Babcia’s Bread experiment, part 2; the beginning

Photo heavy post ahead. 🙂

Okay, here it is! My very first attempt at slowly recreating my grandmother’s bread, with her use of “old dough” yeast that she kept stored in flour in between baking day. (Part 1: the story)

The first goal is to create the bread dough yeast starter, and for that, I need to make a yeast bread.

Here are the ingredients.

Water, yeast, salt and flour.

That’s it!

I used Kosher salt, as I figured that was more like what my grandmother had available to her.

For a 2 loaf recipe, I used 2 cups water, 2 tsp salt, about 2 tsp yeast, and between 5 and 6 cups of flour.

The yeast is my “cheat”. Back in the spring, when everyone started panic buying, yeast was among those things that became hard to find. One of our local grocery stores now not only stocks lots of the usual big name brand or two, but a wide variety of brands and types of yeast. When I spotted a “sourdough” yeast, I grabbed a packet, just to try it.

Since some of the dough from this batch will become the “mother” of future batched, I thought it was appropriate to use it.

The ingredients list is interesting. Both wheat and rye is used.

If you’re wondering about the sorbitan monpstearate, this is what I found:

“Sorbitan monostearate (abbreviation SMS), or Span 60, is an emulsifier esterified from sorbitol and stearic acid with the European food additive number E491. This ingredient is mostly used in baking yeast by improving the activity of instant dry yeast when the yeast is rehydrated before use. “

Speaking of rehydrating…

For the 2 cups of water, I boiled it first, because I have doubts about our well water. We really need to get the water tested, but a full test is really expensive, so… boiling it is.

I measured out half a cup of water into another measuring cup to rehydrate the yeast. I could have done it in the full 2 cups, but the half cup cooled down to a safer temperature for the yeast faster.

The inclusion of rye in this really changes the colour!

I let it proof for 5 minutes. I don’t know if I should have proofed it longer – I have recipes that call for anything from 5 to 15 minutes. It’s bubbled up, though, so I decided to go ahead.

While it was proofing, I mixed the salt into about 2-3 cups of flour. Without a wood bread bowl, I decided not to use a plastic one, and tried “dump your liquids into a well in the flour” method.

That looks…


The next while was spent with very messy, sticky hands, incorporating the rest of the flour and water in.

Thankfully, my daughter came down to give me a hand, adding the flour and water as I kneaded it in.

Once it was all mixed in, I kneaded the dough for about 15 minutes.

I may have used too much flour. I’ll have to keep that in mind for next time.

I did notice a difference in texture from my usual bread. Although I kneaded the dough until it felt smooth and satiny, it never looked smooth.

In fact, the longer I kneaded, the rougher it began to appear!

So I went by feel rather than appearances when it came time to set it aside for a first rising.

It went into an oiled plastic bowl, turning to coat all sides with oil. After covering the bowl with a tea towel, it went into a warm oven to rise.

Earlier in the day, I had prepped a baking stone and was curing it with oil in the oven. The oven was off but still warm; prefect for proofing the dough.

Once it was in the oven and rising, I set a timer to check it in an hour while my daughter started a batch of French bread. Checking it at an hour, I decided it needed more time, by my daughter’s bread was rising by the, too. So I took the bowl out and put my daughter’s dough in the warm warm oven, and set my timer for another hour.

This is the dough, after 2 hours.

After turning the dough out to prepare the loaves, I had to make sure to do that most important part.

Collect a dough egg! 😀

This humble little lump of dough is what it’s all about.

Into our flour canister it went!

I almost forget to get a picture before burying it!

My other daughter labeled the container for me.

She is a hoot! 😀

The ball of dough will now dry out until the next time we bake this bread.

After dividing the dough, I decided to form it into round loaves.

By this time, my daughter’s loaves were in the oven.

Where she forgot to take out my curing baking stone.

So they got to have their second rise on a normal baking pa, instead.

In kneading and shaping the dough, once again, the dough got rougher rather than smoother! You can really tell in the one of the left.

I then left them to rise, checking them after about half an hour.

My daughter’s French bread was done well before my second rising was done!

The ended up needing another hour of rising time.

The baking stone had cooled down quite a bit by then, but was warm enough that I transferred the loaves over, and I think that residual warmth helped them rise even more. The above photo was taken just before they went into a 400F oven.

All done!

I am not sure how long they took to back. I set my timer for half and hour, then kept peaking and resetting the time for another 5 minutes, over and over. I think it took about an hour to bake.

I was quite impressed with how much the loaves rose in the process!

The next part was the hardest.

Waiting for the loaves to cool down!

For all that the loaves rose so much in the oven, they still felt surprisingly dense. I was also a bit surprised by how fine a crumb there was.

I taste tested one piece plain, one with ordinary butter, and one with a garlic herb butter.

I’m having a hard time describing the flavour. It was certainly tastey, but I think I was picking up the rye flavour in the “sourdough” yeast. It did have a “sourdough” tang, but one that is quite different from any sourdough we’ve made ourselves.

The sponge was soft, yet toothsome. The crust was crusty enough to be a good chew, but not so crusty as to cut up the mouth (something I have issues with, when it comes to most “crusty” breads).

The plain slice was tasty, but the buttered slices definitely were better. With no fat in the bread itself, the butter really brought out the flavours that were more muted in the unbuttered slice.

All in all, this very plain, very basic bread was a success.

It is, however, just the first step in the process. It’s purpose was to provide us with some dough to reserve for the next batch. Every batch of bread we make using the bread egg now sitting in the flour canister will be another step closer to recreating my Babcia’s bread.

While my grandmother did her bread baking once a week, we will probably make our first batch using the bread egg in 3 or 4 days.

I am really curious to see how it will look when we fish it out of the flour, and how the overnight soak will turn out! For a first time use, I don’t expect the flavour will be much different, but who knows? I’ve never done this before! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Babcia’s Bread Experiment, part 1: the story

I may have mentioned in past posts, about my mother’s memories of bread baking in pre-WWII Poland. I was fascinated by what she could tell me. With no commercial yeast available, I had thought my Babcia (grandmother) had used a sort of sourdough. I know my father remembers this; a portion of the bread dough would be set aside to continue to ferment, and be used in the next batch of bread.

My grandmother did something different. She allowed her old dough to dry.

We lost our own sourdough starter, the Sourceror this past summer. It almost made it to 2 years, but we had a real problem with fruit flies this year. Somehow, they managed to get into the container and contaminated it.

Having a big bubbling bowl on the counter has been a bit of a problem for other reasons, so the more I heard about how my Babcia saved her dough, the more I wanted to try it.

My mother’s memories go back to the late 1930’s, early 1940’s. Then WWII happened and they eventually ended up in Canada, where commercial yeast was available. After questioning her about it, this is what I’ve been able to piece together.

Babcia would bake bread once a week. She would set aside some of the dough, adding in the scrapings from the wooden dough bowl, form it into a ball, then burying the ball in the flour. The night before she would be baking bread again, she would take out the dried ball of dough, break it up into pieces, and soak it in water overnight. In would get all bubbly, and that would be her yeast for her bread baking, with the cycle continuing each time.

My basic bread recipe includes things like oil, sugar, eggs, milk… all things that I just couldn’t see handling sitting in a bag of flour for a week without going off. On questioning my mother, I learned Babcia used none of these things. It simply wasn’t available. Her bread was flour, water, a bit of salt, and the reconstituted old dough. That’s it.

The flour would have been flour they milled themselves (at least they did until the Nazi’s caught them using an illicit hand mill and destroyed it), using grain they grew themselves. My mother says corn flour was also sometimes used, which they also would have grown themselves. The ingredients may have been few, but my mother remembers it as being the best bread; especially when corn flour was added. She remembers it was light and fluffy, too.

My mother was too young at the time to remember a lot of details, though, so I did some research. I know that bread can be as basic as flour and water, but if salt is used, would that be a problem? I know that sugar feeds yeast, while salt retards it. How would having salt in the dough affect the old dough yeast cake? Also, how much dough was set aside? My mother remembers a “ball”, but as young as she was, her sense of how large that was would be distorted.

In my research, I found quite a bit about “old dough” bread baking. This gave me a lot of the information I was looking for. For some types of old dough baking, dough is set aside before the salt was added, while others were taken out after. Both work. As for how much was taken out, I eventually found a general “about the size of an egg” description.

What I didn’t find was anyone who used old dough that was stored in flour. Nor did I find any that stored the dough for weekly baking. Most described setting the old dough aside in the fridge for 2 or 3 days, at most. In some forums I found, people described using it in their daily baking. Not a single person described using their old dough the way my mother remembers her mother did it. They all used wet dough. None used reconstituted dry dough.

I have decided, instead of getting a sourdough going again (for now), I will try and recreate my Babcia’s bread.

Of course, some things I will simply not be able to recreate; at least not now. We’ll be using plain old AP flour. I won’t be adding corn flour right away. I don’t have a big wooden dough bowl like my Babcia would have had (with a wooden dough bowl, yeast would have gotten into the wood itself, adding its own layer of flavours). I also don’t have a wood burning masonry stove (something similar to this, with a sleeping area on top) like my grandmother would have been baking in.

I found some proportions for ingredients for 2 loaves that I will start with, and I will probably experiment with making some a couple of times a week before I start adjusting quantities for larger batches.

One of the main differences in this experimental process is that I don’t have a yeast “mother.” My mother has no memory of where her mother got hers from. It was always just there. She may well have gotten her first old dough from the family members she was living with (my great grandparents having already gone to Canada to start a homestead, only to not be able to send for their children as they had planned, because of WWI). However, as they saw the warning signs leading to WWII, they abandoned their farm in Eastern Poland, taking nothing but the clothes on their backs and a goat they could milk for food, to settle in Western Poland. At that point, my grandmother likely got another old dough ball from one of their new neighbours.

It’s amazing how much history is intertwined in something so ordinary as how my grandmother leavened her bread!

So this is what I will be doing in my experiment that will possibly span years.

Today, I have started a first batch of plain bread; it’s rising as I write this, and I will post about it separately when it’s done.

I will be using a commercial “sourdough” yeast I happened to find, in this first batch.

After the dough is risen and before I shape it into loaves, I will break off some of the dough and store it in a container of flour, then bake the rest of the dough as usual.

In a few days, I’ll reconstitute what should be a mostly dried ball of dough overnight, make another 2 loaf batch, then continue repeating the process.

What should happen: the flavour of the bread should change and develop over time, just as with a sourdough.

What might happen: I’ll have sucky bread that doesn’t rise properly? The dough ball will start molding? The yeast will die off and I’ll have to start over? I have no idea.

For the first few months, at least, I will stick to the same basic mix of flour, water, salt and the old dough for yeast. Eventually, I will try adding corn flour. If I do decide to modify the recipe in other ways, it will be by doing things like kneading in herbs or shredded cheese or whatever, after the dough ball has been removed. I won’t be adding things to the base recipe, like sugar, milk, oil or eggs.

After I’ve done a few batches, and assuming this works, I plan to give some to my mother to taste. Hopefully, she will remember enough to be able to tell me if I’ve succeeded or not! 😀

The Re-Farmer


Like father, like son?

Creamsicle decided to come and play this morning. I think it’s pretty clear he’s a daddy! 😀

I suppose it also explains why Butterscotch lets him hang around, but will chase Potato Beetle away. I don’t know where she found the other daddies, but none of them were tabbies! 😀

While going through the trail cam files this morning, I was reminded of something I found hooked onto the chain of our gate when I got home, yesterday. A little card like would normally have been slipped over a door knob by a delivery person. The trail cam recorded the guy that left it. I’m pretty sure I saw the same car leaving my brother’s place as I was coming up the road. 🙂

It was a notice, with contact information and a file number, that an aerial photo was taken of the property, if we were interested in buying it.

I intend to check it out!

We currently have an aerial photo of farm, framed and hanging in our entry for as long as I can remember. Some guy had flown around, taking pictures, then visited the farms and offering to sell them. This guy basically did the same thing.

The photo we currently have may well be older than me. Things have change quite a lot over the decades!

As you can imagine, I am very interested in getting a photo that was taken almost 2 generations later!

The Re-Farmer

Recommended: Townsends

Welcome to my “Recommended” series of posts. These will be weekly – for now – posts about resources and sites I have found over the past while that I found so excellent, I want to share them with you, my dear readers. 🙂 Whether or not I continue to post these, and how often they are posted, will depend on feedback. Please feel free to comment below, and if you have a favorite resource of your own, do share, and I will review them for possible future posts.

I hope you find these recommendations as useful and enjoyable as I have!

One of my favourite topics is history. Not the names and dates, conquerors and conquered type of history, but how ordinary people lived. Over the years, I found that the best way to learn about a people and their culture was to learn about their food, their clothing and their everyday items. It’s remarkable how tangential those areas are.

So this next recommendation is for something right up my alley – Townsends, with their focus on 18th century living in the US.

Jas Townsend and Son has been posting videos for 11 years! You’ll find period topics on everything related to everyday life of people in a variety of circumstances, including how men and women dressed in the period, everyday skills, such as weaving and cooking over an open fire, to building a log cabin!

Of course, food plays a big part of these, and this site is where I found out about the mushroom ketchup that we made ourselves.

We’ve used ours all up and need to make another batch! The ground is no longer frozen, so this time we won’t have to skip the horseradish. 😀

The videos also include a lot of interesting historical information, as well.

While their videos cover an amazing diversity of topics on 18th century life – even advice for reenactors! – their website is well worth visiting, too. Pretty much all of the items you see used in the videos are available on their website. Clothing, accessories, camping equipment, kits, books and more are all available, and all historically accurate to every detail available. It’s really amazing to see the variety of items they have!

One of the reasons I like historical recipes like the many that are recreated in these videos, as well as the cooking methods and tools, is that they tend to be really basic. People made these with the materials that were available, and learned to modify accordingly. A lot of modern recipes and cooking videos tend to involve things I either can’t get, can’t afford, or don’t want to use. I like to keep things simple – and cheap! We’ve gone through some very lean times over the years, and old-timey, cooking from scratch food preparation was pretty much the only option we had. Which doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice taste!

Townsends videos are really interesting, for their historical information and insights. Jas Townsend’s calm enthusiasm is infectious, and he is truly dedicated to authenticity and attention to detail. Recreating historical food is always a challenge, whether from recreating recipes that give little to no information on things like quantities, or even ingredients, to recreating foods where no recipes exist at all; just vague descriptions.

Since moving back to the farm, among the things we’ve had to consider is what do when – not if – we find ourselves without electricity, or unable to get to town to buy things we need, etc. It’s part of why we have been slowly working our way to being as self-sufficient as possible. Historical resources like this go a long way to help in planning what we want to work on, like having an earthen oven, etc.

Plus, it’s just really, really enjoyable to watch and learn from them!

The Re-Farmer

Clean Up: Old Kitchen – getting started

Today’s plans ended up changing a bit.  (photo heavy post ahead! 🙂 )

Originally, the only thing on the schedule for today was a medical appointment for my husband in the morning, so that was a drive into town.  After we got back, my daughters and I talked about plans to head into the city tomorrow for the Costco shopping.  My husband’s disability payment doesn’t come in until Friday, but his CPP disability came in today.  With Canada Day happening this weekend, the last thing I wanted to do was shop on Friday!  My plan was to move the big freezer in the old kitchen, which we emptied last night, to a more accessible spot, while starting to pack things up for the storage shed.  Doing the old kitchen is going to be a bit different, since we ended up having to store some of our own stuff in there for the winter, so it’s a mix of things we need to pack and move out, and things we need to keep.

My younger daughter had her own errand to run in the city, and we ended up deciding to do both her errand and the Costco shopping today, instead of tomorrow.  So I started on the old kitchen, just enough to move the freezer.

Here are the before pictures.


Under this window is where the younger of my brothers had his freezer, which they took out before winter.  My older daughter’s tent ended up in there, and the taped up parts of a utility shelf is ours, along with the watering can.  This is the window where we have extension cords going into the sun room.


The shelf in the corner is going to be removed at some point.  Both it and the wall mounted shelf are full of mostly jars.  There is also a very light, folding walker in there that my dad used indoors, tucked away in front of that purple curtain.  The round wooden thing in the corner is a seed sifter.  The bath transfer seat was my dad’s, and we will be keeping that.  He didn’t use it for long before he went to the nursing home, so it’s still in good shape.  It’s also sturdy enough that it’s been used to get up onto the shelf, so that we can reach the breaker panel above.

Once we move the shelves out, we’ll need to have something handy to access the breakers.  My older brother, wonderful man that he is, wired in a new breaker for the drier when he moved the washer and drier out of the basement and into the main entry.  In the process, he added extra wire, so when we are ready to, we can add another breaker for something else.  It was VERY difficult to add more electrical, so this will save some future problems.

And yes.  That is aluminum foil on the other window.  I’m guessing it’s because it faces West, so it is to block the sun as it sets and helps keep the room cool.


There is my parents’ freezer that we are using.

Yeah, we had to crawl over the stuff to get at it.

Those are the only areas I intended to work on today.  I cleared out the stuff under the window, where the freezer was going to go, moved the stuff in front of the freezer, all into the sun room or outside, then move the shelf with the drawers out of the way.

Those drawers are full of odds and ends.  I haven’t even tried to do more than take a quick peek in them, so far.


Yay!  We can access the freezer, now!

I also got rid of the curtain on the window.  I’m kinda liking the fact that we don’t need to have curtains or blinds to keep people from seeing into our home.  We can have privacy AND light at the same time! 😀  My mom, on the other hand, put curtains everywhere, including using them to hide the contents of shelves, like the purple one here.


This is what was under the freezer and shelf.


All I can do for now is sweep.  That floor is going to need a lot of work!


Now, the utility shelf can finally be used.

Do you see that big, black enameled bowl on the shelf on the right?  Somewhere, there is a lid for it.  That’s the bowl my mother used to mix bread dough for her once a week bread baking.  She would start the dough in the morning, cover it and leave it for the first rising while she went to milk the cows.  By the time she was done, the dough would have overflowed the container, which would be pushed back, punched down and left for a second rising.  After more chores, she would punch down the dough again, then start forming buns.  Before long, the kitchen and dining table would be covered with trays of buns, as she would start baking them in batches.  She would continue, late into the night, before she was done.  I am sure she made bread loaves, too, but I only remember buns; we loved them, so that’s what she made the most.  Once the buns started coming out of the oven, however, we would go at them like ravenous wolves!  They were meant to be bagged up, with some frozen for later in the week, but I think there were some days when we ate too many, too quickly.  I have a memory of seeing her face, once, with this sort of dismayed look on it, as she looked over what was left of her day’s labour.

As an adult, I now understand that feel, but as a child, I just loved her bread!  It was awesome.

And now I have the bowl.  Not sure if I’ll put it into storage or not.  Depends on if I find the lid. 🙂


And now, it all looks like crap again! LOL  I just put most of the stuff back again, to wait until we can pack things up and put it into storage.

Meanwhile, here is what the rest of the room looks like.

Keep in mind that this is just a tiny addition to the main log part of the house.


Well, this picture didn’t turn out very well.

The grid wall is my daughter’s, and goes with her tent, so those will be kept.  The giant mirror behind it is one of many we’ve found around the house (and there’s still one that needs to come down) that are huge, and damaged.  Likely salvaged from who knows where.

The aquarium box is from when we had to get a small aquarium for my aquatic plants, since we were never able to set up the 90 gallon tank.  Without being able to replace the broken piece on the filter, I might not be able to set that up until we can buy a whole new filter, which I certainly don’t want to do.  I got the one I have at a massive discount.  A new equivalent one would cost me $400!  I can’t even find the part I need online, at the brand’s website. 😦

The tank is past warranty now, so the box can go.

You can see the stove pipe in the back from the wood burning cook stove that’s completely hidden by all the stuff in front of it.  This is the stove we used until the new part was added to the house, and we got an electric stove, running water, and an indoor bathroom.  We continued to use it when there were power outages.  Those happened fairly regularly, until the power lines were all upgraded.  Country lines were pretty low on the priority list.

The stove is mere inches away from the wall, and there is no fireproof protection behind it.  That was normal, back in the day, but completely against fire safety regulations today.  We’d never be able to use it, as is.

The stove is covered with stuff, and the warming shelves are also full of stuff.  All things we will be packing away.  Tucked into a corner on the right are wall shelves, full of more stuff.  Including, I think, the parts and pieces of our old cream separator.  The basin, at least, is there.

I am hoping to completely clear the stove so that we can clean it up and have it as basically an historical decoration.


More odd bits of scrap carpet and rug pieces on the floor.  The Christmas lights are ours; we didn’t put up our tree for our first Christmas here, so they didn’t get used.  That dual cassette player on the floor used to be mine!  My dad had it in the sun room, so he could listen to the radio.  I’ve put that thing away so many times, and somehow, it always ended up on the floor.  Now it’s in the utility shelf, and it had darn well better stay there! 😀


The blue bit of carpet is now gone.  That window is waiting and ready to replace the one with aluminum foil on it.


My mother’s salt and pepper shaker collection.

Those, and the shelf they are on, will be packed and put into storage.

I also got rid of the curtain on the door.

Not only was part of it stuck at the hinge, but it was taped in place, as well as being on a tiny curtain rod.  Likely to keep it from billowing as the door was opened and closed.

This is the last usable room we need to pack and clean.  (I’m not really counting the basements and attic above the old kitchen, since they are not spaces we use regularly.)  I’m looking forward to being able to open the door and not have to worry about the cats sneaking in.  The door doesn’t latch well, so if we could just leave it instead of having to fight with it every time we open and close it, that would make life easier! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Around outside

A last post about my walkabout in our yard.


The spruce grove next to the house might be what’s preventing us from being able to get more stable internet (with better data plans!), but it sure is beautiful.

This view is from the end of our garden near the road to our driveway.  As you can see, there are quite a lot of downed trees in there.  Quite a few dead trees that we will eventually need to cut down, too.

Well, we’ll have plenty of wood for our fire pit, when the time comes!


In a corner of the yard, near the fire pit, is one of several old log cabins on the property.  The wall facing into the yard has vertical boards for siding.

There used to be a gooseberry bush at the opposite corner.  I used to love picking the juicy, tart green berries and eat them when I was a child.

Years later, I discovered that they were supposed to be eaten after they turned red and soft.  I’d always thought that was when they’d gone bad, because they tasted so bland. 😀

I don’t know what happened to that gooseberry bush.  It’s not there anymore, and other trees are growing near where it was.

This wall here faces what used to be an open area where my late brother had his “bike shop.”  There were all sorts of bike parts and pieces that he would use to cobble bikes together.

Quite a lot of those parts and pieces seem to still be there, rusting away.


I’ve read that this type of corner joining for log buildings is a style mostly unique to our region.

This old shed was used for storage for as long as I can remember.  I don’t know what its original purpose was.


This is part of the inside.  The roof is collapsing on both sides.  The rafters are full of all sorts of things.  I have no idea what that machine is, but it looks like it runs the length of the building.

The stuff jammed into there is amazing.  An old wringer washer.  An electric stove.  What looks like a very, very old washer and drier set.  Pieces of antenna.  Head and foot boards.  Old window frames.  A bike that I think used to be ours.  Tires.

I don’t think anything in there is salvageable.  It all just got shoved in there and forgotten about.

This old log building looks to be in better shape.

That’s a relative statement.

This is actually outside the fenced part of our yard, but is still part of the larger yard that includes the barn and various outbuildings (and cars, trucks, tractors, hay rakes, fuel tanks… ).  Before my father bought the property, this was the “summer kitchen.”  There was a wood stove and the cooking and canning would be done in here in the summer, rather than in the main house, so the house wouldn’t get overheated.  I imagine it reduced the risk of burning the house down, too. :-/

We used it as a chicken coop.  There was a walled in area around two sides of the building for a chicken run, though we would let them out during the day in the summer.

I briefly considered going over to look inside.

I changed my mind.

I just didn’t feel like working my way through the barrier of burs!

We’re back in the yard, next to the house again.

My late brother built this bird house for my mother, and it can be seen from our dining room window.  My mother is a strongly religious person, so he built it in the shape of a church.

It still gets used by birds every year.  I am hoping that we will have a chance to take it down and fix it up this year.  Maybe prune back some of the branches around the post, too.  Once we have a better idea of what’s actually growing there.  It’s in what was one of my mother’s many little flower gardens around the yard, but it seems to be all bushes now.

What I would love to do is have a deck built along this side of the house, with a ramp leading to the end of the house where the current main entry way is, and the direction we need to go to get to the van, so that my husband doesn’t have to fight with the door while trying to get his walker up and down the steps.  Then we’d also be able to start using what is supposed to be the front door.  If that happens, this garden bed will likely need to be taken at least partly out.  Which would not be a bad thing, I am thinking.

The Re-Farmer