The old saying, "bread is the staff of life," has sound reason in it. Flour made from wheat, and meal from oats and Indian corn, are rich in the waste-repairing elements, starch and albumen, and head the list of articles of food for man. Good bread makes the homeliest meal acceptable, and the coarsest fare appetizing, while the most luxurious table is not even tolerable without it. Light, crisp rolls for breakfast, spongy, sweet bread for dinner, and flaky biscuit for supper, cover a multitude of culinary sins; and there is no one thing on which the health and comfort of a family so much depends as the quality of its home-made loaves.
Opinions as to what constitutes good bread differ, perhaps, as much as tastes and opinions concerning any thing else, but all will agree that bread, to be good, ought to be light, sweet - that is, free from any perceptible acid or yeasty taste - flaky, granular or not liable to become a doughy mass, and as white as the grade of flour used will allow. If members of the family have delicate digestive powers, they will not use new bread, and therefore must have such as will keep with little change of texture and none of quality or taste, for several days. To obtain these qualities in bread, use the best flour, as in families where no bread is wasted, the best is cheapest. The good old Genesee Valley white winter wheat, of Western New York, makes a flour unsurpassed in quality. The Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri white winter wheat grades are much the same, but the Minnesota hard spring wheat "new process" flour is the equal of the best, and is so much superior in strength that one-eighth less is used in all recipes for bread and cake. The common or "straight" brands are used by the great majority of families, and from all of them good, uniform and palatable bread may be made.
Housekeepers seldom select flour by examination. They usually take some tried brand, or select on the recommendation of their furnisher. No rule can be given by which an inexperienced person can determine the grade of flour with accuracy, but a few hints will enable any one to know what not to buy. Good flour adheres to the hand, and, when pressed, shows the imprint of the lines of the skin. Its tint is cream white. Never buy that which has a blue-white tinge. Poor flour is not adhesive, may be blown about easily, and sometimes has a dingy look, as though mixed with ashes.
Flour should be bought in quantities corresponding to the number in the family, that it may not become damaged by long keeping. In a family of five, a barrel, or even a half-barrel sack of flour, excellent when first bought, will become much deteriorated before being used up. A small family should always buy in twenty-five pound, or at largest, fifty pound sacks. Flour should be kept dry, cool and entirely beyond the reach of marauders, big or little, especially the latter, for the infinitesimal meal moth is far more to be dreaded than rats or mice. Therefore every receptacle of flour should be thoroughly and frequently cleansed, to guard against animal as well as vegetable parasites. A single speck of mold, coming from old or damp flour in an obscure corner of the flour-box, will leaven the whole as rapidly and strongly as ten times its weight in yeast. In no event should flour be used without being sifted.
Bread-making seems a simple process enough, but it requires a delicate care and watchfulness, and a thorough knowledge of all the contingencies of the process, dependent on the different qualities of flour, and the varying kinds and conditions of yeast, and the change of seasons; the process which raises bread successfully in winter making it sour in summer. There are many little things in bread-making which require accurate observation, and, while valuable recipes and well-defined methods in detail are invaluable aids, nothing but experience will secure the name merited by so few, though earnestly coveted by every practical, sensible housekeeper - "an excellent bread-maker." Three things are indispensable to success: good flour, good yeast, and watchful care. Never use flour without sifting; and a large tin or wooden pail with a tight-fitting cover, kept full of sifted flour, will be found a great convenience. All kinds of flour and meal, except buckwheat and Graham and Graham, too, when coarse - need sifting, and all, like wheat flour, should be bought in small quantities, as they become damp and musty by long standing.