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German: Pumpernickel Bread–The Good and the Ugly

Mmmmm, what represents our grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s culinary skills more than baking bread? The house fills with a yeasty smell. The family gobbles down the warm, soft pieces of heaven. For our ancestors in aprons it was not an “artisan” event–baking bread was just one of those chores that came around every week.

And for my German ancestors, if they had a bit of rye in their fields–or their neighbors did–they would certainly be making rye bread. And probably the queen of rye breads–dark, dense, sweet and fruity Pumpernickel.

There are two kinds of German Pumpernickel–the kind with yeast and the kind without. The kind without we’ll try another day, but this week I’ve been making pumpernickel. Although I cook and bake a lot–I generally shy away from things with yeast, but I had such good luck with those Welsh recipes, that I felt emboldened to try my husband’s favorite bread–pumpernickel. And my foray into replicating my ancestors in aprons made me wonder about something I had never thought about before. What did Great-Grandmother do with her mistakes? Surely not everything that came out of a wood-fired stove or a fireplace was a guaranteed success.

Well, the bread I made (the second time) was absolutely delicious, particularly with a little of that Ohio Smucker’s apple butter smeared on top.

Pumpernickel Bread

Dark Pumpernickel bread slices with Smucker’s apple butter.

Delicious? Yes.  But pull the camera back a bit…

Pumpernickel bread--the whole story.

Pumpernickel bread–the whole story.

What is that blob in the background?  Sorry to burst your bubble–but that is what the loaf of pumpernickel bread looked like.

And this was my SECOND try. Here’s the first…

Pumpernickel Bread

Pumpernickel Bread, First attempt.

Now, it is absolutely no excuse if I explain to you the root of the name Pumpernickel.  Believe it or not pumpernickel was named for the affect that some foods have on the digestive system making you—-well, in polite company we would say, “break wind.” This comes about because of people who looked down on the rough rye bread made by the Westphalians in what is now Germany, saying it , uh, caused flatulence.  And the Nickel has been explained as a reference to Old Nick–the Devil.  So (cover your ears if you’re sensitive)–doesn’t my bread look like it has been blown apart by the Devil’s fart?

Like I said, that is no excuse.  And I’ll try again to attempt to get a loaf as attractive as it is delicious.

By the way, you may notice that the 2nd effort (the pictures on top) is darker than the pictures below (which was the first attempt).  That’s because I decided to follow a recipe that adds cocoa to increase the rich taste and dark color. It works great.  Some people kick it up a notch by also adding coffee or instant coffee granules.

I’m sharing the recipe, which should not be blamed for my ugly loaves, but should get full credit for the deliciousness.

Let me know how it turns out for you.

Pumpernickel Bread

Prep time 4 hours
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 4 hours, 30 minutes
Allergy Wheat
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Bread
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable
Region German
Website Smitten Kitchen
Pumpernickel Bread is moist and dense. To get the dark color you love, add some cocoa powder.


  • 2 cups water (warm--not hot)
  • 2 2/3 teaspoons active dry yeast ((2 packets))
  • pinch sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups white flour
  • 1 1/3 cup rye flour
  • 1/2 cup corn meal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 1 or 2 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 2 2/3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons molasses


1. Warm the water in a pan or microwave until just above room temperature. Whisk in yeast and pinch of sugar. Set aside for five minutes.
2. While the yeast is getting high on its sugar treat, combine the flours (using 2 1/2 C of the white flour), corn meal, salt, cocoa powder, caraway seeds and brown sugar in large bowl. Whisk them together, then stir in the yeast mixture, vegetable oil and molasses, by hand, or using the dough hook on a mixer. Add more of the white flour as needed to get the dough to the point where it pulls away from the bowl.
3. Turn out on lightly floured board and knead for 5-10 minutes until elastic and no longer sticking to the board.
4. Lightly oil another large bowl. Put the dough in the bowl, turn it to get oil on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and set aside in a draft-free spot to rise for one hour--or until about double in size.
5. Punch down and let rise another 30 minutes.
6. Lightly grease a cookie sheet or two 9" square baking pans. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Divide dough in half and form two balls. Pinch together the underside seam. place on pans. Cover and let rise another 30 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake bread for 30-40 minutes until hollow sounding when tapped.
8. Transfer hot loaves to a wire rack and let cool before slicing.
9. To serve slice as thin as possible. This is a heavy bread, so thin slices are best.


The oil is listed before the molasses for a reason. If you measure the oil first, then use the same spoon to use the molasses, the molasses will not stick to the spoon. (The downside is you don't get to scoop it out with your finger and lick your finger--not that I would do that.)

Some recipes double up on the darkness factor by adding a couple of teaspoons of powdered instant coffee.

Pros use some moisture in the oven for the first 5-10 minutes of baking. Put a shallow pan of water on a shelf below the bread or spritz the oven with water a couple of times after it is warmed.

Jesse Morgan–Steamboat Travelling Man 1847


Drawing of the Samuel Ward  steamboat that Jesse sailed on from Buffalo to Detroit on its maiden voyage.

Jesse Morgan, my 2nd great grandfather, continues to travel by steamboat on Lake Erie and the canals. The last four letters from her second husband Jesse Morgan that Mary Bassett Platt Morgan kept  may well have been the last she ever received from him.  I have read and re-read these letters trying to determine if Jesse is on one long trip, stretching from March through August, or if the traveling man was going home in between some of the letters.

At any rate, the one-year teacher certification seems to have been set aside. That certificate was valid through November 1846, and unless Mary did not bother to keep the renewal certificate, that was the end of his official teaching career.  The first letter of 1847, written in April, says he has been on the road for a month–certainly well before the school year is over.

The letter is written on both sides of rather thin paper, so the photocopy shows a lot of bleed through. Additionally, some of the first page got cut off on the right side when it was copied.

The Travelling Man Goes Both East and West Again

It appears that when Jesse left Ohio at the end of March, he headed East, because he then took a steamboat at Buffalo to Detroit when he could not get one to Toledo, his intended target.  He wanted to get to Toledo so he could take the canal into Indiana, since he has heard that he can buy cheap horses somewhere south of Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne is only about 103 miles south of Toledo Ohio, probably two days journey for him by land.


Mary Is Surprised By a Letter from Detroit

This letter was in an envelope postmarked Detroit April 30 to Mrs. Mary Morgan, Killbuck, Holmes Co., Ohio with a 5 cent red stamp.

 Detroit April 28th 1847

Dear Wife

                                                           You may perhaps be a little surprised at receiving a letter from me dated at Detroit. It was my intentions to have gone to Toledo but could not get a boat in Buffalo that was going to that place so I took one for this, and tomorrow morning I take one from this place to Toledo.

It costs nothing to travel on the Lake [Lake Erie] now. Only $1.00 from Buffalo to Detroit and 25 ct back to Toledo. This is the effects of oppose (?)[opposition—i.e. competition?]

You must understand that I have sold as I informed you I intended to do as soon as I could in my first letter. [That first letter is missing from the collection.] My horses did not please me and I thought best to get rid of them at small proffit [sic] and buy again. I am now going to take the canal at Toledo and go to Indiana. South of Fort Wayne from the best information the horses are cheaper and plentyful (sic) there.

I think I had better do this than to come home and I hope you will agree with me. I have made $38.00 and it is one month this day since I left home (over my expenses). This is not bad considering the means I had to do with. [Meaning he had few or bad horses?] The demand East is good yet.

I did intend to have written to you from Buffalo but could not get my breath after friessing(sic)  on the__________ until the steamboat started. I came up on an entire new boat we had a pleasant time but rather cold. It was with some difficulty we got out of Buffalo for the Ice. It was more than one mile before we could see the water.

I am well and hope this may find you the same. I should like to see you but will try make up for lost time when I get home. Give Harriet a kiss or two for me and try to get along as well as you can. I wish you to write to me as soon as you received this. Direct it to Akron, Summit County, Ohio.

This next letter I shall write to Doc Woods [a year ago, Jesse had cautioned Mary not to “let Mrs. Woods know everything.” . ] and know you can hear whear I am.

Your affectionate husband

                                                                                   Jesse Morgan

Mary Morgan

Apparently  Jesse hopes to go from Ft. Wayne back into Ohio and then head for Akron, in the northwestern part of the state, and quite close to home. Perhaps he was going back East from Akron before going home, because–horse trading.  It seems he counts on buying cheaper horses in Indiana, and returning eastward to sell them, since he mentions that the market is still good in the East.

If Mary is worrying about Jesse while he is traveling, the information about ice on the lake must have been unsettling.  Conditions on the Great Lakes are so dangerous to the steamboat in the winter that all shipping closes down.  Jesse is traveling in March and April, and reports there is still ice covering the lake a mile out from shore. Shipwrecks were frequent, and mostly weather related.

A Brand New Steamboat

I particularly treasure the details he mentions, like the ice on the lake and how cold the trip was. Because he says he was on a brand new ship, we can trace the name and description of the ship he traveled on to Detroit.The brand new ship could have been the Sam Ward, which launched out of Detroit to Buffalo in 1847 and ran back and forth to Detroit.


New Steamboat announced.

Letter Writing Protocol

All the letters that Mary Bassett Platt Morgan saved have a few things in common. People, in order to get their money’s worth for their postage, strove to fill both sides of a piece of paper, except for space to write an address when the letter was folded.  (Jesse, however, frequently writes one-sided letters)

The signature ordinarily is on the right bottom of the page, and the name of the recipient is on the left bottom of the page. Jesse makes those signatures very fancy, sometimes underlining them. I this letter written in August 1847 from Palmyra New York, Jesse outdoes himself.

Jesse Morgan siganture

Jesse’s signature on letter August 1847–the last one

These 19th century letters seem obsessed with the health of the sender and the recipient. Sure, we still say, “How are you?” in greeting–but I get the sense that health was a major concern. People in this age did not expect to be healthy and live long lives. Thus ill health was an ever-present concern.

Here’s a humorous “guide” to 19th century letter writing.

A more serious view of letter writing.

Coming Next

When Jesse writes his  next letter in June 1847, it is a bit rushed because he has had an unsettling experience. It appears that he may have been home between trips.

When I relate his later letters, you will learn who this “Doc” Woods is that is mentioned so frequently, and see what I learned about his business in Illinois.

Welsh Soup – Summer Cawl

As I started looking for Welsh recipes and food traditions that my Morgan ancestors might have been familiar with, I was fascinated with the most traditional dish, a Welsh soup called Cawl. It seems everyone MUST eat cawl on St. David’s Day, March 1. Rest assured, we will be revisiting the traditional version of Cawl next March.

But while I was reading through the various recipes that claim to be THE authentic way to make the traditional soup (everyone’s grandmother has a different recipe, and your grandmother’s recipe is the ONLY way to make it, right?), I came across this decidedly different Welsh soup.

Welsh summer soup

Welsh summer soup ready to serve with cream added, bacon and parsley topping.

The web site of the British grocer, Bodnant, devotes a section to Welsh recipes, including this summery version of cawl.  Since soup, more than most recipes, just begs to be tampered with, I can’t testify as to the authenticity of the recipe–either with or without bacon, which the author says he added to this Welsh soup for extra kick.

Apparently the only essential ingredients for cawl are leeks and cauliflower.  This soup, being a summer soup, uses lettuce in place of cabbage, but the leek remains. And if you skip the bacon and use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, you’ve got a lovely vegetarian version.

welsh summer soup

Welsh summer cawl (soup) before adding cream

I recommend serving the Welsh soup with one of those Dutch crunch rolls I wrote about earlier, with a big hunk of Irish butter. Yum!

Dutch Crunch Rolls

Dutch Crunch Roll close up

Welsh Summer Cawl

Serves 4
Prep time 1 hour
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Allergy Milk
Meal type Soup
Misc Child Friendly, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Region British
Website Bodnant Welsh Food
This summer soup from Wales takes advantage of vegetables available in the summer time and produces a cheerful,fresh-tasting, green soup.


  • 6 medium slices bacon (diced)
  • 6 long green beans, sliced (or 1 cup frozen French-cut green beans)
  • 1 leek (white end, washed well and shredded or grated)
  • 4 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup beans (fava, lima or other similar size)
  • 1 1/2 cup Gem or Romaine lettuce (chopped fine)
  • 4 tablespoons fresh parseley (chopped)
  • 4 tablespoons heavy/whipping cream
  • salt
  • pepper


1. In large soup kettle, fry bacon pieces until crisp, but not burnt, set aside on paper towel to drain, saving bacon grease.
2. Add the beans and leek and lettuce to the bacon grease and cook about ten minutes. Stop before leek starts to brown
3. Add chicken stock, peas and fava or lima beans. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook for at least ten minutes.
4. At this point, the soup can be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to reheat and serve.
5. To serve, add cream and parsley and pepper to the warm soup. Top bowls of soup with crisp bacon pieces. If adding salt, go slowly because the bacon on top will add salt also. Serve with buttered bread.


A cawl is a Welsh soup. More common in the winter, this Welsh soup is a summer treat.

About adapting this Welsh soup, the web site warns "Look for the best ingredients that you can find and although you are welcome to make the dish your own with whatever vegetables you have on hand do not be tempted to overdo it and muddle the flavours."

The website calls for "broad beans." Those are the same as Fava. If you want to use Fava beans and have not cooked with them before, be sure to learn how to use them before starting. You can substitute canned lima beans or other white beans.

The website recipe browns the bacon along with the vegetables, but that may yield the limp bacon that Britishers seem to love, and I don't love it. For my Welsh soup, I preferred to cook the bacon separately and use it as a garnish. Granted, you do not get as much bacon flavor in the soup itself, but you also save yourself quite a bit of fat. Your choice.

Little Gem lettuce is not easy to get in the U.S., so if you can't find it, you can substitute Romaine, preferably baby Romaine.