Mar

14

 Interesting article on the cost of a loaf of bread in 19th century inspired by reading of David Copperfield where he bought a loaf of bread at 9 years old for a pence to stave off hunger.

Bill Rafter writes: 

Let me assume that the costs of making bread by hand in 2018 is somewhat equivalent to making bread commercially 200 years ago. Since the bread of Victorian times was "wheaten", I will compare it with today's whole wheat.

I know these things because I make virtually all the bread we eat because it tastes better, looks better and is undoubtedly healthier.

When you make bread by hand (no electric mixers) you always make two loaves because it is more efficient. If the second loaf is more than you need, you will have no trouble giving it away and make a friend by doing so.

You start with 1000 grams (2.2 lbs.) of flour. If that is the supermarket brand it might cost you $1.25. To that you will add say 750 grams of water (free), 22 grams of salt (nominal) and ¾ teaspoons of yeast (~10 cents). You don't need to buy yeast, as you can make your own (that's what they call sourdough), but the latter is only efficient if you make bread daily. So all-in, your raw material cost for two loaves is less than $1.40, or 70 cents per loaf. To that add the cost of the oven, 475 degrees for an hour and you are probably looking at a dollar per loaf.

The result will be great-tasting with a nice crust, a fantastic peasant-type bread that is highly nutritious. The two loaves will weigh about 1040 grams, or 570 grams per loaf. You would think more, but all that water steams off. So for comparison to Victorian times, the two loaves will weigh about ¾ of the mentioned quartern loaf meaning that the quartern loaf today would cost you $3. BTW, The largest loaf I have made myself was 3 kilos (6.5 pounds) and a real pain (pardon the pun) to handle.

I have not included the cost of labor. although making bread requires skill, it is easily mastered. After all, everyone in the third world knows how to make great bread, and there's a company here that uses prisoners to make great bread. In Dickensian times the baker's assistant was probably not paid, but given bread as wages, which is contrary to the article. Note that a lot of the time involved in creating bread is in waiting, during which the breadmaker can be doing other things. For example, I can easily bake bread while trading the markets. Thus the cost of labor is somewhat hard to quantify.

Aside 1:

The above is the basic plan for great homemade bread. But limits can be pushed. For example, my personal favorite is adding 450 grams of Kalamata olives to the kilo of flour and substituting beer for water. My family's favorite adds 400 grams of chocolate bits, 200 grams of walnuts and uses pear cider instead of water. It's not too hard to imagine a loaf of homemade bread costing in the vicinity of $10. But of course, the taste is incomparable.

Aside 2:

The article mentioned "wheaten". In Victorian times the bread in England most likely included a fair amount of barley flour, which was more common and cheaper. Today, barley flour is not as common and more expensive. I like the addition of barley as it gives a sweeter flavor.
 


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