise and be attended to.
Most bread requires a leavening (rising) agent such as yeast, however commercial yeast was first introduced in this country by Fleishman at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876. Many women used either a salt rising method or a starter that required constant care, feeding it regularly and discarding the excess. Bread starters are still used today, mainly in artisan sourdough breads. They are a bubbly batter of flour and water that naturally gains yeast from the air.
Bread, doughnuts, buckwheat pancakes, rolls, and buns were all typical in an Adirondack diet. Adirondackers have been notoriously resourceful with the resources available to them. Adirondack guide Bill Nye relied on hearty buckwheat pancakes to feed his guests in the late 1800s. However, these were not the fluffy light pancakes that we think of today, instead they were described as “dog-chokers” because of the huge thick nature of the cakes.
“Venison and Wheat Cakes” was a popular Adirondack dish, demonstrating the reliance on local food. Deer are abundant in the Adirondacks and were a staple of the Adirondack winter diet. One recipe for wheat cakes proves how hearty Adirondack bread products could be; it called for cake yeast, water, a cup of buckwheat flour, and a half a cup of cornmeal and white flour. The dough rose overnight and was cooked the next morning on a hot griddle. (Wild Game Cook Book, compiled by Martin Rywell, 1952)
Historically, Adirondack meals depended on what was in season and locally available. Farming in the Adirondacks was a difficult endeavor, and crops such as wheat were not always successful. As a result, many Adirondackers developed recipes that relied less on store bought wheat and more on ingredients that could be successfully locally grown, like buckwheat and corn ground into meal that were more accessible.
Local, whole, and natural foods have resurged in our society and with this the art of bread making is a way people have sought to return to a more natural and healthy way of life. More and more artisan bakeries have started to pop up in the Adirondacks and nearby areas, returning to a tradition of hearty breads that were once a staple of local diets. Great bakeries can be found in many towns throughout the Park. From the Rock Hill Bakehouse & Café just outside the Adirondacks in Moreau, N.Y. that supplies bread to many restaurants and stores in the region, to the Crown Point Bread Company in Crown Point, N.Y. and Merrick’s Bread & Coffee in Wadhams, N.Y. that uses organic flour from the mill in Westport N.Y., fresh local bread is once again becoming a staple in the Adirondack diet. This is only a small sampling of bakeries in the region. There are many wonderful bakeries from Old Forge to Keene and Saranac Lake to North Creek, N.Y.
Not only are great homemade baked goods being made in the area, the Champlain Valley is also home to a flour mill that processes organic wheat from three farms, two of which are in Essex County, N.Y.
The following is a bread recipe submitted by Mrs. Granvel R. Hack to a regional newspaper in the 1890s:
“A Good Bread Receipt”
First mix a luke warm quart, my daughter,
One half scalded milk, one half water;
To this please add two cakes of yeast,
Or the liquid kind if preferred in the least.
Next stir in a teaspoonful of nice clear salt,
If this bread is not good, it will not be our fault,
Now add the sugar, teaspoons three;
Mix well together, for dissolved they must be.
Pour the whole mixture into an earthen bowl,
A pan is just as good if it has no hole,
It’s the cook and the flour, not the bowl or the pan;
That, MAKES THE BREAD THAT MAKES THE MAN.
Now let the mixture stand a minute or two,
You have other things of great importance to do,
First sift the flour, use the finest in the land;
Three quarts is the measure, Gold Medal the brand.
Some people like a little shortening power.
If this is your choice just add to the flour,
Two tablespoonfuls of lard and jumble it about;
Till the flour and lard are mixed without a doubt.
Next stir the flour into the mixture thats stood,
Waiting to play its part, to make the bread good.
Mix it up thoroughly, but not too thick;
Some flour makes bread that’s more like a brick.
Now grease well a bowl and put the dough in,
Don’t fill the bowl full, that would be a sin;
For the dough is all right and its going to rise,
Till you will declare that its twice the old size.
Brush the dough with melted butter, as the recipes say;
Cover with a bread towel, set in a warm place to stay.
Two hours or more, to rise until light,
When you see it grow, you will know its all right.
As soon as its light place again on the board;
Knead it well this time, here is knowledge to hoard.
Now back in the bowl once more it must go,
And set again to rise for an hour or so.
Form the dough gently into loaves when light,
And place it in bread pans, greased just right.
Shape each loaf you make to half fill the pan,
This bread will be good enough for any young man.
Next let it rise to the level of pans, no more,
Have the temperature right do not set near a door.
Be very careful about draughts it is not made to freeze,
Keep the room good and warm, say seventy-two degrees.
Now put in the oven, its ready to bake,
Keep uniform fire, great results are at stake.
One hour more of waiting and you will be repaid,
By bread that is worthy A WELL BRED MAID.