Sylvester Graham Bread

Good morning. It’s me, Renee Ryan, taking a break from yet another deadline. I have a giveaway, more on that below. In the meantime, I left my heroine in the kitchen. She’s attempting to make bread in that dang new oven of hers. What she doesn’t know yet, and what I only just discovered as I researched for this blog, is that until a baker became used to the new cooking gadget in the ranch house (AKA the oven), her attempts at baking bread often went astray. First attempts were often described in personal diaries as well-done bricks and were nearly impossible to cut with a knife.

Today, my heroine is attempting to make Sylvester Graham Bread. In the mid-1800s, Sylvester Graham advocated the use of whole grain in baked goods. His reasoning was that the whole berry contained nutrients, so why sift it out? His product was called “graham flour” and was only sought out by those rare few seeking healthy foods. Fashion dictated “pure” white flour, even though most couldn’t afford it.

Although similar to whole wheat flour, it’s not completely the same. Graham flour is still available in health food stores. The special milling of this modern-day version is more true to the Old West, and produces a denser loaf of bread. So, if you want to try this recipe and wish to stay authentic to the Old West, you might want to hop over to the health food store and purchase a sack of graham flour.

Here’s my favorite recipe for Sylvester Graham Bread from the Old West Baking Book by Lon Walters.

BAKING TIME: 30-35 minutes
OVEN TEMPERATURE: 375 degrees

Sponge:
2 cups warm water
¼ cup molasses
1 cup sourdough starter
2 cups graham flour

Bread:
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups graham flour

Mix sponge ingredients. Stir well, place in a nonmetal bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside until mix is bubbling, about 8-12 hours.

To make bread, add salt and flour to the fermenting sponge. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until elastic, or until the dough bounces back when poked. Let rise in a warm spot until double in bulk. Punch down dough. Knead lightly a few times more to get the remaining gas out. Divide the dough in half ad form into round loaves. Place on a well-greased cookie sheet and let rise again until double in bulk. Slash the top gently with a very sharp knife. Place in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes until loaves are brown and sound hollow when “thunked” with your finger.

Wow, that’s a lot of work, right? Can you imagine going through all that and then having to start over because your first attempt was a well-done brick? Anybody willing to try out this recipe? I might, when my book is done. Or maybe I’ll drive across town to my favorite bakery. Seems way easier.

Leave a comment and I’ll put you in a drawing for a copy of my July release, THE OUTLAW’S REDEMPTION

Renee Ryan
Award-winning, multi-published author Renee Ryan sold her first book by winning the 2001 inaugural Dorchester/Romantic Times New Historical Voice Contest. She sold her second book to Harlequin Love Inspired Historical and has since sold nine more manuscripts to Love Inspired and Love Inspired Historical.
Updated: June 10, 2013 — 6:04 pm

32 Comments

  1. Hi Renee, I can’t imagine spending that much time on a laof of bread. Them ladies had to of had arms of steal after baking and ironing and washing dishes or laundry. I feel worn out just thinking about all they did.
    jennydtipton(at)mail(dot)com

  2. The bread sounds yummy, but I’m with you. I’m more inclined to head to the local bakery, or in my case, the local Krogers. Can you imagine the look on your heroine’s face if she were transported to modern times and landed in the bread aisle? White, whole wheat, whole grain, low carb, extra fiber, potato bread, raisin bread, raisin cinnamon bread, rye, and a whole lot more. Thanks for the fun post!

  3. I’m too lazy to cook my own bread. But, I do have those memories of when my mom made fresh bread. I loved it warm with melted butter all over it. I can taste it just thinking of it. I’m not part of the contest since I already won the book.
    Janine

  4. What a wonderful article, Renee. And a great scene for your book.

    I love making bread and that recipe sounds pretty easy! Most of it is waiting. Mix. Wait. Knead. Wait. Knead. Wait. Bake. Nothing makes the house smell better than bread.

    And you touched on another fascinating issue. I just visited a grain mill with the original 1880’s equipment intact. (For my next book) Flour was regionally made and varied in texture from mill to mill. If you moved, you had to get used to the new stove and the new flour!

  5. So proud of the pioneer ladies and all they had to do and go through. I enjoy all these types of books and it makes me glad I live in 21st century.

  6. Jennifer, you and me both. Is there any wonder the pioneer women died young? At least they didn’t die bored. But…um…Yowza!

  7. Vicki, I know, right? I bet my heroine would also love the idea of a low-carb diet. 😉

  8. Oh, yeah, Janine. Warm with melted butter…YUM!!!

  9. Sherri! Excellent point. New stove, different flour texture, more work. If I’d been on the Oregan Trail I think I would have stopped in Nebraska and said, “Nope, not going any farther. Oregan, schmoregan…I’m good right here!!!” 🙂

  10. Hi Terry. You’re right. Our pioneer sisters are true role models!!!

  11. Avatar

    As Sherri Shackelford said this is a relatively easy recipe. Set the sponge at supper time or early in the morning, go do something else, mix the rest of the ingredients in and knead, set to rise for an hour and go do something else, shape into loaves, set to rise, go do something else for an hour and then bake. Oh, the heavenly smells and the delicious taste! Although I imagine it would dry out fast if there was any left after the first meal. I make sourdough bread and biscuits and they require this same procedure. You just have to do it on a day there is time to run back and forth to the kitchen. My husband’s grandmother told stories of making bread for the crew that was building the railroad track through our farm in the summer of 1910. The old house is still here (it’s now used for storage)and when I walk into that kitchen I marvel at how she managed. The stove, part of it still there, took up a third of the space and the heat must have been unbearable by today’s standards especially when it was 95* to 100* outside as it often is here in July and August.

  12. Great blog, Renee. I am in awe of the ladies who say this recipe is easy. I like to make bread but rarely do anymore because, living alone, I would gobble it all up.
    I do love to bake and usually substitute whole wheat flour for white. Didn’t known about the Graham flour–I will try it.
    OK a funny story. Growing up in a small town, my dad was the high school principal. My aunt, in the same town made the world’s best bread. When it was hot out of the oven she’d call him and he’d sneak over for a slice. It turned out they were causing a scandal in the town because people didn’t realize they were brother and sister. Some well-meaning lady finally told my mother…she set them straight.

  13. I can’t believe those ladies had to do so much work for one loaf of bread, and it took so long. In this day and age, we are spoiled. I have made bread in a bread machine. It’s sort of cheating, I know, but homemade bread is fabulous. I’m just not sure I could have done it back then. I give the ladies a lot of credit.

  14. Looks good!

  15. Ok, I would have starved … cooking on a wood stove? I roomed with a woman who baked bread regularly.. I gained 10 pounds!! I love bread!

  16. Wow, if I were so inclined, I could make this and even back it in my wood range that is still in our basement. It has been years since it had a fire in it so would have to spend days cleaning it and then make the bread….think it would be faster and easier to drive the couple of hours to a bakery that I know makes this type of bread.

  17. HI Renee – I did the sourdough starter once, but it’s scary because you don’t want to mess it up for the next person. The bread looks delicious though!!

  18. Hi Renee, I’m not all that much a kitchen sort of girl LOL but even still, the term sponge is a totally new one for me! This recipe sounds like it would be fun to try. I’ll have to put hubby onto it LOL…he’s the chef around here.

    I loved the historical information! It’s always fun to learn new stuff here in the junction.

  19. I’ll bet this would work just fine tossed in a bread machine, just on the ‘dough’ setting, then pull it out, shape the loaves, let it rise and bake.
    A health food store, though, that’s a long long drive for me.

  20. My mother in law had sour dough starter for years. She called it HERMAN. And she had to Feed Herman.
    It was an inside joke old ladies told. I guess.

  21. I like to try something new now and then, but I’ve never tries to bake my own bread. I prefer going to the bakery, it’s so much easier. :p

  22. Had I lived back then, I’m afraid my family would have starved to death. There’s a reason my kids call me Microwave Mom.

  23. I used to make a lot of bakery goods with yeast dough. My MIL taught me. Now that the kids have all moved out I rearely bake anything. I’ve never heard of graham flour or baked anything with sourdough starter. I’ll have to start baking again!

  24. Sniff. Must be gluten free but I AM reading your book right now and loving it!

    Peace, Julie

  25. My Mother made our own bread when I was growing up. All without the bread machines and fancy cooking equipment.
    I used to make biscuits every morning when my boys were little until they started sleeping in and were not getting up for breakfast. Then I taught them how to cook and egg and make toast and it was up to them. One of my boys is a good cook now. Hope I had an influence on him but I think it is because his wife can’t cook!

  26. I have made my own pizza dough & donuts… never tried to make bread yet… I should try that one day!

  27. Ah, so, see! I’m not alone. Lots of you fabulous women find the idea of making bread from scratch daunting. Thanks for all the great comments. I’ll be checking in later tonight to announce the winner of the contest.

  28. Thanks for the recipe! Very cool! 🙂

  29. I never learned to knead bread, and now with my health problems, I just don’t have the strength. I did grow up with my grandmother and mother baking bread. Ooh, so good out of the oven with real butter!
    My husband and I go to a bakery where we can get a loaf of bread with no sugar or fat. It must be frozen or refrigerated. We usually just freeze it, and take out a slice or two at a time and toast it. Very clean eating.
    Would love to read your new book.

  30. All I can say is Thank goodness for store bought bread. I never attempted to make loaf bread but my biscuits would knock out a window

  31. I’m with you Renee. I believe I would decide to my nearest bakery. It’s amazing to read what the pioneers went through. They had a lot of strength, courage, determination and faith in God. Thank you for entering me in your giveaway.
    Barbara Thompson
    barbmaci61(at)yahoo(dot)com

  32. You were quick on the “draw” tonight.
    Thanks for the recipe. I discovered graham flour this past St. Patricks Day. I needed it for a cookie recipe and had a hard time finding it. The health food stores didn’t have any in stock. Red Mill does make it, and I finally found it at BigLots. I’ll be trying this bread recipe soon.

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