3 tbs. milk
3 tbs. water
2-3 tbs. butter
2 tbs. homemade yeast (1 pack or cube commercial yeast)
slightly over 1 qt. flour
Warm three spoonfuls of milk, and the same quantity of water, with a bit of butter the size of a walnut, put it to two spoonfuls of thick yeast; put this into the middle of rather more than a quart of flour, mix the whole together to the consistence of a batter-pudding, adding more flour if necessary, to make it the proper thickness; strew a little flour over it from the sides, and if the weather is cold, set it at a little distance from the fire; do this three hours before it is put into the oven; when it breaks a good deal through the flour and rises, work it into a light paste with more warm milk, and water; let it lie till within a quarter of an hour of setting into the oven, then work them lightly into rolls; flour a tin, and drop them on, handle them as little as possible; set them before the fire. About twenty minutes will be sufficient time to bake them; put a little salt into the flour. Rasp the rolls.
From The Cook’s Own Book by “A Boston Housekeeper” (Mrs. N. K. M. Lee), 1832
Comment: Here we encounter one of the challenges of translating a 19th century recipe to 21st century standards: yeast. This did not become available in commercially packaged versions in stores until shortly after the Civil War. Prior to that, it was the responsibility of every homemaker to keep a yeast pot in her own kitchen. If a spoonful or cup of yeast was taken out, which normally happened on an almost daily basis, it was replaced with a like quantity of flour and water. This served as food for the yeast organisms left behind, and the next day it would all be yeast again. Virtually every “recipe” for making yeast called for at least a spoonful of the previous batch to act as a starter.
When through ill luck or mismanagement the entire batch would die, the usual recommendation was a trip to the nearest brewer to restock from his vats. (The distinction between bakers’ and brewers’ yeasts was not so clearly drawn at that time as it is today.) If all else failed, a bowl of plain flour and water would have to be set out with a light cloth over it to keep out insects, and one could only hope that a pleasant variety of wild yeast would settle in and take up housekeeping. If a less well mannered sort moved in instead, the result was known as sourdough.