Several Centuries of Baltimore Bakeries

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Extract bottle found in a privy associated with early 19th -century Baltimore baker, Henry Dukehart.  Photo courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

Most of us probably pick up a loaf of bread from the supermarket when we purchase our other weekly grocery supplies.  But before large commercial bakeries began to appear in the late 19th century, most baked goods were produced and sold from small family-run bakery shops (what we would probably call “artisanal” bakeries in today’s parlance).  Because they were smaller operations producing baked goods at a neighborhood scale, there were many commercial bakers spread throughout large urban areas.  The City of Baltimore boasted 48 bakeries in its 1803 business directory, a number that had risen to 94 in mid 1830s.  By that date, Baltimore was the second largest city in the United States.

From around 1780 to 1807, Henry Dukehart operated a small bakery from a building at 13 Baltimore Street that served as both his home and his business.  The main baking operations occurred in the street-front rowhouse, but the building’s rear yard was also a workspace.  Archaeological excavations in this yard found evidence of a paved work surface containing an ash-filled brick pit that may have been part of a small oven.  While too small to serve as the primary bake oven, it could have been used for drying flour or in the final drying and crisping process for hard breads like biscuits or zwieback (Weaver 1990).  Another possibility is that the pit was associated with a still for making fruit brandies or flavored extracts.

The distilling hypothesis for the ash pit is supported by evidence from a privy filled around the end of Dukehart’s tenure on the property and from the ash pit itself.  Each of these features contained huge quantities of seeds—over 107,000 total, from thirty-nine different plant species.  This great variety is double to triple that recovered from other Baltimore privies dating from the first half of the nineteenth century.  Ninety-nine percent of the seeds were from fifteen different fruit species, including fig, grape, strawberry, raspberry/blackberry, huckleberry and blueberry (Holt 1990). An elderberry seed recovered from the ash pit suggests that Dukehart may have been making elder-flower water, used in confectionary and perfumes.  These distillations were often packaged in flavoring or extract bottles, like this highly-decorated bottle found in the privy.

Although Dukehart was not listed in the business directory as a “sugar baker”, it is likely that his production included sweet baked goods, given the archaeological findings.  In addition to making brandies or flavorings, the fruit was also probably used in pies, fritters and other sweet baked goods, such as described in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1769).  A large number of eggshell fragments found in the oven’s ash pit may also relate to these baked goods.  Also present were spices typically used in baking:  coriander (Coriandrum sativum) and black pepper (Piper nigrum).

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A sampling of Otterbein cookies. Photo available at https://otterbeinscookies.com/.

A number of small-scale family bakeries that began operations in the late 19th century expanded to become large-scale commercial bakeries.  One of the earliest was the Schmidt Baking Company, which began as a home operation by Peter and Elizabeth Schmidt in 1886.  Over one hundred years later, the Schmidt Baking Company has become one of the largest independent bakeries in the United States, with over 800 employees.  Another is the Otterbein Bakery, which began as a small bakery near Fort McHenry in 1881.  Perhaps best known today for their cookies, bakery products in the late 19th century also included a variety of traditional German breads and pastries.  Another much-loved cookie tradition in Baltimore are Berger’s Cookies, with their distinctive chocolate icing.

A much-mourned Baltimore favorite was Silber’s Bakery.  Established by Jewish immigrants Isaac and Dora Silber in 1904, the bakery eventually expanded to include 36 retail outlets.  The bakery closed its doors in 1979.

One of the more recent commercial bakeries in Baltimore is the H&S Bakery, which began operations in 1943 in the Fells Point district.  When they decided to expand their building in the early 1980s, archaeological excavations were conducted in the area where the new construction was to take place.  Known as the H & S Bakery Site (18BC32), the site consists of early 19th-century middens and privies, as well as other 19th-20th century rowhouse features.  The artifacts recovered from this excavation are curated at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

As is so often the case, traditions from the past become common again, and small-scale bakeries are making a comeback.  Today, Baltimore’s residents can enjoy bread and pastries from a number of neighborhood bakeries, or pick up their favorite loaf at a farmer’s market.

References

Glasse, Hannah. 1769. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. London, printed for A. Millar, J. and R. Tonson, W. Strahan, T. Caslon, T. Durham, and W. Nicoll.  Web address at https://books.google.com/books?id=L51gAAAAcAAJ&dq=art%20of%20cookery%20made&pg=PR2#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Holt, Cheryl A. 1990.  Faunal and Floral Analysis of 18BC66.  Report on file at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum.

Kelly, Jacques and Frederick N. Rasmussen.  2001.   Sam Leonard Silber, 87, headed bakery. Baltimore Sun. https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-2001-02-07-0102070114-story.html.

Retro Baltimore.  2016. The Joy of a Simple Summer Peach Cake.  Retro Baltimore from the Baltimore Sun.  Blog post dated July 7, 2016.  http://retrobaltimore.tumblr.com/post/147056530539/the-joy-of-a-simple-summer-peach-cake.

Weaver, William Woys. 1990. Letter to Henry Ward, dated February 28, 1990.  Unpublished letter in 18BC66 files of Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology, on file at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum.

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