Making Bread at Home in 1821

Step back in time (to just before the Irish potato famine) and tune in to dialogue advocating the importance of making bread at home and growing grain in the fields. Also, get 19th century instructions on how to make bread.


| February 11, 2013



Cottage Economy book cover

“Cottage Economy” by William Cobbett is the founding bible of self-sufficiency from way back in the 1820s. Reread this old story still relevant today on the notion that once upon a time, only a little while ago, people knew a better way of doing things that should not be forgotten. 


Cover Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing

First published in the 1820s, Cottage Economy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2000) by William Cobbett was written with the aim of instructing country laborers in the arts of “brewing beer, making bread, keeping cows, pigs, bees, poultry and others” and promoting his personal philosophy of self-sufficiency, which he viewed as the foundation of family happiness. Written with Cobbett’s typical wit — and bulldog curmudgeonliness — it deserves its reputation as the founding bible of self-sufficicney and one of the greatest rural reads of the English language. Stay tuned as we post, chapter by chapter, the entire Cottage Economy online. The following excerpt on the importance of bread is taken from chapter 3, "Making Bread." 

Buy this book in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Cottage Economy. 

Little time need be spent in dwelling on the necessity of this article to all families; though, on account of the modern custom of using potatoes to supply the place of bread, it seems necessary to say a few words here on the subject, which, in another work I have so amply, and, I think, so triumphantly discussed. I am the more disposed to revive the subject for a moment, in this place, from having read, in the evidence recently given before the Agricultural Committee, that many labourers, especially in the West of England, use potatoes instead of bread to a very great extent. And I find, from the same evidence, that it is the custom to allot to labourers “a potatoe ground” in part payment of their wages!

I was, in reading the above-mentioned evidence, glad to find, that Mr. Edward Wakefield, the best informed and most candid of all the witnesses, gave it as his opinion, that the increase which had taken place in the cultivation of potatoes was “injurious to the country;” an opinion which must, I think, be adopted by every one who takes the trouble to reflect a little upon the subject.

When we consider the effects in the rearing of a family, we shall find, that, in mere quantity of food, that is to say of nourishment, bread is the preferable diet.

Growing Potatoes versus Growing Grain

An acre of land that will produce 300 bushels of potatoes, will produce 32 bushels of wheat. I state this as an average fact, and am not at all afraid of being contradicted by any one well acquainted with husbandry. The potatoes are supposed to be of a good sort, as it is called, and the wheat may be supposed to weigh 60 pounds a bushel. It is a fact clearly established, that, after the water, the stringy substance, and the earth, are taken from the potatoe, there remains only one tenth of the rough raw weight of nutritious matter, or matter which is deemed equally nutritious with bread, and, as the raw potatoes weigh 56lb. a bushel, the acre will yield 1,830lb. of nutritious matter. Now mind, a bushel of wheat, weighing 60lb. will make of household bread (that is to say, taking out only the bran) 65lb. Thus, the acre yields 2,080lb. of bread.





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