10 Victorian Bread Recipes Without Commercial Yeast - Sew Historically (2024)

Victorian bread recipes without commercial yeast and without sourdough starter – you don’t need commercial yeast to bake a loaf of bread! In the Victorian era it was quite common to make yeast substitutes at home. Here you’ll find 8 recipes for homemade yeast substitutes: hop yeast, fruit yeast, grape must yeast, flour yeast sponge, pea yeast, bark yeast & salt rising bread.

I often make homemade sourdough bread, but since I made Victorian Graham bread (with commercial yeast) for the Historical Food Fortnightly two month ago, I was interested in historical homemade bread recipes which were made without commercial yeast. So here I compiled Victorian bread recipes which are all made without commercial yeast and without traditional homemade sourdough starter.

‘Home-made liquid yeast is exceedingly easy to prepare. It simply requires a mixture of water and some material in which the plant cells will rapidly grow.’ (A Handbook Of Invalid Cooking, 1893)

In the Victorian era, yeast was usually made at home with boiled hops and mashed potatoes. But nearly all Victorian yeast recipes made with hops say to add some commercial yeast as well; but finally I found two Victorian yeast recipes without commercial yeast, which you’ll find below. There are also recipes for Victorian salt-risen bread, Roman bread made with grape must, Turkish pea bread and Siberian bark bread.

Hop Potato Yeast – Good Substitute for Brewer’s Yeast (The Country Gentleman’s Magazine, 1869, p. 383)

  • 1 oz hops
  • 4 quarts water
  • 6 oz flour
  • 5 oz sugar
  • 4 lbs potatoes, ‘boiled and bruised fine’

Boil hops in water, ‘until the hops fall to the bottom of the pan; strain it, and when milk-warm’ add flour and sugar; ‘set the mixture by the fire, stirring it frequently’. After 48 hours add potatoes; ‘next day bottle the yeast – it will keep a month. One fourth of yeast and three of warm water, is the proportion for baking.’

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Flour Yeast – Another Good Substitute for Brewer’s Yeast (The Country Gentleman’s Magazine, 1869, p. 383)

  • 1 lb flour
  • 1/4 lb brown sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 gallons water

Boil all ingredients for 1 hour; ‘when milk-warm, bottle and cork it close, and it will be fit for use in twenty-four hours. 1 lb. of this yeast will make 18 lb. of bread.’

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Homemade Yeast Substitute (The Century Cook Book, 1895)

  • flour
  • water

‘What to do when yeast is not obtainable to start the fermentation in making yeast. Mix a thin batter of flour and water, and let it stand in a warm place until it is full of bubbles. This ferment has only half the strength of yeast, so double the amount must be used.’

Rice Or Bean Yeast Substitute (Manual for Army Bakers, 1910, p. 34)

  • 1 7/8 pounds of ground or boiled rice (or beans)
  • 1 7/8 pounds of brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 gallons lukewarm water

‘Mix the ingredients well, pour into a keg and cork down tightly. Shake every hour or so – the more the better. In forty-eight hours it will be ready’ to make the dough.

  • 100 pounds flour

Sift the flour […] into the trough. Hollow out the center and pour in the yeast [starter] and gradually mix in enough flour from the sides to make a thin batter. This so-called “sponge” should be ready in about eight hours.’

Salt Rising Bread (The Ohio Cultivator, 1859, p. 62)

The disadvantages of salt-rising bread ‘are, that it requires constant care to keep it at the right temperature, that the time necessary for it to rise renders it indispensable that it should be baked in the afternoon, when every housekeeper likes to be at leisure, that only a certain quantity of flour will rise at all by this method, and that, to people accustomed to good hop yeast bread, the best bread made thus is disagreeable […] the rising often […] smell before rising, and the bread becoming dry and crumbly, if exposed to the air, in less than twenty-four hours after baking. The best housekeepers I know of, do not make “salt-rising” bread at all seasons, but in summer only, when the yeast can be more easily kept at the right temperature, and hop yeast sours sooner.’

  • 1 pint warm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • flour

‘Since the days of Eve, every married woman has had her “autocrat,” not of “the breakfast table” only, but of household affairs generally. My autocrat has a choice of bread, and it is decidedly “salt-rising.” […] Here is my way of making good bread: Take one pint of warm water, one teaspoonful of salt, put it in a dish sufficiently large to admit of stirring in the flour until it is a thick batter, and keep it warm, quite warm, and in five hours it will rise and be fit for use. If it does not rise sufficiently, dissolve a piece of common soda as large as two kernels of corn, and stir into the batter.’

  • 1/2 bushel flour
  • 4 quarts (or more) lukewarm milk or water

Put half a bushel (more or less, according to the consumption of the family) of flour into the kneading-trough, and hollow it well in the middle; dilute a pint of yeast with four quarts or more of lukewarm milk or water, or a mixture of the two; stir into it from the surrounding part, with a wooden spoon, as much flour as will make a thick batter, throw a little over it, and leave this, which is called the leaven, to rise, before proceeding farther.

In about an hour, it will have swollen considerably, and have burst through the coating of flour on the top; then pour in as much warm liquid as will convert the whole, with good kneading – and this should not be spared – into a firm dough […] Through a cloth over it, and let it remain until it has risen very much a second time, which will be in an hour, or something more […] mould it into loaves […] put them directly in a well heated oven, and bake them from an hour and a half to an hour and three quarters.’

Salt Rising Bread (The Ohio Cultivator, 1859, p. 223)

‘Salt-rising, or rather milk-rising bread, to me now looks finer, tastes better, and is more healthy, beside being less work about making it than the common yeast bread. […] This bread if made aright, is white, moist, tender, [and] sweet’.

  • 1 pint new milk
  • 1 pint boiling water
  • flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Take milk, water and salt, ‘put together in a vessel sufficiently large, add flour very fast, until as thick as can well be stirred smoothly; put the vessel in another of water, as warm as the hand can be held in, stand by the stove or fire so as to keep up the water at the same temperature. Give it a slight stirring, and that but once, which should be done upon seeing signs of its rising, which will be after it has stood between three and four hours. Will be up in about five hours. Should not present a surface of fine bubbles, but look much as yeast.’

  • flour
  • 2 quarts (or less) warm, sweet milk
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teacup sugar or maple molasses

‘Mix moderately stiff, and mould out into pans, set by the stove to rise. May be ready to bake in an hour. Will bake a little quicker than yeast. […]

If the rising be set at six in the morning, the bread can be mixed at eleven, and all in the cooling room at two o’clock, so as not to interfere with the arrangements of the afternoon.’

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Salt Rising Bread (Guide For Nut Cookery, 1898)

  • 1 cup water
  • white flour
  • 1 tsp corn flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 drop ginger extract

‘Take a perfectly clean bowl, and one that has not had any acid substance like cooked fruit in it. Put in it 1 cup of warm water, 1/2 teaspoonful of salt, 1 teaspoonful of corn-meal, 1 drop of ginger extract, and enough white flour to make a medium thick batter. Beat it very thoroughly, and set the bowl in a pan of warm water to secure a uniformity of temperature. It will rise in about five hours, sometimes more quickly. Much depends upon the flour.’

  • 1 pint water
  • flour

‘When it is light, take a pint of quite warm water, and add enough flour to make a rather stiff sponge. When lukewarm, add the rising, stirring it in well. If kept in a warm place, it ought to be light in one or two hours. When light, knead into loaves. It requires much less kneading than yeast bread. When the loaves have risen to twice their original size, bake in a moderate oven for nearly an hour.’

Salt Rising Bread (Meatless Cookery, 1914)

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup scalded milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups milk and water
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • flour to make a stiff dough

‘Scald the meal and salt with one-half cup of milk, and let it stand in a warm place over night. In the morning, set the bowl in water, as warm as the hand can bear. During the whole process keep the bread at this temperature; when this is light, add it to the remainder of the scalded milk and water which has been allowed to cool. Add the butter, sugar, salt and flour, and beat this batter thoroughly. Set it in warm water again to rise; when light, add the flour to make a stiff dough, knead well, put in pans, and when risen again, bake for about 45 minutes.’

Pliny’s Grape Must Bread (Naturalis Historia, 77) (The Natural History of Pliny, 1856, p. 38)

‘The lees of small beer; porter, and wine; or porter alone, will ferment when mixed with flour, and good bread may be made with it.’ (The Naval Chronicle, 1799)

  • millet or fine wheat bran
  • three days old white must

Knead millet with must, ‘it will keep a whole year.’ Or knead bran with white must and dry it in the sun, ‘after which it is made into small cakes. When required for making bread, these cakes are first soaked in water, and then boiled with the finest spelt flour, after which the whole is mixed up with the meal; and it is generally thought that this is the best method of making bread.’

Raisin Potato Fruit Yeast (Guide For Nut Cookery, 1898)

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 pints water
  • 4 potatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar

‘Take 1 cup of raisins, wash them well, and put them to soak in 1 1/2 pints of warm water, keeping them in a warm place for two or three days, or until fermentation takes place, which can be told by the bubbles on top of the water. Then make a potato yeast by boiling 4 good-sized potatoes until tender; mash fine, or sift through a colander or vegetable press. Add 1 teaspoonful of salt, 1 tablespoonful of sugar, and when cooled to blood-heat, add enough of the raisin water to make of the right consistency, which will be about 2 cupfuls. Let it rise until light, and then put in clean glass cans, and keep in a cool place. It is better to be a few days old before using.’

Turkish Pea Yeast (The Family Receipt Book, 1819, p. 87)

  • small teacupful of split or bruised peas
  • 1 pint boiling water

Pour boiling water over the peas, ‘and set it in a vessel all night on the hearth, or any warm place. The next morning the water will have a froth on it, and be good yeast, and will make as much bread as two quartern loaves.’

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Siberian Bark Bread (Vollständige Brod-Bak-Kunde, 1832, p. 85)

‘The Siberian ermine hunters, when their yeast, which they carry with them, to make their quass, is spoiled by the cold, digest the inner bark of the pine, with water, over the fire, during an hour, mix it with their rye-meal, bury the dough in the snow, and, after 12 hours, find the ferment ready’. (The Gardener’s Magazine, 1828, p. 378)

  • inner bark of larch, pine, fir, birch or elm
  • water
  • flour

Choose ‘a tree whose trunk is even, (for these contain the least resin), and strip off the bark in the spring when it separates most readily’. (The Medical and Physical Journal, 1807, p. 460) The ‘innermost bark of young fir (or elm) […] is first hung up in the air to dry, and then baked. This is beaten on wooden blocks, pounded as fine as possible, and afterwards ground in a mill.’ (Norway, the Road and the Fell, 1864, p. 33)

Simmer the inner bark for half an hour with water, then add flour and knead into a dough. Bury the sourdough for 2 hours in the snow.

How To Store Homemade Yeast

‘Yeast should always be used fresh, but where it cannot be had regularly, it will keep for months in a jar of cold water; the yeast settles on the bottom and the water covering prevents air spoiling the yeast. It is best kept in the ice box, and the water changed twice a week.

To use it, pour off the water carefully, take out what is needed with a spoon and pour fresh water over the remaining yeast. If the water gets too warm, the yeast will rise to the top and spoil. Yeast will also keep frozen for a long time. Before using, it should be thawed slowly in cold water.’ (Paul Richard’s Pastry Book, 1907, p. 99)

‘Home-made yeast should always be kept in a glass bottle or a stone jug, and never in earthen or metal. Before you make fresh yeast, empty entirely the vessel that has contained the last; and if of stone, scald it twice with boiling water, in which it will be well to mix a little clear lye. Then rinse it with cold water, till perfectly clean. If you have not used lye in scalding it, dissolve some potash or pearl-ash in the rinsing-water, to remove any acidity that may linger about the vessel, and may therefore spoil the new yeast. If you keep your yeast in glass bottles, the water must be warm, but not hot; as scalding water may crack them: also melt some potash or pearlash in this water. The vessel for keeping it being purified, proceed to make your yeast.’ (Miss Leslie’s New Receipts For Cooking, 1852)

How To Keep Yeast Without A Refrigerator

‘The old dough used for the start, should either be put in a pail and one quart of cold water put on or more flour worked into it and rolled up into a cloth, well floured, to keep it from getting too sour.’ (Bakers’ Bread, 1918)

‘For the preservation of yeasts it will generally be sufficient in either warm or cold weather to utilize the fireless-cooker or pit idea, being careful to get a proper temperature for the receptacle and then to maintain it by noncoductors. To preserve yeast in hot weather, a pit should be dug in moist soil or in a constantly shady spot and the receptacle for the yeast should be surrounded with damp gunnysacks.’ (Manual for Army Bakers, 1910, p. 80)

How To Dry Homemade Yeast (Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery, 1851)

Stir into the yeast ‘sufficient Indian meal to make a moderately stiff dough. Cover it, and set it in a warm place to rise. When it has become very light, roll it out into a thick sheet, and cut it into little cakes. Spread them out on a dish, and let them dry gradually in a cool place where there is no sun. Turn them five or six times a day while drying; and when they are quite dry, put them into paper bags, and keep them in a jar or box closely covered, in a place that is not in the least damp.

When you want the yeast for use, dissolve in a little warm water one or more of the cakes, (in proportion to the quantity of bread you intend making,) and when it is quite dissolved, stir it hard, thicken it with a little flour, cover it, and place it near the fire to rise before you use it. Then mix it with the flour in the usual manner of preparing bread. This is a very convenient way of preserving yeast through the summer, or of conveying it to a distance.’

How To Use Homemade Dry Yeast (Bakers’ Bread, 1918, p. 109)

‘The best way to work with dry yeast is to dissolve the dry cakes in warm water, and some yeast food, that is either sugar, glucose, molasses or some boiled cornstarch or malt, and with some flour make a soft batter and let it stand in a warm place till it begins to work; then it is almost double in strength and ready for stock, and also ferment or sponge.’

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