Effingham County has become rather famous for raisin bread. This slightly sweet bread dense with raisins is said to have come to our country with the Salzburger immigrants who settled at Ebenezer.
Known as kugelhof, it was made with homemade yeast cakes made from scalded dry hops. The raisins were a wonderful treat if available to put into the bread.
Now when Effingham “goes to the Capitol” annually to entertain our legislature, small loaves of raisin bread go with them to give out in Atlanta to the Senate and House members.
From all accounts the Salzburgers built clay ovens to bake. The accompanying photo is on the cover of “Ye Old Salzburger Cookbook.” The drawing is from a description by the late former Sheriff Hubert O. Carr of Springfield, described from his childhood memory of an outdoor oven used in the Hinely family.
The ovens were made of no special pattern of varying sizes and they were used up through about 1900. The general size of the oven described was about 4 1/2 feet in width by 6 feet in length with a depth of 2 1/2 feet. The walls were about 8 inches in thickness and the bottom was clay-reinforced with wooden planks that were about 18 inches thick. The door of the oven was about waist-high above the ground (about 3.5 feet).
The oven rested on blocks of wood on which heavy planks were laid to make a foundation to hold the structure. The clay form was reinforced with rice straw to make a permanent structure.
At the far end of the oven, there was an opening to let the smoke escape when heating the oven which was closed during the baking period. As the oven was large, large pieces of wood were required in making a fire hot enough to bake bread. When the oven reached the proper temperature, the oven walls had became hot enough to bake. The oven was then swept of the coals by using a homemade rake. Then a straw brush broom was used to make the oven spotlessly clean.
The pies, cakes and bread were placed in the oven in the order of their baking time. The things nearest the door were the first things baked. A long service paddle and stick to slide them off the paddle were used to place the cakes and pies, etc., in the oven. (We see this today in the coal-fired ovens in pizza kitchens).
The oven was filled with a week’s supply of baking for a family. As there was so much work involved in building the fire, placing baking inside and closing the heavy door, it required two people to complete the job outside, not counting those who prepared the items for baking. From these ovens came some of the finest baked goods ever tasted.
My grandmother Exley always made round loaves of raisin bread like those you see nowadays at artisan bakeries. I asked her why and she replied that she could fit more in the oven that way. Perhaps the air circulated better than with oblong pans that most of us bake with today. That yeasty tasting crusty bread was very good.
Making bread is an art and the talent must be honed and developed. Most anyone who bakes raisin bread has their own version adapted from a family recipe handed down through the generations. Bread flour is a modern staple that makes lighter, more delicious bread. We have adapted our recipes to use quick-rise yeast and some of us use sourdough starter to make sweeter, more moist bread. Today we have great modern ovens for baking. Our task today is a snap in contrast to our ancestors.
Salzburger descendants’ family reunion meals are not complete without loaves of raisin bread and butter. Not everyone is inclined to make raisin bread, but many enjoy the fruits of the labor of those of us who still make it.
This was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society from “Ye Old Salzburger Cookbook.” If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.