(see here), I described the book’s economic success and how it has taken its place in history due to its reliance on scientific cookery.
I assumed that a book noted for its measurements and exactness would provide me with recipes that were easy to follow and reproduce with wonderful results, like Betty Crocker’s Cookbook that we utilized earlier this year. I was wrong.
I love baking bread and Fannie Farmer’s recipe for Quaker Oat Bread wasn’t exactly terrible. However, even when I read the instructions, I doubted that they would yield the most successful loaf. The recipe was unspecific about the amount of time one should allow for the dough to rise. In fact, I was surprised about how much knowledge the Quaker Oat Bread recipe assumed on the part of the reader, when the book is lauded as significant due to its precision and ability to simplify culinary techniques. Farmer herself notes that “experience is the best guide for testing temperature of oven” and that though “various oven thermometers have been made, none have proved practical” (55). While the book employs a scientific approach to cooking, Farmer still had readers working with a far ranging variety of ovens, from coal-fired to wood fired (For more information about the history of oven technology, see Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s More Work for Mother).
Perhaps Fannie Farmer never actually tested the bread recipe herself. As you can see, the recipe is not for Oat Bread but for Quaker Oat Bread—as in the brand Quaker Oats. According to the Quaker Oat Company’s own website, in 1877, Quaker Oats registered as the first trademark for a breakfast cereal. The trademark was registered with the U.S. Patent Office as "a figure of a man in 'Quaker garb'" to symbolize good quality and honest value. In 1881, Henry Parsons Crowell bought the bankrupt Quaker Mill in Ravenna, Ohio for its most important asset – the brand name “Quaker.” Crowell was an adept businessman, especially keen in regards to marketing his products. In 1882, Crowell launched the first national magazine advertising program for a breakfast cereal. By 1890, the company chartered a special all-Quaker Oats train from Cedar Rapids, Indiana to Portland, Oregon and with it introduced the first ever "trial-size samples." These 1/2 oz. sample boxes of Quaker Oats were delivered to every mailbox in Portland, Oregon. However, 1891 was the year of Crowell’s most genius marketing tactics. First, Quaker Oats introduced the idea of packaged premiums by inserting chinaware items into boxes of oats. More importantly however was that in 1891, Quaker Oats became the first brand to feature a recipe on its box. The recipe was for Oatmeal Bread. Thus in 1896, with the release of Fannie Farmer’s cookbook, the Quaker Oat Bread box recipe entered the culinary cannon.
The recipe itself is quite easy to follow.
2 cups boiling water
½ cup molasses
½ tablespoon salt
½ yeast cake dissolved in ½ cup lukewarm water
1 cup Quaker Rolled Oats
4 ¾ cups flour
Fannie Farmer tells us to “Add boiling water to oats and let stand one hour; add molasses, salt, dissolved yeast cake, and flour; let rise, beat thoroughly, turn into buttered bread pans, let rise again, and bake. By using one-half cup less flour, the dough is better suited for biscuits, but being soft, is difficult to handle” (59-60).
While my loaf did not rise enough, I think the recipe could be improved if I had let the dough rise overnight, rather than a few hours, and added slightly more yeast. I baked it for 45 minutes at 350F, which was sufficient, but I would like to experiment with lowering the temperature to 325F. If you follow the directions exactly, I recommend eating the bread the day after you bake it, since the flavors strengthen over time.