Today I am going to do a History Meets Reality TV series. This series is called Victorian Bakers. This series is hosted by Alex Langlands and Annie Gray. The bakers stood between starvation and keeping a nation well fed.
Four modern bakers will be sent back to Victorian Times. They will start in the rural bakeries of the 1840s, to industrial bakeries, and finally the high street bakery. Our four bakers will experience 63 years of history. They will experience the conditions of a Victorian Bakery. The bakers will experience hard work and will try things that have not been baked in over a century. They will learn more about the bakery trade.
In 1837, when Queen Victoria became Queen a majority of the British population lived in the countryside. The challenge for our hosts is to find a working rural bakery from the Victorian period. Lucky for our hosts one such bakery exists. The bakery was built next to a millhouse and had an average staff of three to four people. Four modern bakers were recruited and they come from different aspects of the bakery. One owns a factory, one is an artisan baker and one owns a business.
The baker was steeped in tradition and the community depended on them for making bread. The modern bakers are a bit shocked at what they found in the bakery. The dough will be mixed by hand. The bread oven was a rare survival and based on the Medieval oven. These bakers will experience a seismic change in baking over their experience. The space is small and primitive.
The first challenge the Victorian Bakers will be is to make Victorian Bread. The traditional Victorian loaf took nine hours. The bakers will have to gather fuel for the fire and gather materials. The bakers were left with manuscripts that talked abbot the life of the Victorian Baker. How will the modern bakers react to the challenge, Alex and Annie can only speculate?
They will have to figure out where the fire goes first. The oven is small and much smaller than what the Victorians used. One of the bakers is a factory baker and he talks about how the Victorians were pure in their baking and made the machines. Alex guides two of the bakers in how to heat the oven. It was unusual for our modern bakers to start a fire in the oven and then rake out the coals.
Two other bakers work with yeast and flour. Yeast was purchased by the barrel and was wet. The Victorian Baker needed to separate the frosty part of the beer to get the yeast. Then the dregs of the beer needed to be drained off. The ancestor of one of the bakers would have done the same process. Buying yeast from the brewer would have been the biggest expense for the baker. The yeast would be mixed with a little flour and would be let rise for six hours.
Alex explores the additional history of the bakery. Oftentimes, the bakery would be tied with the millhouse and would often be owned by the same family. Wheat would be brought to the millhouse and turned into flour. In Victorian times, there were hundreds of types kinds of wheat grown and it would impact the taste of the bread.
So will our modern bakers get a hold of Victorian technology? What will Victorian bakers learn about baking? Tune into this series to find out more.
Victorian Bakers would be an excellent series to show in a food science class as well as a history class. If you have an independent study student working in food science or history then they could take a look at this documentary and try out some of the techniques used by the bakers.
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