Fort Vancouver
Historic Furnishings Report: Bakery
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The following extracts from early nineteenth century encyclopaedias were obtained after the main body of this report had been typed. They merit careful study, since they throw light upon the equipment required for producing sea biscuits during the era of hand production.

A. From article on "Biscuit (Sea)" in John Mason Good and others, Pantologia: A New Cyclopaedia . . . (12 vols., London: G. Kearsley, et al., 1813), II, pages not numbered:

. . . The process of biscuit-baking for the British navy is as follows . . . large lumps of dough, consisting merely of flour and water, are mixed up together, and as the quantity is so immense as to preclude by any common process a possibility of kneading it, a man manages, or, as it is termed, rides a machine which is called a horse. This machine is a long roller, apparently about four or five inches in diameter, and about seven or eight feet in length. It has a play to a certain extension, by means of a staple in the wall, to which is inserted a kind of eye, making its action like the machine by which they cut chaff for horses. The lump of dough being placed exactly in the centre of a raised platform, the man sits upon the end of the machine, and literally rides up and down throughout its whole circular direction, till the dough is equally indented; and this is repeated till it is sufficiently kneaded, at which times, by the different positions of the lines, large or small circles are described, according as they are near to or distant from the wall.

The dough in this state is handed over to a second workman, who slices it with a prodigious knife; and it is then in a proper state for the use of those bakers who attend the oven. These are five in number; and their different departments are as well calculated for expedition and correctness as the making of pins, or other mechanical employments. On each side of a large table, where the dough is laid, stands a workman; at a small table near the oven stands another; a fourth stands by the side of the oven to receive the bread; and a fifth to supply the peel. By this arrangement the oven is regularly filled, and the whole exercise performed in as exact time, as a military evolution. The man on the further side of the large table moulds the dough, having previously formed it into small pieces, till it has the appearance of muffins, although rather thinner, and which he does two together, with each hand; and as fast as he accomplishes this task, he delivers his work over to the man on the other side of the table, who stamps them with a docker on both sides with a mark. As he rids himself of this work, he throws the biscuits on the smaller table next the oven, where stands the third workman, whose business is merely to separate the different pieces into two, and place them immediately under the hand of him who supplies the oven, whose work of throwing, or rather chucking the bread upon the peel, must be so exact, that if he looked round for a single moment, it is impossible he should perform it correctly. The fifth receives the biscuit on the peel, and arranges it in the oven; in which duty he is so very expert, that though the different pieces are thrown at the rate of seventy in a minute, the peel is always disengaged in time to receive them separately.

As the oven stands open during the whole time of filling it, the biscuits first thrown in would be first baked, were there not some counteraction to such an inconvenience. The remedy lies in the ingenuity of the man who forms the pieces of dough, and who, by imperceptible degrees, proportionably diminishes their size till the loss of that time, which is taken up during the filling of the oven, has no more effect to the disadvantage of one of the biscuits than to another.

So much critical exactness and neat activity occur in the exercise of this labour, that it is difficult to decide whether the palm of excellence is due to the moulder, the marker, the splitter, the chucker, or the depositor; all of them, like the wheels of a machine, seeming to be activated by the same principle. The business is to deposit in the oven seventy biscuits in a minute; and this is accomplished with the regularity of a clock; the clack of the peel, during its motion in the oven, operating like a pendulum.

This same article, evidently word for word, is to be found in William Nicholson, The British Encyclopedia, a Dictionary of Arts and Sciences . . . (6 vols., London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Oreme, 1809), I, article on "Biscuit, sea." It is thus evident that the process described by Good was in use at least as early as 1809. Under this method the biscuits, upon being removed from the oven, were placed in drying lofts over the ovens until considered dry enough to be packed in bags of a hundredweight each and sent into storehouses. The ovens of the victualing office at Plymouth were heated 20 times a day.

B. From article on "Baker" in G. Gregory, A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences . . . (1st American ed., 3 vols., Philadelphia: Isaac Peirce, 1316), I, pages not numbered.

The process of biscuit baking, as practiced at the victualling office at Deptford, is curious and interesting. The dough, which consists of flour and water only, is worked by a large machine. It is then handed over to a second workman, who slices it with a large knife for the bakers, of whom there are five. The first, or the moulder, forms the biscuits two at a time; the second, or the marker, stamps and throws them to the splitter, who separates the two pieces, and puts them under the hand of the chucker, the man that supplies the oven, whose work of throwing the bread on the peel must be so exact, that he cannot look off for a moment. The fifth, or the depositor, receives the biscuits on the peel and arranges them in the oven. All the men work with the greatest exactness, and are, in truth, like parts of the same machine. The business is to deposit in the oven seventy biscuits a minute . . . .

C. From article on "Biscuitemaking" in The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia . . . (1st American ed., 18 vols., Philadelphia: Joseph and Edward Parks, 1832), III, 520.

As the process of making biscuits for the navy is rather curious, we shall endeavour to lay before our readers a very short account of it. After the meal and water are combined into large lumps of dough, it is kneaded by means of a machine, which consists of a roller, about six inches in diameter, and seven feet long. One of its extremities is fixed into the wall, so as to have a certain degree of play, while a man rides, as it were, on its other end. The lump of dough is then placed below it, and the man puts the roller into action, till the dough is sufficiently kneaded. In this state it is given to a second workman, who slices it with a large knife, for the use of the bakers who attend the oven. The rest of the process is effected by four [sic] workmen, two of whom take their station, each at the end of a large table that holds the dough; the third stands at a small table near the oven; the fourth stands at the oven, and the fifth supplies the peel. The dough is then moulded into something like muffins by the person on the farther side of the larger table. He then throws them to the man at the other end of the table, who puts the proper stamp upon them, and throws them upon the small table, where the third workman separates the different pieces into two, and places them under the hand of the fourth baker, who throws the bread upon the peel. The fifth workman recives the biscuits on the peel, and arranges them in the oven. All these successive operations are performed with such activity and exactness, that seventy biscuits are thrown in during a single minute. It is evident, that the biscuit first thrown into the oven would be baked sooner than the others; but this effect is obviated by the workman who moulds the dough, and who proportionally diminishes the size of the biscuits; so that those which are last thrown in require less heat than the others. The biscuits thus made are placed in drying lofts above the oven, and are afterwards packed into bags, of one hundredweight each and removed to the warehouses.

D. From article on "Biscuit" in The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (27 vols., London: Charles Knight, 1833-1843), IV [1835], 452

. . . . at Deptford . . . . Meal and water being mixed together in proportions necessary for giving the due degree of consistency to the dough, it is kneaded in the following manner: — The dough is placed upon a wooden platform, about six feet square, fixed horizontally a few inches above the floor of the bakehouse, and against the wall. A wooden roller, or staff, five inches in diameter, and eight feet long, has one end fixed by means of a staple and eye to the wall, at a convenient distance, at the middle of that side which is against the wall, above the level of the platform, and its other end overhangs by two feet the outer edge of the platform. Having a certain play by means of the staple and eye, this roller can be made to traverse the surface of the platform, and when the dough is placed upon it, the roller is used so as to knead it by indenting upon it lines radiating in a semicircle from the staple. To perform this kneading process, a man seats himself upon the overhanging end of the roller and proceeds with a riding motion backwards and forwards through the semicircular range until the dough is sufficiently kneaded.

In this state the dough is cut by large knives into slices, which are subdivided into small lumps, each sufficient for making a biscuit. In moulding these lumps, which is done by hand, the dough undergoes a further degree of kneading, and at length receives the form of a biscuit. The men who thus fashion the dough make two of these cakes at the same time, working with each hand independently of the other. When this part of the work is completed, the two pieces which have been simultaneously prepared are placed one on the other and handed over to another workman, by whom the two together are stamped with a toothed instrument, the use of which is to allow the equable dissipation of moisture through the holes from all parts of the biscuit during baking. The biscuits are then separated by another workman, who places them on a particular spot of a small table standing close to the mouth of the oven, so that each biscuit can be taken up in its turn without the necessity of his looking for it, by the man who supplies the oven. The office performed by this man is that of chucking the biscuits in succession upon the peel, which is held by another man whose business is to arrange them in the oven. This peel is a flat thin board, a few inches square which can, by means of a long handle, be slidden over the floor of the oven, so as to deposit and arrange the biscuits thereon . . . . The oven is . . . supplied at the rate of seventy biscuits a minute.

E. From article on "Manufacture of Biscuits" in Encyclopaedia Metropolitana; or, Universal Dictionary of Knowledge . . . (29 vols., London: B. Fellowes, et> al., 1845), VIII, 801-802.

. . . While the steam-engine and machinery have been introduced in almost every other Art, that of biscuit-making has, till very lately, been performed by hand. So recently as the year 1833, the first application of these means has been had recourse to for this purpose . . . . at present our object is to explain the manual process, which, is extremely curious. This process is of course somewhat, but very little, different in its minutiae in different offices [of his (sic) Majesty's Victualling Office]; we shall confine our description to that followed in his Majesty's Victualling Office, Deptford. The corn [wheat] is received from the markets, and is cleaned, ground, and dressed . . . . The flour used in the manufacture of biscuit for the Royal Navy consists of a mixture of flour and middlings, or it is the flour which remains after the pollard and bran only have been extracted, the corn being highly dried before it is ground. The baking establishment consists of two long buildings . . . with six ovens in each . . . . The kneading troughs and kneading boards, or breaks, are arranged round the outside walls of the building, one opposite each separate oven. The ovens are all wrought iron . . . . The furnaces, which are on the sides of the ovens, are also of iron, and are heated by a powerful Welsh coal, which gives out a strong flame, and is conducted all round the oven. The number of men required to work each oven is five; these form a gang, and are denominated the furner, furner's mate, the driver, breaker, and idleman.

Process. — The first operation is that of kneading, in which there is nothing remarkable. The proper quantity of flour is put into a trough, furnished with a cock for a supply of water, and here it is kneaded by the driver with his naked arms till it assumes the rough form of dough. In this state it is removed from the trough and deposited on a strong wooden platform or table, called a break, to be operated upon by the breaksman, who, seizes a strong lever called a break-staff, with which he presses down the dough, sits with his weight upon it, and, with a rapid jumping and most uncouth motion, carries the lever over the whole surface. It is then transferred to the moulding board, a strong table near the mouth of the oven. Here it is cut into slips, and divided into lumps of the proper size for a biscuit. It is then moulded by the hands into its circular shape, laid in pairs one on the other, and subsequently docked, that is pierced with holes by an instrument called a docker; this stamp contains also the number of the oven, D for Deptford, and the usual King's mark. This number and the initial of the yard are specified, in order that, if any defect should be observed in the bread, it may be known where the fault rests. The biscuits, being stamped, are thrown six or eight at a time upon another table nearer the oven's mouth, where are placed the other three men, one called the furner, another the furner's mate, and the third the idleman, who separates the double biscuit, hands them singly to the furner's mate, who, with great dexterity, and even with elegance, pitches them into the oven upon the peel, handled with equal dexterity by the furner, who places the biscuits as he receives them side by side throughout the whole area of the oven, drawing back his peel a short distance each time to receive the next biscuit. The speed and facility with which this process is carried on are very striking to the eye of a stranger. It of course varies a little, but frequently more than one hundred biscuits are thus pitched in and properly placed in a minute. It may be observed that, with the greatest dexterity, those biscuits first placed in the oven must be the most baked; and to equalize this unequal effect the first are made larger than the others, so that the heat may be proportionally distributed; the oven, being filled, is closed for about ten minutes, when it is again opened and the biscuits withdrawn. During the time the oven is closed, and while the bread is being withdrawn, the process of kneading is going forward by the men not employed at the oven, to be ready to commence again as soon as it is empty.

The quantity baked each time, which is called a suit, is about 112 pounds weight before being placed in the oven, and which comes out 100 pounds, about 9 per cent. of weight being lost in the process. The number in this weight of biscuit is about five hundred and eighty, that is one with another; there are about six biscuits to a pound. . . .

The usual number of suits which each oven bakes in a day is twelve, and on extra occasions they can bake sixteen or seventeen . . . . On a stranger entering the door . . . he is struck with the perfect order and dexterity of the six divisions of the men, each attired in a clean checked shirt, white linen trowsers, apron, and cap, and all plying their several avocations with a steady rapidity, but without noise or the slightest appearance of hurry or confusion.

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Last Updated: 28-Nov-2005