Gladys’ Suggitt’s Bread Cakes

In an age when there were clear expectations of a gendered division of labour, Gladys Suggitt had the unique experience of doing the work of a man and woman, while finding the time to write a book about it. Taking over the family farm when her parents fell ill and were no longer able to labour, Gladys spent the moments of spare time she had compiling historical information to publish Roses and Thorns. This account of life around Baddow included many recipes.

Having bread was special, “the comfort of the husband, the pride of the wife,” as Gladys would say. To early farm families, flour was precious. People walked miles with bags of wheat on their back to have it ground, and Isaac Watson recalled crossing the river at Rosedale on a fallen log, with this prize produce on his back. Often bread or buns contained potatoes (in addition to flour), because that was what was readily available.

Preparations to have bread for a dinner would have to begin the day before. Most early farm families grew hops, and kept a bag of dried hops hanging from their rafters for making yeast. Gladys Suggitt recalled the method:

“Three handfuls of dried hops were boiled in a gallon of water for twenty minutes. Six large potatoes or their equivalent, pared and either scraped or grated, were needed. When the hops had boiled sufficiently the liquid was strained through a sieve, (if the lady was fortunate enough to own one), if not, through a piece of cloth, (muslin preferred) into the grated potatoes and stirred until the mixture thickened. This was then brought to the boil again; and there was added one cupful of sugar or syrup and one-half cup of salt. The mixture was let cool to blood heat, then the cook added one cupful of the ‘Starter Yeast,’ which was simply a cupful of the last batch of yeast saved for this purpose. This was then let rise in a warm place for five or six hours, or till a thick foam formed on top. When well risen, it was turned into a stone jar, corked tightly and set in a cool place. If because of an emergency, the last cup of yeast was used, or for any reason the starter quit working, someone made a trip to the nearest neighbor, with a pitcher to borrow a cup of ‘starter.’”

The bread dough had to be started the day before, because the yeast took a long time to rise—typically done in a dough box or bread tray, which had a tightly-fitting lid. After each use it had to be scoured with salt. To make buns, the lady would start by making bread dough:

“One pint of flour, and a half pint of good hop yeast were stirred together about five o’clock in the afternoon and left where warm. Before going to bed, three to four quarts of flour were placed in a ‘bread tray’ forming a well in the centre by shoving the flour up the sides. The yeast sponge was placed in this hollow, along with a piece of lard as large as a walnut, two quarts of lukewarm water, and one tablespoon of salt. This was beaten into a thick batter, using only enough of the flour to make it the consistency of a cake batter. Covered, this was let rise till morning. The ‘bread tray’ would be wrapped in an old quilt, coats or the like and placed in the warmest part of the house. In the morning this batter was beaten and the remainder of the flour mixed into it. The dough was kneaded with the hands and flour added until it was no longer sticky.”

To make bread cakes or buns, additional ingredients were added to this ordinary bread dough:

To 2 cups of uncooked dough, Gladys added ½ cup butter, 2 eggs, 1 ½ cups brown sugar. This was “worked all together, with the hands, until the sugar, butter and eggs were thoroughly blended into the uncooked dough. She then added 1 teaspoon soda, 2 eggs, 1 cup currants, 1 cup raisins and 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, all-spice and cloves, with enough flour to turn the mixture into a “reasonably stiff batter.”

To allow loaves or buns to rise, they were set aside to rise, then punched down. When it again doubled in size the loaves or buns were formed, and placed in greased tins, often in large pans which could accommodate three or four loaves to one pan. The loaves or buns were pierced with either a fork or a knife and were again set to rise and cooked in a “moderate oven.” To make hot cross buns, before the last rising, a cross was cut on the surface of the buns with a knife. A moderate oven was probably about 350 degrees on a modern electric oven, but Gladys’ recipes would not specify that, because back then, the lady would be using a cookstove, and would have to be moderate in how she fired it to achieve the desired temperature. There was also not a precise baking time, because she would have to judge by appearance when it was done. It truly was an art, which is why Gladys called it “the pride of the wife.”  How special it was that she went to the trouble to make this for her family. Gladys recalled “this cake was a great favourite in the Suggitt family and was used by the older boys as a means of barter in swapping lunches at school, a practice in general use for years.”

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of uncooked bread dough
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon all-spice
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • Flour

Directions

  • Add butter, eggs and brown sugar to bread dough and work together with the hands, until thoroughly blended.
  • Add soda, eggs, currants, raisins, cinnamon, allspice and cloves and enough flour to turn into a reasonably stiff batter.
  • Add soda, eggs, currants, raisins, cinnamon, allspice and cloves and enough flour to turn into a reasonably stiff batter.

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