Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Day in the Life of William Sparrow

This is a historical fiction blog based on a day in the life of William Sparrow.  
Saturday, July 8, 1769
" Quarter Lamb
Butter 19 lbs.
Half a Shoat
12 Ducks"
William Sparrow Account Book 
Tim Logue as William Sparrow
Early one July morning, before the sun peered over the chimneys of Williamsburg, the checkered curtains of William Sparrow parted as he looked out over the courtyard below.  It was hot and humid with the noise of cicadas roaring in the background.  It was a typical summer day in Tidewater, Virginia.  William Sparrow was the principal cook to Governor Botetourt.  Making more money than any other servant on the Governor’s staff, he was Botetourt’s secret weapon.  Sparrow’s only job was to impress anyone who entered the dining room with some of the best food in Virginia.  He catered to the upper echelons of society with diners such as George Wythe and Peyton Randolph.  This was no small feat, so knowing what he had to do, Sparrow stretched and began getting ready for the day ahead.

William Sparrow's Room
By this time around six o’clock in the morning, the sun had risen and the food factory at the Palace was thrust into action.  While Mr. Sparrow and Mr. Marshman, the butler, planned the day, the undercook and scullery maids began the task of getting the kitchen ready for the day.  Fires had to be stoked, water had to be brought in from the well and the oven had to be lit.  After ensuring the Governor had food for breakfast, Sparrow hurried to the kitchen to plan the meal of the day, which had to be served by two o’ clock.

After quickly taking inventory of the cellar and garden, Sparrow walked out of the side gate to the market at the center of town.  As he walked by all of vendors, a menu began to take shape in his mind. He quickly loaded his cart with mutton, lamb, fresh fish from the James River and geese from a farmer in James City County.  All of these ingredients will make up the dishes to be served to the Governor and his guests. Upon arriving at the Palace, an army of scullions and scullery maids descended upon the cart to make ready all of the ingredients for Sparrow to use. 
Market House in Williamsburg
Photo By: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Upon entering the kitchen, a scene comparable to a great composer conducting a symphony commenced.  Every ingredient was perfectly placed, every dish was perfectly timed and every method of cooking was masterfully exhibited.  As the hands on the old clock inched closer to two o’ clock, a meal began to take shape under tin meat covers and in copper pots.  When Sparrow was happy with every aspect of his dishes, he rang the brass bell tucked in the corner of the kitchen.  This ushered a wave of footmen to carry the food over to the palace.  It is in the palace where Sparrow makes his final effort to dazzle.  Plating his incredible food on imported china from England, garnishing it with citrus from the Caribbean and arranging it in a beautifully symmetric way.  As the guests walked in, they were in awe of the incredible spread before them.  There were fine table linens, ornate silver cutlery and the best French wines chilled with ice from the palace ice house. 
Tim Logue as William Sparrow

The Route of the Footman to the Warming Room
The Warming Room
Photo By: Melissa Blank

At this point, people began to gracefully dine as Sparrow is plating the second and third courses for the table.  As finely dressed servants removed the first course and began placing the second, Sparrow once again went into planning mode as he took inventory of the leftovers.  The leftovers from this meal would be re-purposed and served for the Governor’s supper and his breakfast the following day.  Any of the perishable leftovers that couldn’t be used for the Governor were consumed by Sparrow and the other servants as nothing went to waste. 

A possible first and second course based of Sparrow's purchases and what was in season in July.

After the third course of candies and barley creams was served around four o’ clock, Sparrow’s work for the day was coming to a close. William Sparrow had succeeded in impressing the guests of the Governor.  As he began his work of updating the account books, scullery maids and scullions began their end of the day tasks of polishing wares, sweeping floors and cleaning surfaces.  As Sparrow made his way to the servant’s hall, he was dripping with sweat and his feet ached from all of the pacing on the brick floors.  He made his way to his room, closed his checkered curtains and passed out in his bed hoping for a good night’s rest before this process would began again tomorrow.                       

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Bakers of Williamsburg

Recently, Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Foodways began baking in the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop again after several years of inactivity.  I began to develop an interest in the bakers of Williamsburg a few years ago.  18th century Williamsburg had six bakers throughout the century which provided baked goods to all of its citizens:  Peter Moyer, Cornelius Deforrest, William Sharman, Jean or John Marot, Thomas Alley and a man known only as the “French Baker”.  In compiling all the research for this blog, I realized that there is very little information about these bakers.  The information I was able to locate is compiled from research that I found at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation library, ancestry websites and facts about 18th century bakers from the other thirteen colonies and England. 
TA represents Thomas Alley
WS stands for William Sherman 
A baker from this time period would have had a very early start to their workday.  With a typical preheat time of two hours, ovens had to be lit sometime around six ‘o’clock a.m.  Depending on how much had to be baked for that day, 50 to 100 pounds of dough would have had to be kneaded by hand in this preheat time frame.  Then all of this dough would have to be formed into rolls and set to rise.  The oven coals would then have been raked out of the heated oven to allow for cooling so that the oven could cool to the right temperature for bread-making.  There was no idle time for the baker and this was a very physically demanding job.  He would need a lot of experience and expertise to bake all of the bread needed for the entire town with an oven that never stays at a constant temperature. 
An Illustration from Diderot's Encyclopedia
It is thought that the first baker in Williamsburg was William Sherman.  The first mention (and only record) of William Sherman is in 1706 court records of the procurement of the Coke-Garret property in Williamsburg. He is recorded as “Sherman, William Baker in Williamsburg”.  William Sherman died sometime between 1708/09.
The Coke-Garret Property Shown on the Frenchman's Map
Records show that Jean, or John, Marot was baking in Williamsburg and owned a tavern where the Shields Tavern is today from 1708 until his death in 1717.  An interesting fact about John Marot is that he was sued and found guilty for baking a cake that weighed less than the required weight.  I’m sure this sounds a little strange now but Great Britain had established strict laws concerning the weights and ingredients that were required in everyday staples such as beer and bread around the time of King Henry III.  Bakers who broke these laws were subject to strict and very public punishment.  Another interesting fact about John Marot is that he baked a cake for the funeral of His Excellency Edward Holt. 
The property where Marot's tavern was shown on the Frenchman's Map of Williamsburg
Another baker that I found referenced was Thomas Alley.  It seems that he was a slave or indentured baker at the Raleigh Tavern.  There is only one mention of Thomas Alley before an article in the Virginia Gazette in 1751 for a runaway servant of the same name.  The article mentioned, “Thomas Alley, about 5 foot 7 inches high, by trade a baker, full faced and fresh colored, with dark brown hair.”  Because of the limited references, it is not known how long he was baking in Williamsburg prior to running away. 
The Raleigh Tavern shown on the Frenchman's Map of Williamsburg
Barbara Scherer baking at the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop
Photo By: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation  
Cornelius Deforrest was born in 1735.  The ancestry websites that I referenced claim that he moved to Virginia from New York, but I cannot find any supporting evidence of this.  I believe he was born in Virginia and got married to his first wife there.  The name of his first wife is unknown but records show that in 1760, he married a widower named Sarah Hill and they had three children together: Cornelius (b. 1761), Louisa (b. 1767) and Elizabeth (b. 1770).  I found a reference in the Virginia State Records that he baked 2,000 pounds of bread for the navy schooner Revenge.  The base of operation for Cornelius Deforrest was somewhere on York Street in Williamsburg.  He died sometime in 1781/82. 
A look at York Street on the Frenchman's Map of Williamsburg
Virginia Gazette November 15, 1776
The next baker is my favorite because I drive by his house every week.  His name was Peter Moyer and his operation was located at the intersection of Francis and Botetourt Streets, near the Public Armory in Williamsburg.  The first mention of Moyer is in public records of 1762 where he is listed as the father of George Mires (Moyer).  He is mentioned again in records of 1763 when his daughter, Mary Elizabeth, was baptized at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg.  Peter Moyer’s wife was named Rebecca and based on tax records, he died sometime between 1792/93.
Peter Moyers house shown on the Frenchman's Map of Williamsburg

  Virginia Gazette October 5, 1769
I have found only two records for the “French Baker”.  The first mention is a record is of “French Baker” renting the Norton-Cole House which is near the Williamsburg Courthouse.  The second mention is located in the Humphrey Hardwood ledger where an oven repair is listed at the Norton-Cole site.  I think the Norton-Cole location, which is close to the Market Square site, would have been a great selling location for the “French Baker”.   
Norton -Cole house shown on the Frenchman's Map of Williamsburg
In the 18th century, bakers were more than just tradesmen.  Bakers were the center of the community and provided basic nourishment to all manner of people.  This type of blog represents one of my favorite subjects because it deals with real people and how they impact the community with their food-related lifework.      

Friday, March 27, 2015

Puff Pastry

            With its complexity and amazing flavor, puff pastry has captivated the pallets of all who have tried it.  From its creation, puff pastry has graced the tables of kings and rulers.  It was on the shelves of high end bakeries.  Today, we take for granted the accessibility of this one time luxury.  In this blog, I would like to look at three things: the origin of puff pastry, the techniques to make it, and what it was used for in the 18th century.  


            The origin of puff pastry isn’t clearly recorded, as is the case with many different foods.  There is one myth that the famous painter, Claude Gelee, was making bread one day in the 17th century for his sick father and came across the method of folding butter into bread.  But actually there are several references to puff pastry before his time.  Puff pastry most likely evolved from the Middle Eastern phyllo dough.  Phyllo moved through the Middle East, around the Mediterranean and into Muslim Spain.  From here, either the Germans or the French added butter and the intricate folding process.  The first accepted reference to puff pastry comes from France in the 14th century.  The reference given is called “gâteau feuilleté” which means, “Cake Laminated”.  The record does not, however, mention how it was made.  The first reference to it that I can find actually named puff pastry is in 1549.  It comes from a menu in honor of Catherine de Medici’s coronation and lists “Quarante plats de petits feuilletage” or “forty little plates of puff pastries”. 


            The process of making puff pastry varies to this day.  The overall process starts with a simple dough mixture of water, butter and flour.  Much like a simple pie crust, you take your flour and cut in cold butter.  You then add cold water until it becomes a stiff paste.  In the modern kitchen, you would put this in the refrigerator and let it chill for 12 hours.  In the 18th century, they would have immediately rolled out the paste into a rectangle.  Then you put a layer of butter in the middle of the puff pastry rectangle.  You then fold it like a business letter and then in half.  Today, you put this back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up and continue rolling it out the same way that you had done the first time. Back then they would have simply kept rolling it.

The Ball of Dough

The Layer of Butter

The Dough Folded

In the 18th century, it is likely the upper classes who were making puff pastry could afford marble pastry boards. This would have been ideal for puff pastry because the marble stays 20 degrees below the outside temperature.  The differences in puff pastry come from additives and ingredient measures.  For example, Hannah Glasse calls for no egg to be added to her puff pastry dough but Amelia Simmons calls for the whites of eggs to be used.  It is the same way with measurements. Hannah Glasse calls for a peck of flour and half a pound of butter to be used whereas Amelia Simmons calls for 1 pound of butter and 2 pounds of flour. You can play around with the recipe to some degree as long as you keep the layers of butter and flour.  The science behind what makes puff pastry work is the many layers you create by folding the pastry several times.  You create layers of dough and butter which when heated, causes the butter to steam and make the pastry rise.
Puff Pastry Recipe
Hannah Glasse
"The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy"

Amelia Simmons
"American Cookery"


              Since its creation, puff pastry has been used for multiple dishes.  Louis XI, who ruled France from 1461 to 1483, was said to have a favorite puff pastry recipe of marzipan baked in puff pastry which would be a very decadent treat.  In the 18th century, we have recipes for fish baked in puff pastry, pears or raspberry jam wrapped in pastry and boiled or baked like a pie pastry.  With its complexity and time consuming preparation, it is unlikely that the lower classes were enjoying puff pastry in the 18th century.  Instead, the well-equipped upper class kitchens, with their full time staff or slave cooks, were likely the only ones enjoying this treat.
'Croaker En Croûte'
Croaker En Croûte
Fish Wrapped in Puff Pastry
To Fry or Bake Mushrooms in Paste
For some 18th century puff pastry recipes take a look at these from Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Foodways.
            To prepare for this blog, this was my first attempt to make puff pastry.  While my family told me how good it tasted and the photos definitely show the ‘puff’ and layers of dough, I can honestly say that I am very thankful for packaged puff pastry.  With the convenience of packaged, prepared puff pastry so readily available in the grocery store, most people do not understand the work that it takes to make it on your own.  And this is one of the great examples of what I love about the historical cooking…we’ve come a long way.  Whether you enjoy homemade or packaged, sweet or savory, I think we can all agree that puff pastry is a treat that we all love.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ramen, Reshte and Rigatoni

Whether it’s Ramen from Japan, Reshte from Afghanistan or Rigatoni from Italy, pasta is universally loved by all cultures today.  Whether eaten alone as a noodle dish or combined with other ingredients to make a pasta dish, this simple item can satisfy by itself or with many flavor combinations.  In the 18th century, the popularity of noodles is debatable.  We have several recipes for it in period cookbooks but no real reference to its regular consumption outside of Italy or China.   


The story that you may have heard about Marco Polo bringing pasta from China to Italy is a complete myth.  Because many people did not have access to an oven, noodles are one of many dishes created by necessity since using an oven wasn’t necessary in their preparation.  Some of the other examples of culinary dishes that did not require oven use are dumplings, boiled puddings and sausage.  The earliest record of noodles comes from China.  Then, records show movement westward from China to Arab Lands.  From there, merchants most likely helped them spread through Europe.  The first reference to pasta in Italy is around the 1st century B.C. and is a reference to a fried, thin dough called “lagana”.  Later in the 5th century, another recipe for “lagana” calls for you to layer noodles and meat, a possible forerunner to modern day lasagna. 

 Making and Drying Pasta
Mid 15th Century
from Tacuinum Sanitatis

In the 14th and 15th centuries, dried pastas grew in popularity due to ease of storage.  In the 18th century, we have recipes for dried thin pasta.  These thin, egg noodles were called “vermicelli” and recipes for them can be found in Hannah Glasse’s “The Art of Cookery” and Mary Randolph’s “The Virginia Housewife”.  Hannah Glasse calls for a mixture of eggs and water to be rolled out as thinly as possible.  This is then to be dried in the sun or by the fire and when drying is complete, it is to be cut with a very sharp knife into pieces.  There are two recipes I have found that call for a noodle like this.  The first is a vermicelli soup that is made by putting vermicelli in a broth and boiling it.  It is then served with a piece of toast on top.  The second is a vermicelli pudding where you bake the vermicelli in custard.  It is very unlikely that the poor class of the American Colonies made their own noodles, if they were consuming noodles at all.  The main consumers of noodles in the 18th century were the upper middle class and the gentry.

Hannah Glasse's Vermicelli Recipe
Vermicelli Soup
Hannah Glasse
The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy

The other pasta commonly recorded in 18th century cookbooks was macaroni.  Piped macaroni to the 18th century what truffles and caviar are to most of us today…out of reach due to the high cost.  Italy managed to keep how they made macaroni a secret.  For anyone else to enjoy macaroni or other extruded pasta, it had to be exported from Italy which made the price extremely high.  Only the very rich could afford macaroni or any dish made out of it.  Lord Dunmore, the last Royal Governor of Virginia, is recorded to have bought 20 pounds of macaroni when he was in office.  Macaroni pudding and Macaroni soup are the only recipes I have found in cookbooks using this expensive commodity.  Sometimes just called macaroni, it was made by layering macaroni noodles, butter and cheese.  It was then baked in the oven. This dish, that we now enjoy and call macaroni and cheese, was quite literally the very definition of high fashion and extravagance.  Macaroni was a term, in the 18th century, that was also used to describe the proper fashion of the day. And when the British wrote a variation of the song “Yankee Doodle” and said “stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni”, they were actually insulting Colonial American fashion.  Thomas Jefferson himself had a particular taste for macaroni, bringing cases of macaroni back with him from France to enjoy at his home in Virginia.  We know that he was interested in the process of making extruded pasta and have the benefit of his drawings that lay out the mechanics for a macaroni press. 
Thomas Jefferson's Drawing of a Macaroni Press
Library of Congress

"The best maccaroni in Italy is made with a particular sort of flour called Semola, in Naples: but in almost every shop a different sort of flour is commonly used; for, provided the flour be of a good quality, & not ground extremely fine, it will always do very well. a paste is made with flour, water & less yeast than is used for making bread. this paste is then put, by little at a time, vir. about 5. or 6. tb each time into a round iron box ABC. the under part of which is perforated with holes, through which the paste, when pressed by the screw DEF, comes out, and forms the Maccaroni g.g.g. which, when sufficiently long, are cut & spread to dry. the screw is turned by a lever inserted into the hole K, of which there are 4. or 6. it is evident that on turning the screw one way, the cylindrical part F. which fits the iron box or mortar perfectly well, must press upon the paste and must force it out of the holes. LIM is a strong wooden frame, properly fastened to the wall, floor, and ceiling of the room."

Thomas Jefferson
A Modern Plastic Macaroni Mould

          Macaroni Soup
          Hannah Glasse
               The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy
Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
Mary Randolph
The Virginia Housewife

To me, it is interesting to study the food staples that have been around for centuries, and pasta has claimed its place as a culinary staple.  Its neutral flavor and versatility has elevated it from low class Chinese comfort food to high class culinary fair.  Whether you’re a starving college student eating ramen or a patron at a Michelin star restaurant, pasta is and will always be one of the many food loved by all.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Diet of the Lower Classes

          One aspect of life that remains constant throughout time is the necessity of food.  Since 96% of the colonial American population was poor, you can't truly study food history of the 18th century without looking into lower class cooking.  To study the cuisine of the poor, you must first look into their day to day lives outside of the kitchen. 

          Today we hear about the 1% of people who live significantly better than everyone else.  In the 18th century, you had the 4%.  These 4% controlled almost every aspect of life, from government to the arts.  Their hand could be seen in all of day to day life.  While the other 96% of the population lived quietly in the background making up the workforce for the upper classes.  The lower class were primarily made up of slaves and farmers,  with servants, sailors, and apprentice also falling in that same category.


          With our romantic view of the past, we sometimes fail to see the grittier, realistic side of history.  When we think of the 18th century, we probably think life was like a scene from Duke of Gloucester St. in the City of Williamsburg.  However, this represents the lifestyle of the upper 4% or as we would put it today the "rich and famous".  Reality paints a much more gruesome picture.  The majority of people had a one room home, with a possible second story or loft.  For the people who lived in this house, lives were centered around the hearth.  This is where the family came after working all day, to talk and share stories, but most importantly they came together to eat a meal.


           This family meal was completely cooked by the woman of the house.  It most likely consisted of a stew, bread and beer.  The stew would have been made with the cheapest cuts of meat,  vegetables from the garden, and whatever else could have been put together.  It would have been made in one of the few, if not the only cooking device the family owned.  The iron pot was arguably the best thing to happen to American cuisine.  If you think about it, a lot of popular American cuisine is a one pot meal.  The iron pot was the main cooking device for all poor or lower class people in the 18th century.  Another important cooking device would have been the frying pan.  This would have the next purchase after an iron pot.
Inventory of Peter Drewry
August 17, 1767:
"2 iron pots, 1 pair pot hooks, 1 frying pan"
Inventory of Anne Dumford
August 21, 1780:
"1 Trivet Skillet, Pothooks, 2 pots"

( For more information on stew see my first blog entitled Hodge-Podge)
          Homemade bread would have been served with the stew.  If you could afford it,  you would have had an oven built at your home.  You would use this oven to bake bread with whole wheat flour or corn meal.  If you could not afford an oven at home, you would have boiled a dumpling in your iron pot, or made a cake in your frying pan or on a hoe. 
          Finally the beer would have been very easily available for the poor as their meal time beverage.  If you could not afford barley to make your beer, you would have used molasses or corn stalks to brew a beer like beverage.  This would have been the standard meal for the poor people of the 18th century for their entire lifetime. 
          No matter how hard the life of the poor in the colonies were, it was nothing compared to that of the poor in England.  In England the poor were relegated to "poor houses" or to the streets and gutters of major cities.  So in the colonies, the poor were somewhat better off.  In the colonies, they had the ability to own land, have a home, and a meal to have every night. 
          That I believe, is the lesson in this blog.  No matter how hard times were for the 18th century poor class,  having a meal with family somehow lifted their spirits.  And I believe that is still true  that, food and fellowship can heal the soul in a way, that not many other things can.     

Friday, December 19, 2014


Honey is a food, used as a medicine and is an expression used to describe someone you love and care about.  Most people would imagine honey as a food rather than some of the other proposed uses.  However, honey for a brief period, lost its popularity and was simply used in medicine or only among the poor.  It is interesting how honey now is seen as the new super sweetener, health food and also good for the environment.  Honey is super at all its uses.

Honey itself begins with the bees.  Worker bees go out and suck nectar from different flowers and bring it back to the hive.  Once back at the hive, other worker bees will suck the nectar out of these gathering worker bees and chew it breaking down the complex sugar in the nectar into two simple sugars.  These two simple sugars are fructose and glucose.  The bees then expel the honey they have just chewed into wax combs that more worker bees have built.  Then more worker bees come and fan the honey that is now in the wax comb and this, along with the heat from the hive, evaporates most of the moisture from the honey.  The bees then cap this off with more wax and now it is ready for the beekeeper.
Here is a link to 18th century manuals on beekeeping. 

The history of honey gathering goes back millennia.  The first honey gathering would have been done by locating a beehive.  The next step would be to simply reach in and pull out the honey comb.  People then began developing other ways of keeping bees so they could get honey in a way that didn’t involve getting stung so many times.  The first breakthrough with bee keeping was the realization that smoke relaxes the bees and keeps them from stinging the person trying to get the honey. From this discovery forward, it is only the design of the manmade beehive that distinguishes them through the centuries.  The first manmade beehives known were made in Egypt.  They were clay cylinders open on both ends.  When the bee keeper wanted honey, he would smoke the bees at one end.   They would then fly to the other end of the cylinder, leaving their honey unguarded and easily removed.  The next method was to use baskets to keep the bees.  These baskets were called bee skeps.  Initially these baskets were made of wicker, were covered with mud, open at one end and tapered upward.  Then the baskets started to be made only with grass in the same design as the wicker ones.  One of the final methods of gathering honey is similar to the earliest method.  Hives would have been located in a tree.  A piece of wood surrounding the hive would have been cut out and some of the honey comb would have been removed.  You would then cover the hive back up with that same piece of wood and come back whenever you wanted for more honey. 
German print showing gathering honey from the trees.
If you look close enough you can see one of the men is smoking a pipe to relax the bees.

Bee Skep Basket at Colonial Williamsburg
                In medieval Europe, honey was the primary sweetener because sugar was so expensive.  It was used to sweeten baked goods, to candy fruits like orange and lemon peel and used to brew a beverage called mead.  (Mead is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting a mixture of honey and water with yeast.)  Using honey in this way continued for centuries.  With the discovery of the Caribbean and with the drastic drop in price of sugar, honey became obsolete among most in the 18th century.   It was then that honey was used more for medicinal purposes than for food like treatments for hooping cough and for tooth aches.  Today honey is still a good option for medicinal uses.  Honey is naturally antiseptic and can kill bacteria if applied to a wound.  It has also been learned that if you eat locally produced honey, it can help improve your allergies.

In the New World, the Aztecs were keeping a species of bee that is different from the bee of today’s North America.  They kept a stingless bee that was native to South and Central America.  The first honey bees that were brought over from Europe and released in the Americas were at City Point, Virginia in 1622.  By 1820, they had populated all the way from the Atlantic to the Mississippi.
 The dates we can record honey bees in these different states.
In the end, honey is a very universally versatile product.  The bees are so proficient that there is no need for people to change anything for it to be used.  It is an original farm-to-table (in this case, the hive-to-table) product.  So support your local farmer and enjoy the honey!       

Thursday, December 4, 2014


                Please go and see these sites for more information:
                Bread can be an ingredient in other foods, a vessel to hold foods or eaten on its own.  With its diversity, it has remained a culinary staple for thousands of years.  Being such a staple, we don’t often think about the living component that is in most bread.  Yeast is this amazing unicellular, microorganism that is capable of making dough rise and turning sugar from grain into alcohol.  This is the story of yeast and our pursuit of keeping it. 
A look at yeast from under a microscope.
This is Saccharomyces cerevisiae the most common yeast available.

               The circumstances surrounding the discovery of yeast are unclear, but there is a consensus by most that it was an accident.  There are some theories; however, that might explain the discovery of yeast.  The most probable is that a type of dough was left out for enough time that natural yeast from the air and in the grain combined with the nutrients from the grain to create noticeably lighter dough than before.  It was then cooked and the result was eaten and enjoyed.  So the process was replicated.  From this process they learned that yeast could be collected from around us and kept by providing the needed nutrients and moisture.  The knowledge of how to keep yeast was the one thing our predecessors understood.  Other than this, they really didn’t know much about it.  People began very early trying to figure out what it was.  Some believed it to be a third earth, third water and a third fire.  Others simply considered it God’s gift to humanity.  So there became a cycle of using yeast and trying to preserve it.

                There were several methods used to preserve yeast.  One was when people took leftover dough made with yeast and mixed it with water and with flour to create a batter.  This batter was then painted on the inside of a pail or tub and allowed to dry.  Once dry, another layer would be painted on until 4 to 5 layers had accumulated.  This would have been stored in a dry place.  When you wanted some yeast you simply took a small piece and ground it using some warm water and possibly sugar.  Another process for preserving yeast was to make yeast cakes.  To make these, they would have taken barm, which is leftover yeast that has settled to the bottom of a batch of beer, mixed this with water and flour to create a thick dough.  This would have been allowed to dry and reconstituted for use the same way as the previous method.  Finally, if a baker didn’t have yeast, they could have always gone to the local beer brewer and get fresh barm to use in their baked good. 
"The Virginia Housewife"
Mary Randolph
"The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy"
Hannah Glasse

                For thousands of years there has been a relationship between the brewers and the bakers.  These professions were essential to life well into the early 19th century.  This relationship is comically portrayed in “The Complete Baker; or a Method of Effectually raising a Bushel of Flour, with a Tea-Spoonful of Barm” which shows how one trade could always depend on the other for the crucial ingredient of their livelihood.
An Egyptian Model
A model of a Bakery and Brewery side by side
showing their importance as a group.
2009-1998 B.C.
"The Complete Baker; or, a Method of Effectually Raising a Bushel of Flour with a Tea-Spoonful of Barm"
By: James Stone

                Through the ages yeast and the items made with it have been treated with a certain mystique.  Even with today’s modern science and all we know about yeast you can’t help but look at a bowl of rising dough with a certain level of awe.  So next time you have your PB&J sandwich, remember the little magic called yeast that helped make it enjoyable.