Ankerstock – A Forgotten Scottish Bread
I recently came across a curious description of a ‘forgotten’ Scottish bread called Ankerstock, a rye bread flavoured with caraway seeds and candied orange peel, and eaten at Christmas time. The caraway seeds and orange peel were not so unusual, for they used to be popular flavourings in shortbread; however, rye bread was unusual for Scotland, and the name Ankerstock is just bizarre.
The lexicographer Rev Dr Jamieson described Ankerstock in his Etymological Dictionary of The Scottish Language (1808) as ‘A large loaf, of a long form. The name is extended to a wheaten loaf, but properly belongs to one made of rye’. In the course of my research I came across many references to it in literature, so it appears to have been commonplace in Victorian times. F. Marian McNeill claims it was still sold in Edinburgh bakers as late as 1929 (The Scots Kitchen).
Finally I came across a description of Ankerstock which fully explained what it was. The following is an article from the December (1821) issue of Edinburgh based Blackwood’s Magazine, from the series Voyages and Travels of Columbus Secundus. Granted, this passage is long, but it really sets a wonderful scene for what it might have been like at Christmas time in Edinburgh, in the early part of the 19th century:
‘One of the first demonstrations of the approach of Christmas in Edinburgh was the annual appearance of large tables of anchor-stocks at the head of the Old Fish-market Close. These anchor-stocks, the only species of bread made from rye that I have ever observed offered for sale in the city, were exhibited in every variety of size and price, from a halfpenny to a halfcrown; and the manufacture, as far as may be judged from a hereditary resemblance of feature, has been continued to the present time by the same family,-I believe from Musselburgh. Anchor-stocks, at this period, had, from their novelty, an uncommon sale; and even among the higher ranks many were purchased, as an agreeable variety in the accustomed food; for they were sweet-tasted, and baked with caraway seeds and orange-peel. I have been particular in mentioning the composition of anchor-stocks, as, without some such explanation, many who read my travels might proclaim to the world, that the citizens of Edinburgh were so ill off in point of provisions, as in winter to eat the very stocks of their ship anchors,-and thus class the inhabitants of the Northern Athens with the saw-dust and fish-bone eaters of Lapland and Norway.’
There is another wonderful description of the fare on offer in Victorian Edinburgh in The Life of Mansie Wauch, Tailor in Dalkeith (1839) by D.M Moir. The shortbread sounds very grand in comparison to what we have today. Incidentally, a mutchkin was an old Scottish unit of measurement:
‘half a peck of shortbread, baken by Thomas Burlings, with three pounds of butter, and two ounces of carvie-seeds in it, let alone orange-peel, and a penny-worth of ground cinnamon-half a mutchkin of best cony brandy, by way of change-and a Musselburgh ankerstoke, to slice down for tea-drinkings and posset cups.’
It turns out Ankerstock is in fact originally from Sweden, spelled Ankarstock, and has a long history. According to the scant sources I could find it is supposed to have been first recorded in 1669. In the 18th century Ankerstock was used as a military ration, and made by the royal bakers. With the dubious reputation of military rations, it makes you wonder whether it was the shape of the bread; or the sheer weight of the thing for which it acquired its name. A 1.7kg loaf accounted for one man’s ration for two days! Ankarstock is still sold in Sweden today, and people still make it at home. How Ankerstock found its way to Scotland to be sold on the royal mile we will probably never know.
The recipe below is based on quite a few different sources. I found one recipe for Ankerstock in an English cookery book, Maria Rundell’s Domestic Economy (1827), which is sweetened with black treacle. Interestingly, her recipe includes caraway seed and orange peel. The Swedish recipe does not contain any of the festive flavourings but uses a poolish ferment to make a lighter dough, as well as give a good flavour. The combination of rye and caraway is an old and excellent one. The addition of the candied orange peel is an inspired one. Ankerstock is delicious spread with butter, and is of course perfect with a cup of tea, or a posset.
To make this bread you need to start 12-24 hours in advance to make the poolish ferment. Apart from this advance preparation, which is very easy, it is just the same as making regular bread with fast action yeast.
50g wholemeal rye flour
7g sachet fast action yeast
150ml cold water
150g strong white bread flour
300g wholemeal rye flour
75g black treacle
10g caraway seeds
100g whole candied orange peel, finely chopped into small pieces
1 egg (for glazing)
In a baking bowl whisk together the ingredients for ‘Day 1’ until you have a smooth batter. Cover this with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 12 – 24 hours.
The next day melt the butter in a small sauce pan. In a large bowl incorporate the water, treacle, butter and salt. Stir in the poolish ferment. Now stir in both flours and knead for 3 – 5 minutes. It will be quite wet and sticky but it comes together well. Towards the end of kneading incorporate the caraway seeds and orange peel. Return the dough to the mixing bowl and leave to rest for 1 hour. This can take up to 2 hours so leave it until it has doubled in size.
Transfer the dough on to a lightly floured work surface. Slightly flatten the dough out with the heel of your hand, then fold the bottom half into the middle and press this down. Now fold the top half over this, and press down to seal the edges. You want to stretch this top third over the dough tightly so you have a neat oblong loaf shape. Now turn the dough over so the seam is facing down.
You can keep the bread this shape and place it on a floured baking sheet; alternatively you could place the dough into a greased loaf tin (23cm x 13cm). Leave to prove for 1 hour, again this can take longer. Leave it until it has doubled in size. Beat the egg and paint the bread with it. You can make incisions on the outside of the bread for prettiness sake, if you like.
Bake in a preheated 200˚C oven for 30 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and leave to cool completely before slicing.