Making Your Own Yeast

vintage ad for yeast, potato yeast, hop yeast
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Until the mid-1800s, people made their own yeasts to use in baking bread. In 1868, Charles and Max Fleischmann created a compressed yeast cake and began selling it commercially.  This was certainly easier than making your own!


The best kinds of yeast are dry yeast, soft hop yeast, and potato yeast. The hard yeast should be made in the month of May or early in June for summer use, and in September or October for the winter. This kind sometimes loses its vitality during the damp weather of August, but it is not invariably the case. Soft hop, or potato yeast, should be made once a week in the summer, and once in two weeks in the winter. No soft yeast can be fit for use if kept week after week; it may be rectified with saleratus*, but the bread will not be very good.

*saleratus – sodium bicarbonate, the main ingredient in baking powder

Every housekeeper should make sure, by her own personal attention, that the yeast is properly made, and the jar well scalded. A jar having a close cover is best. Bottles will burst, and you cannot be perfectly sure that a jug is cleansed from every particle of old yeast. To scald the jar, put it into a kettle of boiling water. This must be done every time you make yeast. Stoneware is liable to be cracked by the pouring of boiling water into it.

To three pints of water, put a small handful of hops. Boil them about half an hour, adding more water if needed. Put into the jar six or seven tablespoonfuls of flour, and a teaspoonful of salt. Set it near the kettle, and dip the hop tea, as it boils, into the jar through a small colander or sieve. When you have strained enough of the tea to wet all the flour, stir it, and let none remain dry at the bottom or sides of the jar. Then strain upon it the remainder of the hop-water, and stir it well. This mixture should be about the consistency of batter for griddle-cakes. The reason for straining the hop-water while boiling is that if the flour is not scalded, the yeast will soon become sour.

After it becomes cool (but not cold), stir in a gill* of good yeast. Set it in a slightly warm place, and not closely covered. Do not leave an iron spoon in it, as it will turn it a dark color, and make it unfit for use. When the yeast is fermented, put it in a cool place, covered close.

*gill – a liquid measurement; four ounces in the U.S. and five ounces in the U.K.

When yeast has a strong tart smell and a watery appearance on the surface, it is too old for use.

Put four ounces of hops to six quarts of water and boil it away to three quarts. Strain, boiling hot (as directed for the Soft yeast) upon three pints of flour, a large spoonful of ginger, and another of salt. When it is cool, add a pint of sweet yeast. When it is foaming light, knead in sifted Indian meal* enough to make it very stiff. Mold it into loaves,cut it into thin slices, and lay it upon clean boards. Set it where there is a free circulation of air, in the sun. After one side has dried so as to be a little crisp, turn the slices over. When both sides are dry, break them up into small pieces. It thus dries sooner than if not broken. Set it in the sun two or three days in succession. Stir it often with your hand, so that all parts will be equally exposed to the air. When perfectly dry, put it into a coarse bag, and hang it in a dry and cool place.

The greatest inconvenience in making this yeast is the danger of cloudy or wet weather. If the day after it is made should not be fair, it will do to set the jar in a cool place, and wait a day or two before putting in the Indian meal. But the best yeast is made when the weather continues clear and dry, and if a little windy, so much the better. This yeast makes less delicate bread than the soft kind, but it is very convenient.

*Indian meal – corn meal

Use a porcelain kettle for making this yeast, or an iron one tinned inside. A common iron one will turn it dark. Boil one handful of hops in two quarts of water for half an hour. Strain it, and return the tea to the kettle. Have ready eight large potatoes, grated, or nine small ones. Stir into the tea. Let it boil a minute or two, and it will thicken to a batter. When nearly cold, add half a pint of good yeast. Let it ferment well, then put it into a jar and cover close. Always shake or stir before using it.

Aren’t You Glad We Don’t Have to Make Our Own Yeast Today?

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Author: Angela Johnson

I’ve been interested in cooking since I was a teenager. Growing up in a small town in Illinois, I ate many home-cooked meals and tried out recipes (mostly cookies). Wherever I live or travel, I check out grocery stores for unusual foods, eat at local restaurants, and buy regional cookbooks. I’m also fascinated with learning how people in the past lived, and how they obtained food and prepared it.

4 thoughts on “Making Your Own Yeast”

  1. Wow! That sure was a lot of work! I love the picture of the ad.

    1. Yes, it was a lot of work. The “good old days” weren’t always so good. We’ve got it easy today.

  2. Oh my goodness, I could not imagine having to make my own yeast! I make my own yogurt and bake my own bread, but I guess I cheat! I use the bacteria in yogurt to make more and my yeast is definitely dry and comes in a jar. Easy to work with and not nearly the amount of work as in the old days….thanks for enlightening me.

    1. I don’t think women hardly ever got to leave the kitchen with all the work required to make meals.

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