The history of bread
Recent evidence indicates that humans processed and consumed wild cereal grains as far back as 23,000 years ago in the Upper Paleolithic period. From the Neolithic period 9500BC simple stone mechanisms were used for smashing and grinding various cereals to remove the inedible outer husks and to make the resulting grain into palatable and versatile food.
As humans evolved we mixed the resulting cracked and ground grains with water to create a variety of foods from thin gruel, to a stiffer porridge. By simply leaving the paste to dry out in the sun, a bread like crust would be formed.
This early bread was particularly successful when wild yeast from the air combined with the flour and water, this started a fermentation process which slightly raised the crust. These ancient breads would however be unpredictable depending on the type of grain, the flour texture, the liquid, the availability of wild yeast and espicially the weather.
Both simple, yet elusive, the art of controlling the various ingredients and developing the skills, required to turn grain and water into palatable bread, gave status to individuals and societies for thousands of years. The use of barley and wheat lead man to live in communities and made the trade of baker one of the oldest craft in the world. Successful bread making was considered an important life skill for ancient Egyptians who left graphic inscriptions on tomb chamber walls.
Egyptians and Bread
The Egyptians were curious why the effect of the bread ‘rose’ and attempted to isolate the yeast, to introduce directly into their bread. They also found that they could take a piece of dough from one batch and save it for the next day’s batch of dough, this was how the origin or sour-dough came about and is a process still used today.
Records also show that the Egyptians were baking bread as far back as 2500 years ago and sometimes paid their officials with good bread.
The Egyptian hieroglyphics above read:
"let me live upon bread and barley of white my ale made of grain red"
Travelers took bread making techniques and moved out from the Egyptian lands, the art began spreading to all parts of Europe. As bread was valuable it was offered to the Gods such as Isis and Osiris, the protectors of grain and givers of bread. As milling processes were refined it possible to bake whiter bread – which at that time was seen as the most valuable bread of them all.
In Old Testament times, the evidence points to the fact that preparing the grain, making the bread and baking it, was the women's work. The bread was allowed to rise (leavened), into the shape of our familiar loaf. As the story goes, when the Israelites left Egypt in a hurry, described in the Book of Exodus in the Bible, they were prevented from allowing their bread to rise(leaven) as usual; the Jews today commemorate this event by eating unleavened bread on special occasions.