Following on from the history of baking feature in our last blog, we thought you might like to find out more about the early history of bread. It might not be anywhere near as exciting as horrible histories of course…but we reckon it’s definitely getting there!
Most people could be forgiven for thinking that history was driven by great scientists and ambitious people, but if you look closer, you’ll find that many of our inventions were actually driven by food availability, production and delivery. In other words, bread! Many kings and queens throughout history put a strong emphasis on feeding the people – they knew that the more hungry their populations were, the more insecure their rule over them was.
In prehistoric times, cereal was ground between two stones to make a coarse flour like substance. This would have been moulded into course, flat cakes and cooked on an open fire. At around the same time in Egypt where their civilisation was more advanced, bread was commonplace. Paintings on the walls of tombs depict bread being offered to the gods. It is likely that all of these breads were leavened because the water in the Nile contains the same strain of yeast that is used in baking today!
Elsewhere the leavening of bread was beginning to become more common. Initially this is thought to have come about by accident – the natural environment contains yeast in the air and a paste of flour and water will begin to ferment if left for a couple of hours. Some sourdough breads to this day are still made using this method.
So have cereals always been grown and milled in Britain? The answer is no. The Romans brought wheat, oats and rye over to Britain along with many of their bread making techniques. However, this new found skill of baking didn’t last long once the Romans left and during the Dark Ages, the process was very hit and miss.
By the Middle Ages however, people had begun to use horses for ploughing. The watermill and windmill were invented and society began to get itself more organised. The loaves produced during this time were normally huge, around 4.5kg and were expected to feed a family for a week.
In Tudor times, for the poor, bread was made from a mixture of grains whilst peasant bread was made from peas and beans. Meanwhile the rich were acquiring a liking for white bread. White bread was considered superior for two reasons, it was expensive and it implied prestige. The church used a white bread called Pandemain as the sacramental bread and people took this to mean better.
Bread in England continued to be made of mixed grains until well into the Victorian era. Imported wheat became plentiful and was milled in the ports for distribution to the growing urban population. Most breads after this time were made solely using the wheat grain.
What happens now? How is bread made?
Resources on Grainchain.com cover the entire process from growing the crops, to harvesting, milling and baking.
For age specific resources, click on the following links: