We were talking about bread the other day weren't we...sliced loaves versus home-baked crusty and so on...
Bread can be very easily adulterated...making the flour go further by adding all manner of nasties, was a favourite practice in the Middle Ages, which was one of the reasons why Bakers found themselves in the town or village stocks so often.
Bakers of the Middle Ages used powdered chalk to pad out their flour supplies...and because people were beginning to develop a taste for white bread they also used Alum which has a natural bleaching effect.
I suppose powdered chalk would taste unpleasant and probably cause constipation if you ate enough of it but Alum is Aluminium Oxide used in tanning leather and curing skins...I use it when dyeing wool with flowers and leaves as a setting agent for the colour...it causes severe bowel problems...especially chronic diarrhoea which killed many small children and the elderly.
The Victorians were not immune from bakers who adulterated their flour either...they used Alum and powered chalk and bean flour and Plaster of Paris to make the original wheat flour go further...all caused bowel problems, some of which were fatal to children and elderly people.
But bakers redeemed themselves at Christmas time...all over England people would take their Goose to the local bakery to have it cooked for them in the bakers ovens...you'd take it there on the Christmas Eve and it'd cook overnight for you to collect it on the Christmas morning...I wonder how many people had food poisoning because their goose was undercooked if the baker was inundated with raw geese needing to be ready for the tomorrow...
The practice of using the bakers ovens for cooking the Christmas dinner didn't happen much in Ireland...certainly not in the country areas where there were no bakers anyway because everyone made their soda bread fresh each day...the goose was cooked on a griddle over the open fire...a griddle was just a plain flat cast iron platter...it usually had a ridge all round the outside to stop the grease from falling into the fire.
The goose grease was carefully saved of course...nowadays we can buy little jars of it to cook potatoes in, but not so long ago it was essential for keeping you warm when you had a dose of a cold. Smeared onto a piece of old flannel and wrapped tightly around your chest, it kept you warm and comfy while you sat by the fire and sneezed. Children went to school with their under vests smeared in a layer of goose fat...and if you were really poor and didn't have a piece of flannel or an under vest, then it was put onto a sheet of brown paper or newspaper and tied around your chest with a bit of string.
The goose provided quills for writing careful letters to those who had gone to find their fortune in Americay...the wing feathers made ideal dusters for the delph on the dresser...
We found some once in an abandoned cottage...I do so wish I'd brought them away...
And the breast feathers were saved carefully in a sack to make a mattress for a baby or a pillow for a sickly child.
Not many people eat goose now...they are horribly expensive and only a few specialised farmers produce them for the Christmas market...it's turkeys nowadays...mass produced in turkey concentration camps. Cooked in modern ovens with fan assisted thingy's...they usually emerge tasteless and insipid and need to be served with Chipolata sausages and Cranberry sauce. Bakers no longer work all night long on Christmas eve so you'd get short shrift if you asked for your turkey to be cooked for you...
Decent bread is hard to find unless you bake it yourself...we no longer need to worry about the flour being mixed with powdered chalk...and dodgy bakers won't end up spending the day in the stocks either...but a sliced loaf of white bread lasts a good week or more and it does beg the question of what additives it has to make it last so long a time...at least it's unlikely to be Plaster of Paris.