So far in my ramblings I’ve talked a fair amount about the how of chemical leavening, and spent almost no time on the why. However it doesn’t take terribly much reflection to see what a boon chemical leavening would have been to a burgeoning country like America. People living in remote areas or along the frontier would have had no access to professional bakeries, nor would they have likely had the time, resources or skill to build their own European-style bread ovens. If you were an emigrant headed west, a prospector or a cowboy driving cattle for a living…fuggettabout it. It was either chemically raised biscuits, corn bread and flapjacks or nothing.
Which brings up an interesting point about chemically leavened breads. Namely, that for quite some time they were considered a food of last resort. Sort of like astronaut ice cream: an interesting novelty, but something you’d only eat if the real thing weren’t around. In fact most people hated the alkaline taste of saleratus or soda biscuits at first. Yet in time as the technology improved and cooks got better at baking with chemicals instead of yeast, people came to actually enjoy them.
It certainly doesn’t take much imagination to see how useful chemically-leavened biscuits would have been to a cookie on a wagon train. Not only can they be made from dry goods that are easy to store and transport, they take no time to prepare and bake best in a high heat environment like a dutch oven. Kind of interesting, isn’t it, that chemical leaveners came along how they did, where they did and when they did. They were just the right thing at just the right time. Funny how often that seems to happen.