Every so often I pull out this bread pail that was my grandmother’s. She mixed bread in it for her family of six children, plus two of her husband’s younger siblings who lived with them during the Depression. I think at one time she owned several of these, but this one is the only one I know about that’s still left in the family. I continue to use it, but obviously I don’t make as much bread as she did.
The bread pail’s official name is the Number 4 Universal Bread Maker by Landers, Frary & Clark of New Britain, Connecticut. It won a gold medal in the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. Winning a gold medal at the World’s Fair was a big deal — Landers, Frary actually put it on the front of the bread pail itself. This particular World’s Fair celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase (1803), one year late. You can read lots more about it here if you’re interested.
Anyway, the bread “machine” was one of many products that came out around the turn of the twentieth century, all of which were designed to make women’s home-making jobs easier. According to the National Housewares Manufacturers Association (see this reprint), the company who manufactured my bread pail produced goods under the trademark “Universal” from the 1890s until GE’s Housewares division acquired it in 1965. In addition to the Universal bread maker, they produced a new type of food chopper that chopped vegetables as well as ground meat, and even more significant for us caffeine lovers, they designed the “Universal” coffee percolator. Remember, electricity was just becoming available to the masses at that time: the first percolators were designed for the stove, and they made coffee that tasted better than people had ever made at home before.
In fact, the aunt who gave me my grandmother’s bread pail preferred to use a stove-top percolator, long after everyone else had switched to much fancier countertop coffee machines. She claimed it made the best coffee, the hottest coffee. She also told me, when she gave me the bread pail, that she expected me to use it — that when my grandmother was alive, she would check up on people she gave things to, and if they didn’t use them, she had no problem taking them back to give to someone else who would use them.
So I use it. Not because I’m afraid it will be taken away — my aunt died a few years ago — but because it’s a great way to make bread. You can mix up the ingredients, knead the bread with the hand crank, and then put the lid on to let the dough rise overnight, or while you go do something else. You come back, crank it around to knead the dough a second time, and plop it into the pans. It rises a second time, and you put the bread in the oven. Voila! That’s it.
I use the bread pail to make different yeast breads, but this time I made whole wheat bread. It came out dense, with a smooth texture — perfect for breakfast, especially when toasted and spread with butter and jam. Even if you don’t have one of these nifty pails, you can make this bread with an electric stand mixer and dough hook, or even with a big bowl and spoon. But if you make bread often, you might check into acquiring a Universal Bread Maker. I think you can still pick one up on eBay in the “antiques” section, although you may have to scrub off the rust if it hasn’t been used lately. Bread pail or not, have a slice of whole wheat bread for breakfast. Shoot, go ahead and have two slices. My grandmother would approve.
Whole Wheat Bread
(From Breads, Rolls & Pastries (New Hampshire: Yankee Publishing Inc, 1981)
2 packages dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup molasses
5 to 6 cups whole wheat flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside. Scald mild, remove from heat, and stir in butter until melted. Add salt and molasses, and blend. Cool and stir in yeast. Beat in flour, 1 cup at a time, to form a stiff dough. Turn out onto floured board and knead until smooth (or turn the crank in your bread pail!). Cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down, knead, and place in 1 greased 9-inch or 2 greadsed 8-inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled. Bake in preheated 300 degree oven 1 to 1 1/2 hours.