It has been snowing for the past few days, and with the arctic cold front hovering over our mountain valley, the days have been perfect for writing, baking, and watching the snow fall. Aside from out in nature, home has always been one of my favorite places to spend time, and I looking back at the books I've written, I unintentionally set up many of my characters to feel the same way.
How do you imagine people spent their days during the years when the Gallaghers lived in Montana? The stories are filled with plenty of adventure, action, and of course, romance, but all those things are made possible because of the hard-working people "behind the scenes" taking care of hearth and home.
Elizabeth and Amanda spend more time in Hawk's Peak kitchen than anyone else, though Brenna, Isabelle, Eliza, and even Catie contribute. Feeding a passel of hungry ranch hands and a growing family takes a lot of work, and with three meals a day, that's a lot of time in the kitchen.
The scent of sourdough bread baking in the oven or a hearty stew simmering on the stove would fill the kitchens while the delicious fragrances wafted throughout the house, but where did it all begin?
The Boudin Bakery in San Francisco began producing the first San Francisco sourdough in 1849 using a starter borrowed from local gold miners. 1868 saw the production of the first commercially produced yeast. Baking powder became available in 1869 and a better flour mill was invented in 1873. (Saveur)
This is all before the 1880s during which the Gallagher books take place.
Baking bread would be one of the constant kitchen tasks to ensure there was always enough for everyone. Would they have used the sourdough method or the yeast method? Since I get to make up what they do, I say both. Elizabeth would have held onto skills learned before 1868, and yet they no doubt would have utilized yeast later (when they could get it) to help make kitchen life a little easier.
DID YOU KNOW? Until the time of the development of commercial yeasts, all leavened bread was made using naturally occurring yeasts – i.e. all bread was sourdough, with it’s slower raise. (The Sourdough School)
DID YOU ALSO KNOW? The history of sourdough . . . begins long before miners came to Alaska. Sourdough is the oldest form of leavened bread and was used at least as early as ancient Egypt. It was probably discovered by accident when bread dough was left out and good microorganisms -- wild yeast -- drifted into the mix. The resulting bread had a lighter texture and better taste. (npr.org)
Like Elizabeth and Amanda, I prefer to use old methods with new, sourdough and yeast. I recently started going sourdough crazy (bread, pancakes, pizza dough), and can't get enough. My yeasted breads are now far and few between, and most of that peasant bread. Sure, it takes much longer for sourdough bread to go through the fermentations and rises, but there isn't too much hands-on work to deal with.
Taking the time as they would have done more than a century ago, can help one to remember that life shouldn't always be about convenience. There was a slower pace that helped hard-working people appreciate every dollar earned and every morsel eaten.
Here's wishing you a simpler life and rewarding life.
LASTLY, DID YOU KNOW . . . In 1912, the town of Sourdough, Montana (some accounts refer to it as Sourdough Creek) was established in the Crazy Mountains with homes and a school. That's right, Montana once had a town called Sourdough, though nothing remains of it. Too bad. I would have liked to visit. Furthermore, and according to a thesis a student did at the University of Alaska, "Twenty four place names including Sourdough Creek, Sourdough Island, Sourdough Flat and Sourdough Point, exist in Montana." This author has not researched them all as of yet.
Sourdough Starter & Recipe Link
If you don't already bake with sourdough, and would like to start (it's so worth it), then I recommend the live sourdough starter from Breadtopia. There are many sourdough bread recipes out there that are delicious, but this particular one is courtesy of AlexandraCooks.com, and gets 5 stars from my test kitchen. She is also the author of the best-ever peasant bread recipe I talked about in this post.
Want to make your own sourdough starter from scratch? The Clever Carrot has a great post on how to do that, with a recipe.
I hope you make time every now and then to escape into a good book and relax.
The Book: Gallagher's Pride, book one of the Montana Gallagher series
The Beverage: Forests Tea from Mountain Rose Herbs
From the Kitchen: Simple Sourdough Bread (get the recipe at AlexandraCooks.com).
Thank you for visiting!
Be well, be kind, and stay safe!
About Writer in the Kitchen: I love to be in the kitchen. Once upon a time I was going to be a pastry chef, and though my life took a different path (glad it did), my love for baking and cooking has never gone away. I share original and test-kitchen recipes, (sometimes with book breaks) and you can always find recipe links and posts organized on my recipes page.