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The Best Thing Since Sliced...
October 24, 2011 2:51 PM   Subscribe

"Long ago Occidental man acquired a definite preference for raised bread instead of cooked cereals and flat breads. Bread reigned over the ancient world; no food before or after exerted such mastery over man. The Egyptians, who invented it, based their entire administrative system on it; the Jews made bread the starting point of their religious and social laws. The Greeks created profound and solemn legends for their Bread Church of Eleusis. And the Romans converted bread into a political factor. They ruled by it, conquered an entire world by it, and lost the world again through it. At last the day came when Jesus Christ made consummate all the spiritual significance that had become attached to it, saying, 'Eat! I am the bread.'" (Reinhart, Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History). (Google Books) The Romans ruled through bread and circuses; "bread" (and "dough") are money, and the "bread-winner" is the head of the household. The next big invention is always "the greatest thing since sliced bread" Wheat, Rye, Brioche, Challah, Matzo, Limpa--a look inside the long and fascinating history of bread.

According to most scholars, leavened bread first appeared in ancient Egypt. Jane Howard discusses bread making in Egypt; more here with translations. Possibly the oldest piece of bread in existence. Greek cults worshiped bread(pdf). To say nothing of the importance of bread in Jewish and Christian theology.


"It all boils down to beer and bread"--Dr Thomas R Sinclair and Carol Jame Sinclair discussing the history of bread (and beer). (video) (warning: a little religious-y).

They aren't the only ones to elevate the importance of beer and bread together: "Governing authorities in medieval Europe considered only two staples of daily life important enough to regulate: bread and beer. This was done through assize or assise laws, which usually came in one of two ways: a separate law of bread assize and law of beer assize, or a combined law of bread and beer assizes." Here is the text and explanations for various bread and beer assizes throughout European history (pdf). Here is a much shorter English assize in non-pdf.

In 1961, the Chorleywood Process changed how we mass-produced bread (previously). And then, of course, there was the development of pre-sliced bread by Otto Rohwedder. Sliced bread was banned briefly in the United States

For something that's been around as long as bread, the science behind bread making can be rather complicated. HowStuffWorks explains (youtube) the basic science (or in an article with experiments). Emily Buehler, author of Bread Science: the Chemistry and Craft of Making Bread gets a little more in depth(pdfs).

Craig Ponsford explains (youtube) some of the ideas behind bread making. Or you can watch an adorable old woman explain how she made bread during the great depression (youtube) (or previously. Or maybe Anthony Bourdain on Pane Carasau.

And the story does not simply stop with making bread. Toast also has a long and varied history and interesting innovations continue to be made. If antique toasters take your fancy, you can look at some old toasters and vintage ads "Toasters and Marriages Used to Last Forever", the largest collection of antique toasters in Texas (youtube) or even attend the next annual ocTOASTERfest or read the latest issue of the Saturday Evening Toast. Previously

If plain old toast isn't your fancy, maybe you prefer the so-called "French Toast," or, in certain parts of the USA, "Freedom Toast." Despite the name, variations on what we call French Toast arugably date back to Roman times and the cookbook of Apicius:Break slice fine white bread, crust removed, into rather large pieces which soak in milk and beaten eggs fry in oil, cover with honey and serve. The Middle Ages had their own French Toast recipes.
posted by kittenmarlowe (55 comments total) 212 users marked this as a favorite

 
...is this post.
posted by postel's law at 3:01 PM on October 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


Doncha just hate it when people just slap ANYTHING up and call it an FFP?

(Srsly, great post!)
posted by Danf at 3:03 PM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh boy, this is always my favorite kind of post on any blog. Going to spend a long while digging through all these links; thanks!
posted by Hargrimm at 3:04 PM on October 24, 2011


Wow! Can't wait to start reading through the links in this wonderful post. I've also read Six Thousand Years of Bread, and let me tell you, my sweetie is still recovering from the hours of quotations and bread trivia he was subjected to. Boy is he in for it.
posted by Lisitasan at 3:05 PM on October 24, 2011


I've been waiting for a post on my favorite food group. Thanks for rising to the occasion. I'm sure something around 100 favorites would be the yeast we can do.
posted by Slackermagee at 3:05 PM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nice. A picky point: That quote is from Jacob, not Reinhart (he just wrote the introduction to that edition).
posted by ssg at 3:05 PM on October 24, 2011


A reader could get celiac disease just from reading this (fantastic) post. Yum!
posted by twsf at 3:06 PM on October 24, 2011


Great read. Love me some bread! And Beer. Beer and Bread.
posted by UseyurBrain at 3:07 PM on October 24, 2011


My Middle English isn't all it used to be, so I can't tell if that last link is genuine or parody. Regardless, I'mma go make some dinner according to a recipe claiming to be be 561 years old:

80. Payn purdeuz.
Take faire yolkes of eyren, and try hem fro the white, and drawe hem
thorgh a streynour; and then take salte, and caste thereto; And then take
manged brede or paynman, and kutte hit in leches; and then take faire
buttur, and clarefy hit, or elles take fressh grece and put hit yn a
faire pan, and make hit hote; And then wete the brede well there in the
yolkes of eyren, and then ley hit on the batur in the pan, whan the
buttur is al hote; And then whan hit is fried eyowe, take sugur ynowe,
and caste there-to whan hit is in the disshe, And so serve hit forth.

posted by 256 at 3:08 PM on October 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


old toasters absolutely do last forever. I've broken about half a dozen modern toasters in the past 10 years, and finally gave up and got a 1940s two-slice chrome Toastmaster that is the shiny glorious king of my kitchen.
posted by elizardbits at 3:08 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had bread and beer for lunch yesterday. This post is the best thing to happen to me since that.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 3:10 PM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I, too, have read Six Thousand Years of Bread. Of the single-subject food history books I've read (which includes bananas, tomatoes, ketchup, salt, and spices), it may be my favorite.
posted by jocelmeow at 3:11 PM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I consider myself to be a post-bread man.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:12 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


256--it's not a parody, or at least most of it isn't (I didn't check every single recipe.) But you can find one here, for example, and the Forme of Cury is a great buy on Amazon. I just linked to that one because it had them all in one place.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 3:13 PM on October 24, 2011


Not strictly related, but I feel I must plug Yakitate Japan here where bread is not just a serious business and also functions as a strong hallucinogen if made well. If made expertly it has reality warping powers.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:15 PM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


strange; for me it's beer and bread that regulate my assize
posted by Hoopo at 3:16 PM on October 24, 2011 [13 favorites]


Tip of the cap for your first post. I'll leave the puns to others.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:17 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


All the better. Some up them had the look to me of a modern English speaker trying to write in Middle English. You know, from having seen lots of Middle English French Toast recipes in my time. And the pixels.

Gotta go. My payn purdeuz is almost ready.

Great post.
posted by 256 at 3:21 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vetinari's recipe for bread and water.
posted by kmz at 3:22 PM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'll comment on the ancient French-like toast recipe: remove the crust? Why, because your knives are dull, or your lack the force to hew re-cooked toast with an edge? French bread, cooked up as French toast, is great with a decent crust. It keeps the gooey insides gooey.
/rant
posted by filthy light thief at 3:24 PM on October 24, 2011


Wonderful post. The staff of life indeed.

I immediately thought of this Lileks-brand-sarcastic-commentary.

And now I must have some toast.
posted by Earthtopus at 3:25 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I tried to go low carb for a while.

Then I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich on whole grain bread. It was supermarket "bread," but it reminded me that bread is good food worth eating.

I think I may make a loaf soon. It's my goal to make some home cured sous vide corned beef within the week, so I guess it'd better be rye. I like this recipe, which I heard in this askme I asked. It's a bit sweet, but it's just plain good.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:31 PM on October 24, 2011


All this, and yet now I have to go out of my way to find gluten-having products in all the stores near me.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:31 PM on October 24, 2011


Also, let's plug the Friends of Carl Sourdough Starter. You mail a SASE to an address, and get back in the mail some dry flakes that you can reconstitute and revive to create a living sourdough starter. It's tart and vigorous.

I don't have a starter going right now (I stopped loving mine and it died), but it's definitely worth trying out.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:35 PM on October 24, 2011 [6 favorites]



...remove the crust? Why, because your knives are dull, or your lack the force to hew re-cooked toast with an edge?
posted by filthy light thief


Back in the day, I've heard that bread was made in such a way the crust came out really hard and solid, and was used a a serving device. When it was sent back to the kitchen, the staff would soak it, and make soup or stew.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:35 PM on October 24, 2011


This is a virtuoso first post.
posted by killdevil at 3:41 PM on October 24, 2011


I've started to love thin pita bread cooked in olive oil and than dipped in hummus, baba ganoush, and other dips
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:41 PM on October 24, 2011


Wonderful post, kittenmarlowe!

Of course one of the things I'm hoping to get out of this post, though, is an explanation of what exactly Jay-Z meant in "Allure" when he solemnly swore to change his life by "put[ting] down the toast." I never took this line literally, but now I'm wondering if I should...
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:50 PM on October 24, 2011


Fantastic!!
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 4:04 PM on October 24, 2011


Oh god, I'm a hobby baker so this is just perfection on a bun.


( hey you too McCarty.Tim? I settled on whole grain and a philosophy of " lower not low carb" )
posted by The Whelk at 4:04 PM on October 24, 2011


I'll go low-carb once I'm no longer living less than a mile from a store that sells Acme bread.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 4:16 PM on October 24, 2011


Paul Young's a fan.
posted by Devonian at 4:17 PM on October 24, 2011


Man. I really hope that pile of dough I saw lying about earlier has magically trans mutated into bread by now. At some point while I was at university, my dad took up baking a minimum of one loaf of ridiculously fancy artisan bread a day, so graduation and the following period of unemployment has been a delicious carbs-fest for me!
posted by emperor.seamus at 4:38 PM on October 24, 2011


Man, should've saved this post for December's post contest... awesome stuff!
posted by disillusioned at 5:22 PM on October 24, 2011


Since this is your first post I think you are eligible for Rookie of the Year!
posted by shothotbot at 5:29 PM on October 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


.kobayashi :
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=toaster
posted by headless at 5:31 PM on October 24, 2011


As a bread-making neophyte, I thank you for this.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:37 PM on October 24, 2011


Also, let's plug the Friends of Carl Sourdough Starter. You mail a SASE to an address, and get back in the mail some dry flakes that you can reconstitute and revive to create a living sourdough starter. It's tart and vigorous. I don't have a starter going right now (I stopped loving mine and it died), but it's definitely worth trying out.

As far as I know eventually all "sourdough starters" eventually die off when they're moved from their original location. Even if the starter culture is well cared for eventually it will be replaced by local (but compatible) natural bacteria and yeast cultures.

I'm not sure how long this takes, but I'm assuming it depends on how much you divide and use it, how warm or cool it is kept, etc. It's not something that happens overnight, obviously.

Which is not to say you shouldn't send away for starter cultures. They'll work for a while, but after some time and use they'll usually become your own local culture of bacteria and yeast, if any are available.

This is why San Francisco Sourdough is what it is - it's actually a localized type of bacteria called Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. You can try bringing a starter culture of it home but eventually it won't be a culture of sanfranciscensis any more.

Or (apparently) you can live in SF and start your own Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis culture just by exposing your growth media (water and flour, I'm assuming) to the local air. (I'm guessing you'd need to keep it at a specific temp to encourage the sanfranciscensis to win out over less helpful/safe bacteria.)

Corrections by actual sourdough bakers or microbiologists are warmly welcomed. I'm neither, and generally talking out of my hat, but I find this stuff fascinating, and sourdough is delicious.
posted by loquacious at 6:16 PM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


As far as I know eventually all "sourdough starters" eventually die off when they're moved from their original location.

Hmmm. My sourdough starter has moved a couple of degrees of latitude over several years, but appears to have more or less the same properties. Perhaps there isn't enough climatic/microbiological variation in New Zealand to manifest this phenomenon.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:34 PM on October 24, 2011


This is amazing.....thank you!
posted by glaucon at 7:23 PM on October 24, 2011


I've heard mixed things about whether or not sourdough adapts to the area. In particular, the most vehement people against the idea of starters changing to the local microbes are people selling mail-order starters. All I know is it's kind of a lottery to hope that the right yeasts and bacterias settle on your un-inoculated starter rather than molds (Yes, the ingredients are cheap, but I really like when things work the first time rather than just hoping for the best). Getting Carl's starter, for literally the price of a few stamps, or a friend's starter, for free, is almost guaranteed success.

Of course, it's a lot easier to get a sourdough starter started from scratch (I've heard) than say, leaving milk out and hoping the right strains of lactobacillus come along and make creamy yogurt.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:23 PM on October 24, 2011


Getting Carl's starter, for literally the price of a few stamps, or a friend's starter, for free, is almost guaranteed success.

Right, and I don't at all mean to dissuade anyone from using starter cultures, assuming it's a safe/known culture. I'm not arguing against that at all, making your own sourdough starter is inherently more risky, etc.

I'm just splitting hairs and wanting to talk about and know more about sourdough cultures. The folks that I've talked to tell me that the culture will eventually adapt to the local bacteria and no longer be the particular strain it started out as, since you're providing a compatible growth medium and your local yeasts are everywhere and most kitchens aren't sterile clean rooms.
posted by loquacious at 7:35 PM on October 24, 2011


This post is a load of rich, creamery butter. In a good way.

"It is hard to overemphasize just how important bread was to the English diet through the nineteenth century. For many people bread wasn't just an important accompaniment to meal, it WAS the meal. Up to 80 per cent of all household expenditure, according to the bread historian Christian Petersen, was spent on food, and up to 80 per cent of that went on bread. Even middle-class people spent as much as two-thirds of their income on food (compared with about one-quarter today), of which fairly high and sensitive proportion was bread. For a poorer family, nearly every history tells us, the daily diet was likely to consist of a few ounces of tea and sugar, some vegetables, a slice or two of cheese and, just occasional, a very little meat. All the rest was bread."
posted by Smedleyman at 7:36 PM on October 24, 2011


Which is to say, yes, you can theoretically bake a sourdough that's essentially the same as, say, Boudin's famous SF sourdough at home or somewhere other than SF. You just need a starter culture or mother dough populated with sanfranciscensis along with the other required variables to make and bake sourdough. Which is a lot of variables, but not an infinite or impossible to achieve number of them.
posted by loquacious at 7:38 PM on October 24, 2011


.kobayashi., headless: I see your urbandictionary and raise you a rapgenius:
http://rapgenius.com/Jay-z-allure-lyrics
posted by DLWM at 7:48 PM on October 24, 2011


Don't forget Matzoh Brei!
posted by freshwater at 7:53 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bread runs deep. One of the characteristics of the decline of allegiance to the Idea of Rome in Western Europe during late Antiquity was that, as its economy increasingly stratified and its food production system, pursuing efficiency and profit, increasingly employed mostly slaves and coloni in progressively more specialised latifundia, urbanised/displaced Roman citizens and Romanised foederati became alienated from the products of their labour and their ability to consume bread and other basic foodstuffs, identified with and distributed by the (failing) Roman State. Thus it was that the later Germani immigrants, chief among them the Franks, took the decaying Roman villa system and, being extraordinary agriculturalists, created the Manorial System that would reshape Europe for a thousand years (and become en economic system capable of sustaining impressively lethal groups of cavalry for long periods of time). Primary among Frankish culture was the notion of shared community in small, militaristic groups united by kinship and comradeship. The Franks lionised these small groups of people that would stick together through thick and thin and they created a special, culturally specific term for this identity that has endured: companions - from Low Latin compāniōn (with + bread). The sharing of bread among the Franks was so priviledged that that identification and remit of companions was enumerated within Salic Law (or so Medieval Private Life says).

On a lighter note, it took my several months of trial and error to finally formulate a recipe for salt-free, sugar-free wholemeal flour mixed with 30% soy flour and oat fiber that would rise well and produce a fluffy bread texture. this requires industrial quantities of pure gluten, ascorbate, and an unusual ratio of water and oil. Trying to figure out bread making has finally accomplished what decades of university classes could not: helped me come to appreciate chemistry and condensed matter physics.
posted by meehawl at 8:41 PM on October 24, 2011 [12 favorites]


Back when ground beef was 89 cents a pounds, my Mom would drive across town to the Jewish bakery that charged $2 plus per loaf. I didn't realize that I was spoiled and would never be able to enjoy crap bread. Thanks for the post.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:43 PM on October 24, 2011


Many here quite burn for their daily bread
The yeasty smell gone straight to their head
Yet abstinence's been kind
To my hips and behind
In a month it's been 6 kilo's shed
posted by noaccident at 9:12 PM on October 24, 2011


Thanks so much for this, what a wonderful post!

I have been making this Easy Little Bread Recipe from 101 Cookbooks a lot lately. So fast and easy to make, and it's great toasted with a little butter and jam.
posted by blacktshirtandjeans at 9:45 PM on October 24, 2011


meehawl: can you post more details or pictures of your bread? I'm intrigued
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:04 AM on October 25, 2011


In college I spent a semester abroad at a university in England. I bonded with the other guys on my hall most closely after The Great Toast Race in which three of us raced to see who could eat a loaf of toast the fastest. Ed fell by the wayside when he show-boated with Marmite. Gary never stood a chance. I scarfed down a whole loaf of some terribly healthy rocks-nd-sticks bread with cheap margarine, two slices at a go.

Come to think of it, I think I skipped the dining hall dinner that night and picked up a big Elephant Beer on my way to the chip shop.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:01 AM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've broken about half a dozen modern toasters in the past 10 years

In general new toasters are crap. However, my Dualit changed my life.
posted by jeffamaphone at 7:47 AM on October 25, 2011


I love making bread. Naan is my favourite at the moment, because it is ridiculously easy.
posted by titanium_geek at 5:56 PM on October 25, 2011


Back when ground beef was 89 cents a pounds, my Mom would drive across town to the Jewish bakery that charged $2 plus per loaf.

I wish I had a decent bakery anywhere that charged anything at all.

As it is, I bake a sourdough loaf every day, which at this time of year generally entails me spending a lot of time hanging around. As it is, I'm awake at nearly 5.00 am waiting for my oven to heat up so I can get today's loaf underway. A loaf that I started feeding starter for some 20 hours ago.

Here's my bread blog.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:50 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


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