Month: June 2013

Questions From Another: Yeast

I recently started volunteering at an historic grist mill. A visitor recently came in and told me that bread dough can pull yeast from the air – that, in fact, she purposely lets her dough sit overnight so it can pull extra yeast. She says it makes the bread taste much better.

I have to be honest. Although I have a basic understanding of sourdough bread, I always assumed that yeast had a short life and you needed to bake the bread sooner than later.

This same visitor wondered aloud at what point commercial yeast became popular in baking. I promised to do some research and get back to her. Since this interested me, I thought I’d share my findings.

* Up until the 19th century, people were not really sure what made dough rise, but they understood enough to make sourdough bread. Sourdough uses naturally occurring yeast from the surrounding air. Sourdough is also known as “wild yeasted” bread. (multiple sources)

* A quote about modern baking without packaged yeast:“There’s yeast everywhere,” says Oland. “It’s wild yeast. It’s present in flour, in the air, on your skin. For bread, you create an environment where it will thrive. You create a ‘starter.’ Commercial yeast is incredibly potent and reactions happen very quickly. With wild yeast the reactions unfold more slowly over time. The bread is so much better because it slowly ferments. And that slow fermentation develops complex flavors and a variety of textures. It’s an older form of baking. It’s actually the original form of baking.” (source)

* In the late 1850s, Pasteur was commissioned by an alcohol manufacturer to learn why their beer was turning sour. As a result of this research, Pasteur proved that fermentation is caused by live yeast. He also found that mild heat after fermentation would kill the yeast (known as pasteurization). This knowledge was primarily used for beer and wine until the late 1800s, when it began to be applied to milk. (sourcesource and source)

* In the early 1860s, on the heels of Pasteur’s discoveries, bakers began to use leftover yeast from beer brewing to bake their bread. (source)

* Also in the 1860s, Charles and Maximillian Fleischmann, immigrants to Cincinnati, OH from Austria-Hungary, patented and sold cakes of compressed yeast. (source)

* By the early 20th century, cookbook recipes began specifying commercial yeast and limiting rising time to less than two hours. (source)

I must admit that I’m very intrigued by all of this. It’s funny to see the conflicting opinions of various sources – modern bread tastes better, modern bread tastes bland; modern bread is softer, modern bread has no texture. I may have to finally try making my own sourdough starter and bread.


I’ve been caffeinating my plants

I mentioned reading this book of tips from the 17- and 1800s recently. One tip in the book was that houseplants love food. Apparently they are partial to shrimp:

“Do remember that house plants enjoy many human foods. Leftover fish, coffee grounds, water from boiled eggs, crushed eggshells, water from cooked foods, watered milk, all give plants a lift. The effects of shrimp is best of any plant reviver.”

Anyways, one day at work I thought, “Well, why not? It’s essentially composting. And these leftover tea leaves after I drink my tea …. well, it’s just plant matter, right?” (leaving aside the scary theories about what’s really in your tea bag…)

So I started tearing open my used tea bags and putting the dregs into my plant soil.

So far my plants seem fine. I’ve noticed that the tea leaves seem to help the plant soil retain more water so I don’t need to water as frequently, which is nice (used to be my mint plant could barely make it a night without wilting, now it can go the weekend). And I might be mistaken, but my mint plant seems healthier – there was some spotting last week that implied a soil deficiency, and there seems to be less spotting today.

I really am curious if my plant is technically …. caffeinated now. I mean, when I put some of those mint leaves into my water …. will I be getting caffeine? Must research.

Denver and David

It’s been a crazy week!

Weekend before this past one, I was in Denver.

I feel like it’s a joke for me to write about Denver, because I really didn’t see the city. We ate at two really good local places – Wahoo’s Tacos and Steuben’s – and I had about an hour and half to check out The Pavilions, but otherwise I was inside our hotel, working an event. I don’t regret that – the event was wonderful – but I’d like to go back to get more of a feel for Denver.

One thing I did have time to see was a Michelangelo exhibit in The Pavilions. I just missed an exhibit on Da Vinci’s machines, which I would have loved to see. But seeing Michelangelo’s work was definitely great. They didn’t have his actual pieces, but they did have his actual casts, as well as information on his architectural work and the Sistine Chapel.

Denver seems like a pretty artsy city – between the architecture and the wall art like this:


IMG_0789These pedestrian walkways confused me no end, because while cars are not allowed, buses ARE. I nearly got run over 3 times because the buses don’t stop for pedestrians.


IMG_0725Even the airport was artsy:

I really enjoyed the Michelangelo exhibit. In particular, I was fascinated by their discussion of his approach to architecture. Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor, always. When he planned a building, he wouldn’t do multiple drawings – instead he’d keep drawing new approaches onto the same paper, overlaying his ideas. Then he’d make a fresh drawing using the best of his ideas from the overlay. He’d sometimes build small models of his buildings so he could study how the light and shadows would fall.

IMG_0752This was very cool – they had an iPad set up that you could use to view the entire Sistine Chapel artwork with. I had no idea of all the politics behind the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo didn’t want to paint the chapel at first – he was a sculptor, not a painter. In fact, there’s a theory that the Pope was convinced to give the commission to Michelangelo by an adviser who disliked Michelangelo and wanted to discredit him by giving Michelangelo a commission for a very difficult type of painting in which he had very little experience. Instead, Michelangelo began the work – and then dismissed his assistants to undertake a much harder plan than he’d originally intended. And of course he’s still known for it today.

IMG_0748It sort of thrills me every time I see a David – that the story of a Jewish hero has inspired so many.

IMG_0741We left Denver at 4am on a Sunday and the city was still lit up: