Blast from the Past – Graham on Bread

”  But while the people of our country are so entirely given up as they are at present, to gross and promiscuous feeding on the dead carcasses of animals, and to the untiring pursuits of wealth, it is perhaps wholly in vain for a single individual to raise his voice on a subject of this kind. The farmer will continue to be most eager to increase the number of his acres, and to extort from those acres the greatest amount of produce, with the least expense of tillage, and with little or no regard to the quality of that produce in relation to the physiological interests of man; while the people generally, are contented to gratify their depraved appetites on whatever comes before them, without pausing to inquire whether their indulgences are adapted to preserve or to destroy their health and life. Yet if some one does not raise a voice upon this subject which shall be heard and heeded, there will soon reach us, as a nation, a voice of calamity which we shall not be able to shut our ears against, albeit we may in the perverseness of our sensualism, incorrigibly persist in disregarding its admonitions, till the deep chastisements of outraged nature shall reach the very “bone and marrow” of the human constitution, and fill our land with such a living rottenness, as now in some other portions of the earth, renders human society odious and abominable.” …

(Boy, he sure called that one right!)

From the Chapter ‘Laws of Diet’

“Again, if man were to subsist entirely on food in a natural state, he would never suffer from concentrated aliment. Every substance in nature which God has prepared for the food of man, consists of both nutritious and innutritious matter. The proportions vary in different kinds of food. Thus in a hundred pounds of potatoes, there are about twenty-five pounds of nourishing matter; while in a hundred pounds of good wheat there are about eighty pounds of nourishing matter. There are a few products of the vegetable kingdom which are still higher in the scale of nutriment, than wheat; and on the other hand there is a boundless variety ranging below wheat, extending down to three or four per cent. of nourishment. But nature, without the aid of human art, produces nothing for the alimentary use of man which is purely a concentrated nutrient substance. And God has constructed man in strict accordance with this general economy of nature. He has organized and endowed the human body with reference to the condition and qualities of those substances in nature, which He designed for the food of man. And consequently, while man obeys the laws of constitution and relation which should govern him in regard to his food, he preserves the health and integrity of his alimentary organs, and through them of his whole nature; and so far as his dietetic habits are concerned, secures the highest and best condition of his nature. But, if he disregards these laws, and by artificial means greatly departs from the natural adaptation of things, he inevitably brings evil on himself and on his posterity.” …

{ although many would quibble with certain factoids, in general what he is saying seems basically correct to me. In modern lingo he is simply saying: eat whole, not processed, foods. Personally, I think he is right as do increasing numbers of latter-day food gurus, versus the science-dominated ones of a few decades ago who were so blinded by their belief in the superiority of Man over Nature that whole generations of children grew up malnourished because mothers were persuaded that their chemical concoctions were better than natural breast milk. Oh what folly! And yet it continues today as we see by the miles of processed foods in shiny packages gleamingly lifelessly from supermarket shelves.)

From the Chapter “Properties of Bread”

“WHETHER our bread is of domestic manufacture or made by the public baker, that which is made of superfine flour is always far less wholesome, in any and every situation of life, than that which is made of wheaten meal which contains all the natural properties of the grain.

It is true, that when much flesh is eaten with our bread, or when bread constitutes but a very small and unimportant portion of our food, the injurious effects of superfine flour bread are not always so immediately and distinctly perceived as in other cases. Nevertheless, it is a general and invariable law of our nature, that all concentrated forms of food are unfriendly to the physiological or vital interests of our bodies.

A very large proportion of all the diseases and ailments in civic life, are originated by causes which are introduced into the alimentary canal as articles of diet; and disturbance and derangement of function—obstructions, debility and irritations, are among the most important elements of those diseases.” …

{now he starts to get nasty! :}

“But the testimony in favor of coarse wheaten bread as an important article in the food of man, is by no means limited to our own country nor to modern times.

In all probability, as we have already seen, the first generations of our species, who became acquainted with the art of making bread, continued for many centuries to employ all the substance of the grain, which they coarsely mashed in their rude mortars or mills. And even since mankind began, by artificial means, to separate the bran from the flour, and to make bread from the latter, the more close and discerning observers among physicians and philanthropists, have perceived and asserted, that bread made of fine flour is decidedly less wholesome than that made of the unbolted wheat meal.

Hippocrates, styled the father of medicine, who flourished more than two thousand years ago, and who depended far more on a correct diet and general regimen, both for the prevention and removal of disease, than he did on medicine, particularly commended the unbolted wheat meal bread, “for its salutary effects upon the bowels.” It was a fact well understood by the ancients, that this bread was much more conducive to the general health and vigor of their bodies, and every way better adapted to nourish and sustain them than that made of the fine flour. And accordingly, their wrestlers and others who were trained for great bodily power, “ate only the coarse wheaten bread, to preserve them in their strength of limbs.” The Spartans were famous for this kind of bread; and we learn from Pliny that the Romans, as a nation, at that period of their history when they were the most remarkable for bodily vigor and personal prowess and achievement, knew no other bread for three hundred years. The warlike and powerful nations which overran the Roman Empire, and finally spread over the greater part of Europe, used no other kind of bread than that which was made of the whole substance of the grain; and from the fall of the Roman Empire to the present day. a large proportion of the inhabitants of all Europe and the greater part of Asia, have rarely used any other kind of bread.

“If you set any value on health, and have a mind to preserve nature,”—said Thomas Tryon, student in physic, in his “Way to Health, Long Life and Happiness,” published in London, in the latter part of the fifteenth century,—”you must not separate the finest from the coarsest flour; because that which is fine is naturally of an obstructive and stopping quality; but, on the contrary, the other, which is coarse, is of a cleansing and opening nature, therefore the bread is best which is made of both together. It is more wholesome, easier of digestion, and more strengthening than bread made of the finest flour. It must be confessed, that the nutrimentive quality is contained in the fine flour; yet, in the branny part is contained the opening and digestive quality; and there is as great a necessity for the one as the other, for the support of health: that which is accounted the worst is as good and beneficial to nature as the best; for when the finest flour is separated from the coarsest and branny parts, neither the one nor the other has the true operations of the wheat meal. The eating of fine bread, therefore, is inimical to health, and contrary both to nature and reason; and was at first invented to gratify wanton and luxurious persons, who are ignorant both of themselves, and the true virtue and efficacy of natural things.” ” …

{But now we get to the part I created this post for, an extended dietary experiment carried out on over 80,000 people (soldiers) for several years and which changed the diet of the entire country, so obvious and remarkable were the results of a switch from mainly white to whole grain dark breads due to the exigencies of war-time supply logistics.}

“”During the war between England and France, near the close of the last century,” says Mr. Samuel Prior, a respectable merchant of Salem, New Jersey—”the crops of grain, and particularly wheat, were very small in England, and the supplies from Dantzic, the Netherlands and Sweden being cut off by the French army, and also the usual supplies from America failing, there was a very great scarcity of wheat in England. The British army was then very extensive, and it was exceedingly difficult to procure provisions for it, both at home and abroad—on land and sea. Such was the demand for the foreign army, and such the deficiency of crops at home and supplies from abroad, that serious fears were entertained that the army would suffer, and that the continental enterprise of the British government would be defeated in consequence of the scarcity of provisions; and every prudential measure by which such a disastrous event could be prevented, was carefully considered and proposed. William Pitt was then prime minister of state, and at his instance, government recommended to the people generally throughout Great Britain, to substitute potatoes and rice as far as possible, for bread, in order to save the wheat for the foreign army. This recommendation was promptly complied with by many of the people. But still the scarcity was alarmingly great. In this emergency, parliament passed a law (to take effect for two years) that the army at home should be supplied with bread made of unbolted wheat meal, solely for the purpose of making the wheat go as far as possible, and thus saving as much as they could from the home consumption, for the better supply of the army on the continent.

“Eighty thousand men were quartered in barracks in the counties of Essex and Suffolk. A great many were also quartered throughout the towns, at taverns, in squads of thirty or forty in a place. Throughout the whole of Great Britain, the soldiers were supplied with this coarse bread. It was deposited in the storerooms with the other provisions of the army; and on the day that it was baked, and at nine o’clock the next morning, was distributed to the soldiers—who were at first exceedingly displeased with the bread, and refused to eat it, often casting it from them with great rage, and violent execrations. But after two or three weeks they began to be much pleased with it, and preferred it to the fine flour bread.

   “My father,” continues Mr. P., “whom I have often heard talk these things over, was a miller and a baker, and resided in the county of Essex, on the border joining Suffolk, and near the barracks containing the eighty thousand soldiers. He contracted with government, to supply the eastern district of the county of Essex, with the kind of bread I have mentioned: and he used always to send me with it to the depositories on the day it was baked: and though I was then a youth, I can still very distinctly remember the angry looks and remarks of the soldiers, when they were first supplied with it. Indeed they often threw their loaves at me as I passed along, and accompanied them with a volley of curses. The result of this experiment was, that not only the wheat was made to go much farther, but the health of the soldiers improved so much and so manifestly, in the course of a few months, that it became a matter of common remark among themselves, and of observation and surprise among the officers and physicians of the army. These gentlemen at length came out with confidence and zeal on the subject, and publicly declared that the soldiers were never before so healthy and robust; and that disease of every kind had almost entirely disappeared from the army. The public papers, were for months filled with recommendations of this bread, and the civic physicians almost universally throughout Great Britain, pronounced it far the most healthy bread that could be eaten, and as such, recommended it to all the people, who very extensively followed the advice:—and the coarse wheaten bread was very generally introduced into families—female boarding schools, and indeed all public institutions. The nobility also generally used it; and in fact, in many towns, it was a rare thing to meet with a piece of fine flour bread. The physicians generally asserted that this wheaten bread was the very best thing that could be taken into the human stomach, to promote digestion and peristaltic action; and that it, more than anything else, would assist the stomach in digesting other things which were less easily digested, and therefore they recommend that a portion of it should be eaten at every meal with other food.

“Still, after this extensive experiment had been made with such happy results, and after so general and full a testimony had been given in favor of the coarse wheaten bread, when large supplies of superfine flour came in from America, and the crops at home were abundant, and the act of parliament in relation to the army became extinct, most of the people who had before been accustomed to the use of fine flour bread, now by degrees returned again to their old habits of eating fine bread. Many of the nobility, however, continued to use the coarse bread for a number of years afterwards. General Hanoward, Squire Western, Squire Hanbury and others living near my father’s, continued to use the bread for a long time, and some of them still used it when I left home and came to America, in 1816.”

The testimony of sea captains and old whalemen is equally in favor of wheaten bread. “I have always found,” said a very intelligent sea captain of more than thirty years’ experience, “that the coarser my ship bread, the healthier my crew is.” ”

VOILA! Whole grain is better. Case closed in 1837! (I have read that after the King of England took up this whole grain bread he was nicknamed ‘Brown George’.)

About Graham:

“Grahamites, as Graham’s followers were called, accepted the teaching of their mentor with regard to all aspects of lifestyle.[3] As such, they practiced abstinence from alcohol, frequent bathing, daily brushing of teeth, vegetarianism, and a generally sparse lifestyle. Graham also was an advocate of sexual abstinence, especially from masturbation, which he regarded as an evil that inevitably led to insanity. He felt that all excitement was unhealthful, and spices were among the prohibited ingredients in his diet. As a result his dietary recommendations were inevitably bland, which led to the Grahamites consuming large quantities of graham crackers, Graham’s own invention. White bread was strongly condemned by Graham and his followers, however, as being essentially devoid of nutrition, a claim echoed by nutritionists ever since. Some Grahamites lost faith when their mentor died at the age of fifty-seven. Other than the crackers, the Grahamites’ major contribution to American culture was probably their insistence on frequent bathing. However, Graham’s doctrines found later followers in the persons of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother Will Keith Kellogg. Their invention of corn flakes was a logical extension of the Grahamite approach to nutrition.”

Given how young he died, perhaps we should take his recommendations with a grain of salt (and a cracker!), but I find the story of the soldiers in the war quite interesting, to say the least, and assuming it is true, then it provides fairly convincing evidence that whole grain breads are good for you.

Of course, then we get into issues pertaining to methods of preparation and type of grains used (their grains were no doubt different from ours, albeit supposedly the Red Fife I use came from 1850’s stock, i.e. less than a couple of decades after this piece was written).

For those interested, more from the book, now on yeast:

The next thing indispensably necessary to the making of good bread, is good lively sweet yeast, or leaven, to produce what is called the panary, or more properly, the vinous fermentation of the saccharine matter, or sugar.

Some bread-makers will do best with one kind of yeast or leaven, and some with another. I have generally found that people do best with those materials to which they have been most accustomed; but I am sorry to find so general a dependence on breweries for yeast. To say nothing of the impure and poisonous substances which brewers employ in the manufacture of beer, and which always affect the quality of their yeast, I am confident that domestic yeast can he made of a far superior quality. However light and good in other respects that bread may be which is made with brewers yeast, I have rarely if ever seen any in which I could not at once detect the disagreeable properties of the yeast.

There are various ways of making domestic yeast. One of the simplest, and perhaps the best, is the following, which was communicated to me by one of the best bread-makers I ever saw:

“Put into one gallon of water a double handful of hops;—boil them fifteen or twenty minutes, then strain off the water while it is scalding hot;—stir in wheat flour or meal till it becomes a thick batter, so that it will hardly pour;—let it stand till it becomes about blood warm, then add a pint of good lively yeast, and stir it well; and then let it stand in a place where it will be kept at a temperature of about 70° F. till it becomes perfectly light, whether more or less time is required; and then it is fit for use;—or if it is desired to keep a portion of it, let it stand several hours and become cool; and then put it into a clean jug and cork it tight, and place it in the cellar where it will keep cool; and it may be preserved good, ten or twelve days, and even longer.”

Another way by which yeast when thus made may be preserved much longer, and perhaps more conveniently, is, to take it when it has become perfectly light, and stir in good indian meal until it becomes a hard dough: then take this dough and make it into small thin cakes, and dry them perfectly, without baking or cooking them at all. These cakes, if kept perfectly dry, will be good for several weeks and even months.

When yeast is needed, take some of these cakes (more or less according to the quantity of bread desired) and break them fine and dissolve them in warm water, and then stir in some wheat flour till a batter is formed, which should be kept at a temperature of about 60° F. till the yeast becomes light and lively, and fitted for making bread.

Others, in making this yeast, originally put into the water with the hops, a double handful of good clean wheat bran, and boil them up together and strain off the water as above described: others again, boil up a quantity of wheat bran without the hops, and make their yeast in all other respects as above described.

The milk yeast is greatly preferred by many; and when it is well managed, it certainly makes very handsome bread. The way of making it is simple. Take a quart of milk fresh from the cow, (more or less according to the quantity of bread desired,)—a little salt is generally added, and some add about half a pint of water blood warm, but this is not essential;—then stir wheat flour or meal into the milk till it forms a moderately thick batter; and then cover it over, and place it where it will remain at a temperature of from 60° to 70° F. till it becomes perfectly light. It should then be used immediately: and let it be remembered that dough made with this yeast will sour sooner than that made with other yeast; and also that the bread after it is baked will become extremely dry and crumbly much sooner than bread made with other yeast. Yet this bread, when a day old, is exceedingly light and beautiful: albeit some dislike the animal smell and taste which it derives from the milk.

In all these preparations of yeast and dough, it should ever be recollected that “the process of fermentation cannot go on when the temperature is below 30° F., that it proceeds quite slowly at 50°, moderately at 60°, rapidly at 70°, and very rapidly at 80°.”

If, therefore, it is desired to have the yeast or dough stand several hours before it is used or baked, it should be kept at a temperature of about 50°. But in the ordinary way of making bread, a temperature varying from 60° to 70°, or about summer heat, is perhaps as near right as it can well be made.

Prof. Thomson gives the following directions for making yeast in large quantities:—”Add ten pounds of flour to two gallons of boiling water;—stir it well into a paste, let this mixture stand for seven hours, and then add about a quart of good yeast. In about six or eight hours, this mixture, if kept in a warm place, will have fermented and produced as much yeast as will make 120 quartern loaves” (of 4 lbs. each.)

A much smaller quantity can be made by observing due proportions of the ingredients.

To raise bread in a very short time without yeast, Prof. Thomson gives the following recipe:

“Dissolve in water 2 ounces, 5 drams and 45 grains of common crystallized carbonate of soda, and mix the solution well with your dough, and then add 7 ounces, 2 drams and 22 grains of muriatic acid of the specific gravity of 1,121, and knead it as rapidly as possible with your dough;—it will rise immediately—fully as much, if not more than dough mixed with yeast—and when baked, will be a very light and excellent bread.” Smaller quantities would be required for small batches of bread.

A tea-spoonful or more (according to the quantity of dough or batter) of super-carbonate of soda dissolved in water, and flour stirred in till it becomes a batter, and then an equal quantity of tartaric acid dissolved and stirred in thoroughly, will in a few minutes make very light batter for griddle or pancakes; or if it be mixed into a thick dough, it will make light bread.

Good lively yeast, however, makes better bread than these alkalies and acids: howbeit these are very convenient in emergencies, when bread or cakes must be prepared in a very short time; or when the yeast has proved inefficient.

We see then that wheat meal consists of certain proportions of starch, gluten, sugar, bran, &c.; and that in making loaf bread, we add yeast or leaven, in order to produce that kind of fermentation peculiar to saccharine matter or sugar, which is called vinous, and by which the gas or air is formed that raises the dough. But the sugar is an incorporate part of every particle of the meal, and is therefore equally diffused throughout the whole mass; and hence if we would make the very best loaf bread, the fermentive principle or yeast must also be equally diffused throughout the whole mass, so that a suitable portion of yeast will be brought to act at the same time on every particle of saccharine matter in the mass.

But let us endeavor to understand this process of fermentation. To speak in the language of chemistry, sugar is composed of certain proportions of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. The yeast, acting on the sugar, overcomes those affinities by which these substances are held in the constitutional arrangement of sugar, and the process of decay or decomposition of the sugar takes place, which is called vinous fermentation. By this process of decay, two other forms of matter are produced, of an essentially different nature from each other and from the sugar. One of them is called carbonic acid gas or air, being formed by a chemical combination of certain proportions of carbon and oxygen. The other is known by the name of alcohol, and consists of a chemical combination of certain proportions of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Carbonic acid gas is also produced by animal respiration or breathing, by the combustion of wood, coal, &c. &c. and in other ways of nature and of art: but neither in nature nor in art is there any known way by which alcohol can be produced, except by that process of the decay or destruction of sugar called vinous fermentation.

The carbonic acid gas, produced in the manner I have stated, is the air which inflates or puffs up and swells out the bread, when there is sufficient gluten or other cohesive matter in the dough to prevent its escape.

If the dough be permitted to stand too long in a warm place, the fermentation, having destroyed most or all of the sugar, will begin to act on the starch and mucilage, and destroy their nature, and produce vinegar; and therefore this stage of it is called the acetous fermentation: and if it still be permitted to go on, it will next commence its work of destruction on the gluten; and this is called the putrefactive fermentation, because it in many respects resembles the putrefaction of animal matter.

The vinous fermentation, therefore, by which the dough is raised and made light, may be carried to all necessary extent, and still be limited in its action to the saccharine matter or sugar—leaving the starch and gluten, and other properties of the meal, uninjured; and this is the point at which the fermentation should be arrested by the heat that bakes the dough. If it be permitted to go beyond the sugar, and act on the mucilage and starch, and produce acidity, the excellence of the bread is in some degree irreparably destroyed. The acid may be neutralized by pearlash or soda, so that the bread shall not be sour; but still, something of the natural flavor of the bread is gone, and it is not possible by any earthly means to restore it; and this injury will always be in proportion to the extent to which the process of the acetous fermentation is permitted to go in destroying the nature of the starch, and the bread will be proportionably destitute of that natural sweetness and delicious richness essential to good bread. Yet it is almost universally true, both in public and domestic bread-making, that the acetous fermentation is allowed to take place; and saleratus, or soda, or some other chemical agent is employed to neutralize the acid. By this means we may have bread free from acidity, it is true, but it is also destitute of the best and most delicious properties of good bread; and generally, by the time it is twenty-four hours old—and this is particularly true of bakers’ bread—it is as dry and tasteless and unsavory as if it were made of plaster of Paris.”

Comment: he says quite a lot here, much more than is usually mentioned in modern bread books. Later on (not included) he goes into how bad it is to have bread that is too sour etc., but his critique about over-fermentation is well taken. That said, he doesn’t appreciate the alimentary benefits of fermentation sufficiently (imo). In the last sentence though, he basically nails it in terms of what can most easily be observed, namely the keeping quality of a properly made loaf: sourdough breads simply last longer, retaining moisture, aroma and taste far better than yeast breads which tend to dry out and become tasteless within a day or so of baking. Barring obvious over-fermentation, that in itself is a sign of a properly made bread. For those of us using rye starters (such as myself), even when the timing and duration is perfect, there will be more sourness in the finished bread because of the nature of rye fermentation.

Speculation about gluten issues raised by this reading: I find it quite plausible to speculate that perhaps the problem with gluten stems from having consumed too many processed foods, not enough plant foods and moreover in all categories not enough natural fibre (which is in plant foods). (His point about the potatoes.) The fibre helps the alimentary canal process food both initially and as it gets broken down into an ever more liquid soup. Without the fibre, perhaps everything is turning into a sludge which doesn’t move down the bowels well, accumulates and ferments and rots and causes inflammation and so on. Perhaps. So perhaps those with gluten issues should get into eating far more fresh roughage – carrots, celery, cabbage and so forth, and then maybe – just maybe! – try a fresh-ground whole grain rye or spelt loaf and see how it sits. I have quite a few customers who swear by these loaves and who otherwise can’t handle bread at all.


One thought on “Blast from the Past – Graham on Bread

  1. This was so interesting!! How we have come full circle.. thank you for posting this. I’m a baker in Newfoundland, having been making about 3 dozen loaves of different sorts of sourdough breads each morning for about a year now. Still tweaking, and tasting, and learning, and making great bread and not so great bread. Its always my favourite part of the morning, though. I’m really enjoying your blog, thank you!

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