[Sca-cooks] Bread Labor

Terry Decker t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net
Thu Nov 1 23:34:42 PDT 2007

The question as presented is incomplete in that it does not differentiate 
between common and commercial baking.  A commercial baker wouldn't muck with 
five pounds of flour.  Since I've read the other messages in the thread, I 
understand that you are looking for effort involved in each step.

How large an area are you trying to prepare?  Do you have a stick, a plow 
pulled by people or a plow pulled by oxen?  Simple plow or mould board? 
What kind of soil?  How many people are involved?  I would think that 
preparing the soil on five acres would take one to three days with a plow, 
possibly a little more if you spread and plow in dung for fertilizer.  A day 
for the sowing and a few more man days for irrigation and weeding over the 
next few months.

A critical issue is the yield per bushel of seed.  Yields varied between 1 
1/2 to 1 to around 10 to 1.  The lower the yield, the more acres needed to 
be cultivated.

Harvesting five acres by hand -- 4 to 8 man-days.  Threshing -- 2 to 4 man 

Milling -- 1 to 2 man days.  You will lose 15 to 20 percent of the grain (by 
weight) to chisel leaving 55 to 60 pounds of flour from a 70 pound bushel. 
For hand querns, the overall time is more of a problem to calculate.  Where 
peasants and manors might grow the grain and have it milled, commercial 
bakers would buy grain and have it milled.  London bakers particularly liked 
to purchase foreign bushels weighing more than 70 pounds, because it 
produced more profit.

Firewood for the ovens -- 1 or 2 man days for one day's firing.

Preparation time for the dough -- 30 minutes to 2 man hours, depending on 

Kneading -- 5 pounds, 10-15 minutes by hand, 100 pounds, 20 to 30 minutes 
with a brake (a heavy log with one end affixed to the wall above the 
kneading table in period; modern brakes are power roller systems or Hobarts 
with dough hooks).

First rise -- overnight.

Firing the ovens -- 1 to 2 hours.

Shaping  -- five minutes to 2 hours.

Second rise -- open question as to whether it was done.

Clean and load oven -- 10 minutes.

Baking -- 1 hour.

Now for some caveats.  We have no idea how much bread was baked at one time 
in a simple home.  A grand manor would produce approximately 2 pounds of 
bread per person per day plus as much as 1 to 2 pounds of trencher bread per 
person per day.  For persons of comfortable but lesser means, trencher bread 
was only for special occasion (reference Menagier).  Grand manors hired 
commercial bakers, who were paid the same as other guild bakers.  I did some 
simple calculations based on the combined households of the lord and lady of 
one of the grand families (ala Woolgar) that the baker was preparing the 
equivalent of 500+ pounds of bread per day.  In that case, the baker was 
sent ahead of the travelers by three to four days to prepare an initial 
stock of bread at the manor.

The commercial baker was permitted three servants and two boys for staff 
under the Lucrum Pistoris.  He was required to give loaves of full measure 
as directed under the Assize of Bread.  For the great households, the bakery 
and its staff were entirely seperate from the kitchen.  The kitchen staff 
far outnumbers the bakers.

Without assistance, I have prepared 120 pounds of bread and 160 pastries 
(and one batch of cinnamon rolls for the baker and friends) in around 16 
hours of labor using roughly the above baking schedule.  If I'd had a 20 
gallon Hobart rather than a 20 quart Hobart, I could have cut the time to 
about 10 hours.  I would say that a trained staff of five could crank out 
500 pounds of bread in about 14-16 hours if they had enough oven space.


> My cooks guild has been having an interesting discussion regarding the
> physical labor of making bread.  What it mostly boils down to is how long 
> in
> period it might have taken to make a loaf of bread.  There is a pretty 
> rabid
> apprentice in the midst who usually goes down the path of grow your own 
> grain,
> grind it, etc.  That in turn put the rest of the guild into just how  long 
> that
> might take.  So they started with sewing and growing the  grain, how much 
> wheat
> would be needed for 5 pounds of flour, then mill it,  how long, (I think
> they have way too much time on their hands, and I will try  and fix it 
> quickly).
> Has anyone here gone to the trouble of calculating  that?  Here is another
> left turn.  How many man hours of kneading  equals 1 hour on the bread 
> hooks of
> the Hobart?
> We have had a couple of discussions about just how large a kitchen staff
> would need to be to pull off a feast for 100, from scratch.  It seems the 
> bakers
> take up a fair amount of that staff.
> Aldyth

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