But first, from a 1932 Home Comfort Woodstove cookbook: Advice To Young Cooks
“A convenient place for everything, and everything kept in its proper place is one of the big secrets in saving steps in preparing a meal. A small table, kept clear of everything except the particular material and utensils being used, is most indispensable to any cook. Before commencing to cook, look up the chosen recipe and study it thoroughly. On a slip of paper make a memorandum of the required materials and the quantities called for, and collect the necessary materials and utensils to be used. All quantities, liquid and dry, should be measured or weighed exact, for careful attention to details is one of the most important secrets of success in cooking. Young girls, especially, who are just learning to cook, should follow these instructions and not trust too much to luck or memory. “Luck” in cooking is “knowing how” and being sure quantities, temperatures, and methods of handling and mixing are right, and, above all, the proper handling of the Range, which must come from actual practice. Use good, dry fuel; keep the reservoir supplied with fresh, clean water; see that the oven heat is at proper temperature for the particular food you are preparing before placing it in the oven; see that the oven is kept properly regulated while cooking; prove to your own satisfaction that the big secret in all cooking is in “knowing exactly how.” A century ago, no cook was considered proficient under thirty years of age; today, thousands of girls have become fine cooks at eighteen or twenty.”
That being fine advice, the reader will hopefully bear with the leeway I grant in the following recipes, as I am not a young cook.
I’ve struggled with making sourdough bread. I can often get a starter going, and even keep it for a while at least until the heat of summer, but the resulting bread has always turned out a bit too heavy and tangy. A couple of months ago I ran across a recipe in Emira Stove Works Woodstove Cookery by Jane Cooper (1977) for a potato yeast bread and it has proven to be a workable sourdough alternative for us.
3 medium potatoes, pared and diced
4 cups boiling water
1 yeast cake (I use 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast)
1 cup sifted flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
Cook potatoes in boiling water until tender. Drain and save liquid. Cool to lukewarm. Soften yeast in one cup lukewarm potato water; add potatoes and remaining ingredients. Beat well.
Cover and let stand at room temperature twenty-four hours.
(Warning: Don’t cover the jar tightly, and be prepared to shake the mixture down every couple of hours for the first 12 hours or so. Other options include placing the loosely covered jar in a larger bowl or plate and watching the volcano effect or placing the lid tightly, waiting a few hours, then removing the lid and scraping the starter off the ceiling.)
Pour into a sterilized jar (I don’t worry about this myself) and store in a cool, dark place. Use one cup potato yeast to replace one yeast cake in any recipe. Fresh starter should be prepared at least every two weeks, using one cup old yeast or one new cake of yeast.
This makes about 4 cups of starter which works perfectly for us. I bake twice a week and remake the starter with the old every 2 weeks, using fresh yeast every 8.
Tabletop Homestead Bread
Combine 1 cup potato yeast, 1 cup warm water and 1 cup flour. Mix well and set in a warm place until bubbly. Add about a teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons of oil, melted butter or melted lard. Mix well, then add flour to make a soft, workable dough. Knead until smooth. Let rise until doubled. Punch down and place in a greased pan. Let rise again until doubled. Bake at about 400 degrees until done. Brush with butter or lard after baking for a softer crust. (I use a thermometer and bake to 190 degrees internal temp. I bake the bread in an 7” round x 3 1/2” glazed pottery crock. This makes about a 2 pound loaf, enough for the two of us for half the week.)
Since our lifestyle revolves around learning how to live on what we can raise and always moving towards more self-sufficiency/God-sufficiency, we plan to experiment with this starter using sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.