Victorian Bread Recipes Without Commercial Yeast

Victorian Bread Recipes Without Commercial Yeast

I often make homemade sourdough bread, but since I made Victorian Graham bread (with commercial yeast) for the Historical Food Fortnightly two month ago, I was interested in historical homemade bread recipes which were made without commercial yeast. So here I compiled Victorian bread recipes which are all made without commercial yeast and without traditional homemade sourdough starter.

In the Victorian era, yeast was usually made at home with boiled hops and mashed potatoes. But nearly all Victorian yeast recipes made with hops say to add some commercial yeast as well; but finally I found two Victorian yeast recipes without commercial yeast, which you’ll find below. There are also recipes for Victorian salt-risen bread, Roman bread made with grape must, Turkish pea bread and Siberian bark bread.


Homemade hop yeast, bread without commercial yeast
Fresh hops as yeast substitute


Good Substitute for Brewer’s Yeast (The Country Gentleman’s Magazine, 1869, p. 383)
  • 1 oz hops
  • 4 quarts water
  • 6 oz flour
  • 5 oz sugar
  • 4 lbs potatoes, ‘boiled and bruised fine’

Boil hops in water, ‘until the hops fall to the bottom of the pan; strain it, and when milk-warm’ add flour and sugar; ‘set the mixture by the fire, stirring it frequently’. After 48 hours add potatoes; ‘next day bottle the yeast – it will keep a month. One fourth of yeast and three of warm water, is the proportion for baking.’

-> tried


Another Good Substitute for Brewer’s Yeast (The Country Gentleman’s Magazine, 1869, p. 383)
  • 1 lb flour
  • 1/4 lb brown sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 gallons water

Boil all ingredients for 1 hour; ‘when milk-warm, bottle and cork it close, and it will be fit for use in twenty-four hours. 1 lb. of this yeast will make 18 lb. of bread.’

-> tried


Homemade bread without commercial yeast
Homemade bread made with fruit yeast


Salt Rising Bread (The Ohio Cultivator, 1859, p. 223)

‘Salt-rising, or rather milk-rising bread, to me now looks finer, tastes better, and is more healthy, beside being less work about making it than the common yeast bread. […] This bread if made aright, is white, moist, tender, [and] sweet’.

  • 1 pint new milk
  • 1 pint boiling water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • flour

Take milk, water and salt, ‘put together in a vessel sufficiently large, add flour very fast, until as thick as can well be stirred smoothly; put the vessel in another of water, as warm as the hand can be held in, stand by the stove or fire so as to keep up the water at the same temperature. Give it a slight stirring, and that but once, which should be done upon seeing signs of its rising, which will be after it has stood between three and four hours. Will be up in about five hours. Should not present a surface of fine bubbles, but look much as yeast.’

  • flour
  • 2 quarts (or less) warm, sweet milk
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teacup sugar or maple molasses

‘Mix moderately stiff, and mould out into pans, set by the stove to rise. May be ready to bake in an hour. Will bake a little quicker than yeast. […]

If the rising be set at six in the morning, the bread can be mixed at eleven, and all in the cooling room at two o’clock, so as not to interfere with the arrangements of the afternoon.’


Fruit yeast, apple starter, bread
Fruit yeast


Pliny’s Grape Must Bread (Naturalis Historia, 77) (The Natural History of Pliny, 1856, p. 38)
  • millet or fine wheat bran
  • three days old white must

Knead millet with must, ‘it will keep a whole year.’ Or knead bran with white must and dry it in the sun, ‘after which it is made into small cakes. When required for making bread, these cakes are first soaked in water, and then boiled with the finest spelt flour, after which the whole is mixed up with the meal; and it is generally thought that this is the best method of making bread.’


Turkish Pea Yeast (The Family Receipt Book, 1819, p. 87)
  • small teacupful of split or bruised peas
  • 1 pint boiling water

Pour boiling water over the peas, ‘and set it in a vessel all night on the hearth, or any warm place. The next morning the water will have a froth on it, and be good yeast, and will make as much bread as two quartern loaves.’

-> tried


White bread without yeast, with honey water, sourdough alternative
White bread made with honey water


Siberian Bark Bread (Vollständige Brod-Bak-Kunde, 1832, p. 85)

‘The Siberian ermine hunters, when their yeast, which they carry with them, to make their quass, is spoiled by the cold, digest the inner bark of the pine, with water, over the fire, during an hour, mix it with their rye-meal, bury the dough in the snow, and, after 12 hours, find the ferment ready’. (The Gardener’s Magazine, 1828, p. 378)

  • inner bark of larch, pine, fir, birch or elm
  • water
  • flour

Choose ‘a tree whose trunk is even, (for these contain the least resin), and strip off the bark in the spring when it separates most readily’. (The Medical and Physical Journal, 1807, p. 460) The ‘innermost bark of young fir (or elm) […] is first hung up in the air to dry, and then baked. This is beaten on wooden blocks, pounded as fine as possible, and afterwards ground in a mill.’ (Norway, the Road and the Fell, 1864, p. 33)

Simmer the inner bark for half an hour with water, then add flour and knead into a dough. Bury the sourdough for 2 hours in the snow.

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