Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ms Bun The Baker's Daughter

12.12.12. Today's date: a triple dozen. I shall resist an immediate urge to expound and expand upon the number 12. Instead, an offshoot of the standard dozen: the baker's dozen: 13.

I'm the daughter of a craftsman baker (I hesitate to call my father by the proper term: master baker, because it sounds uncomfortably like something else!) I ought to have known all about "the baker's dozen" and its origins, without the need for research. I didn't. I do now.

The origin of a baker's dozen harks back to 13th century England (around 1266/7) when a piece of law known as The Assize of Bread and Ale was enacted. This statute, first of its kind in England, regulated the weight, quality and price of bread and beer manufactured anywhere in England. The law was enforced in cities by licensing systems with fees, fines and punishments for breaking it; in rural districts it was enforced by Lords of the Manors at regular court sessions.

Before establishment of this law it had been relatively easy for unscrupulous bakers to short-weight customers. Bakers had garnered a rather dodgy reputation because of this, and it was at their request that a system of regulation was established Once this new law was enacted bakers needed to make certain they complied, in order to avoid harsh penalty - perhaps a session in the stocks or pillory, or a heavy fine. They came up with the idea of adding a 13th loaf to every order of early form of insurance, I guess.

19th century laws superseded the old regulation and stipulated that bread be sold by pound weight; later that was repealed also. In 2009 a European directive abolished more than 800 years of English history. Bakers in the UK, like the French maître boulanger can now bake loaves of any size, shape, and weight.

In establishing the original bread law England was following the pattern of earlier civilisations. Early societies took their bread very seriously, it was a primary food source for many people. In ancient Egypt, a baker found to be cheating a customer would have their ear nailed to the door of their bakery. In Babylon, if a baker was found to have sold an under-weight loaf, the baker would have his hand chopped off.

My Dad, back in the late 1940s through the 1950s, with my Mother's help, ran their own small bakery and store. Very early mornings, before 5.00 AM, he would haul a huge lumps of mixture from his big mixing machine to the baking table, tear off pieces from the lump of dough, and once torn they'd be thrown onto a scale, then kneeded a certain number of times, and put in to pans on a baking tray, then into the "prover" to rise before baking. Dad would work up a well-practiced and distinct rhythm. I was amazed how accurate he'd become in pulling almost exact 1 pound or 2 pound pieces from the pile of dough. His tearing, throwing, kneeding pattern: as the dough hit the balance scale it'd clang a bit, then the dough hitting the wooden table added a different softer thump, then the kneeding action had a muffled shuffle sound....then back to the clang... The melody and beat of bread-making. I can still hear it!

(Illustration at top of post: A card from card game Happy Families as published in the 1880s by John Jacques, London.)


Anonymous said...
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mike said...

Twilight, it looks as if you are having trouble with blog-whackers today!

Must have been very nice to have your own freshly baked breads (any pastries?) every day! I make my own whole wheat bread from scratch...about every three days I make a loaf.

My niece gave me a book of needless-but-interesting trivia several years ago. One of the mini-facts regarded bakers of yesteryear is that the unscrupulous bakers adulterated their breads with finely ground saw dust, ground straw, and-or clay. Yum. Apparently, there were the resultant poisonings due to clays contaminated with arsenic and other heavy metals, too. Yes, nail their ears to the shop door!

The bakers' dozen is reminiscent of the liquor law regarding a "fifth" of liquor. Some things don't have to make sense.

What would you have said about 12-12-12? I thought it was interesting about 08-08-08...supposedly it was a very lucky day for many and the number of weddings that day increased way more than normal. I haven't heard any hype regarding today and I thought that I would...maybe it'll be on the nightly news tonight.

Wisewebwoman said...

Lovely post, T, you should do more of these memory ones.

I'm there with your dad, lovely writing. I love how artisans get into a certain rhythm and make it all seem so effortless.


Twilight said...

mike ~~ The spammers are usually corralled quite efficiently by Blogger, but a few have been slipping through recently. The corralled ones have increased in number too, but they are easy enough to dump.

It was great to have fresh warm bread for breakfast, and yes there were all kinds of pastries too: Yorkshire curd cheese cake (nothing like the US cheese cake by the way) custard pies, apple pies, cakes and cupcakes, simnel cake at Christmas and Easter, and lots more. :-)

The husband used to make his own bread, when we first met - doesn't any longer - not sure why....he used a bread maker though. I'm not sure that's quite proper - a bit like cheating! ;-)

Finely ground sawdust eh!? I had some bran, for sprinkling, once that tasted exactly like sawdust (not that I'm an expert on sawdust flavours), but I did wonder!

About 12.12.12? I'd have waffled on about calendars, clocks, 12 pennies to the shilling in old UK money, 12 disciples, days of Christmas, tribes of Israel etc.etc.etc. And wondered why!
Reminds me of the line in Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales:
“And books which told me everything about the wasp, except why.”

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~
Thank you kindly ma'am! :-)
I'll dig around in the back of my memory banks, WWW, see what I can find - but I sometimes think that unless these things arise of their own accord, the result of an emotional memory, I'd tend make 'em sound a bit synthetic. I don't have your ease and artistry way with words.

Twilight said...

WWW - Please ignore the "way" before "with words".......
I DO wish Blogger would provide an edit facility for comments!

Chomp said...

I absolutely noticed, observed and regarded the highly righteous and true saying at the right of your post:

And I cannot but agree with it...

Twilight said...

Chomp ~~~ LOL! Julia Child's quote about a nation's bread - I liked that one too! :-)

DC said...

Hi Annie!...when hunting for famous people's birthdays I found this a good tool....all you have to do is adjust the day/month on this link and it will take you to a page with all the IMDB's data for that particular day/month...
...i.e. after "monthday=....just replace the "month" first, then the "day" second (before the & symbol) and your in busines!!....maybe you know this...anyway...cheers!

Twilight said...

DC ~~~ I hadn't seen that site before - thank you for the link to it - I'm sure it'll come in handy! :-)

Rossa said...
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Rossa said...

Like your Dad, I trained as a baker confectioner in the 70s and still remember my first lesson in making bread by hand then working through all the processes involving mixing machines, provers and ovens. We were very lucky in our 2nd year to move into a brand new college in Leeds with the latest equipment. Great fun to use it but then we had the time to do so. Out in the real world you had to be a lot quicker and the early starts I also remember well.

On the theory side of breadmaking I remember a list of permitted additives to flour. For white flour the list was 2 sides of an A4 sheet of paper with a half sheet for wholemeal bread. Even chalk was permissible to 'whiten' the flour. I now buy organic unbleached flour for my 'white' bread which is more of a creamy colour but can have a greyish tint which can put people off.

I still make my own bread every week, though I do cheat and use a breadmaker to knead the dough and do the first prove. Then I stop the machine, weigh out and mould the bread, into the tin or make rolls and let it do it's own 2nd prove before baking.

Just got a new oven too which will do conventional baking (without the fan) using just heat at the top and the bottom of the oven. I get a much better result and the crust is a lot crustier.

Twilight said...

Rossa ~~ Yes, I remember you mentioning your craft before, Rossa.
:-) Dad trained via apprenticeship to a baker in the town where he was born. He never really wanted to go in that direction, he wanted to stay in school so's he could get a clerical job, but with 10 siblings, and he the eldest boy, he had to go out and earn money to help feed the family. He progressed via promotion to foreman, then a manager at a bakery chain in the south of England, and another in a nearby city. After the war he and Mum decided to take the plunge and go into biz for themselves, which they did, and remained self-employed, working together, for the rest of their lives.....though not in baking as the got's a hard job -as you must know!

Mmmmm - Crusty bread! Hard to find nowadays.