What speed, they worked; just a handful of months after the 1906 earthquake destroyed most of the Santa Rosa Flour Mill, the huge plant that spanned the entire west side of Wilson Street between 7th and 8th was rebuilt and ready to again turn out their famous “Rose” flour. But first things first; job #1 was to spend a few weeks turning out beer-makings. Maybe that’s why they were so motivated to rebuild quickly.
Snarky innuendo about Santa Rosa’s inebriate class aside, giving a priority to grinding barley, undoubtedly for the nearby Grace Brothers Brewery, actually makes sense. The brewery needed a steady supply of large quantities of crushed barley, and until the local mill was again operating, processed grain would have been shipped in by rail. That’s never a good idea because barley (or any other grain) will oxidize rather quickly once it is cracked, which can result in off-flavors or even contamination of the beer. This must have been a particular concern for Grace Brothers during the hot summer months of 1906 (no refrigerated boxcars or airtight storage in those days, remember).
By contrast, refined flour can be stored for about a year – presuming it’s kept away from moisture and bugs – and is easy to transport, so for all the woes that Santa Rosa endured after the quake, a shortage of flour was never a problem. Besides nearby sources such as the Golden Eagle mill in Petaluma, flour could always be ordered from more distant companies, as seen in the 1905 Santa Rosa Republican ad at right (click to enlarge) from a San Jose mill. And anyway, literally tons of flour was sent to the town for earthquake relief; an inventory at the end of the year found “more than two [train] carloads” still sitting in the warehouse.
As an aside, homemakers (or their hired cooks) in 1906 probably only used flour for biscuits and thickened gravy, cookies, cakes, pie dough and similar. Bread-making was a job left to professionals, not something made at home, and no mystery why; successful baking with a cast iron wood stove required an expert touch to maintain accurate oven temperatures, and even newer model gas stoves were problematic because of fluctuation in the city gas pressure (plus using stinky coal gas in Santa Rosa). And then there was the challenge of having a reliable source of yeast, which required maintaining your own sourdough-like starter – no mean feat in the days of primitive iceboxes.
We can get a glimpse of what food came out of their kitchens from contemporary recipes, such as those found in the 1908 cookbook produced by the Fulton Presbyterian church. Hometown cookbooks from that era (and you’ll find scores of them in a Google book search) are remarkably consistent; baking any sort of regular bread was rarely mentioned. Instead were given instructions for making things like cornbreads and muffins – mostly forgiving recipes which used baking powder/soda instead of temperamental yeast, and which merely required a few minutes in a “hot” oven.
FLOUR MILLS IS A BUSY PLACE
Wheels Will Soon Be Grinding Again And Then “Hurrah For Santa Rosa Flour”
On Thursday the new machinery needed to replace same destroyed at the Santa Rosa Flour Mills, and the large smoke stack and fittings arrived here.
The work of installing the machinery will commence this week and the mill we be splendidly equipped throughout. The new proprietors, William P. Shearer and J. O. Kuykendall are receiving many compliments and are assured of much business when the wheels begin grinding again.
It was learned Thursday that if all goes well the grinding of barley will commence in about ten days and the good Santa Rosa flour will be ready for distribution in about thirty days, turned out by the new machinery. The “Santa Rosa Flour” is one [of] the things that for years has made Santa Rosa and John Mather, the former proprietor of the mills, famous.– Press Democrat, August 24, 1906
Below: Santa Rosa Flour Mill employees, c. 1906, with nary a hairnet between them. What was that special flavor in the Rose brand flour? Image courtesy the Sonoma County Library