A Crumby Post About Some Stale Ash Bread
August 12, 2015 3:31 PM   Subscribe

 
Artisan Pompeii Miche! This is totally delightful, thanks!
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:52 PM on August 12, 2015


It seems like there is nothing here that is really different except the string around the loaf. In the video, he claims to be using buckwheat flour and sourdough, but the posted recipe is completely different. Then, another guy made another loaf with completely different ingredients.

Seems like this is just a bunch of people making handmade artisan bread and tying string around it. You can buy a similar loaf minus the string at a farmers' market near you. Surely we have some idea what was actually in the bread 2000 years ago and how it might have been made.

On the other hand, maybe the point is that not all that much has changed.
posted by ssg at 3:59 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mary Beard had a go at recreating that loaf on one of her BBC documentaries (I think it was "Meet the Romans"). It's typically Roman in its pragmatism: mass producible, easily transportable and able to be broken into portions by hand.

I saw the original loaf itself at the British Museum, but I was distracted in my study of it by my accompanying lady friend who couldn't stop giggling at the statue of a drunk pissing Hercules and the oil lamp shaped like a dong. Still, a myriad of ways to appreciate classical civilsation I suppose.
posted by sobarel at 4:00 PM on August 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


There are such amazing things to discover, even in such aa heavily touristed site. Think about where the raw goods were grown and harvested.... it leads to many paths of investigation.
posted by mightshould at 4:07 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pompeii Live

Why do they always have to try and re-make the great movies of the past? It can't possibly be better than Live at Pompeii.
posted by sfenders at 4:09 PM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Surely we have some idea what was actually in the bread 2000 years ago and how it might have been made.

You would think we do, but we don't. There is precious little surviving written information about ancient cooking (Apicius is pretty much the only primary source for Roman foodways), and while he talks about bread he doesn't talk so much about how to make it -- ether because it was common knowledge or it was a closely guarded secret among a few.
posted by anastasiav at 4:22 PM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: giggling at the statue of a drunk pissing Hercules and the oil lamp shaped like a dong
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:38 PM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


What possible indication does this guy have that Locatelli is putting in things that aren't in the video? He names buckwheat flour, biga acida, and salted water, and certainly no other ingredients are shown. But some guy decides he must be lying and putting in yeast and gluten powder and makes up his own "artisanal" recipe and somehow that's more scholarly? I'm not buying it.
posted by darksasami at 4:41 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Running The Roman Home by Alexandra Croom has lots of nitty deets about ancient domesticity--I'm sure she has some info on bread making if anybody feels like doing further reading. It's a really fantastic resource, and now I wish I hadn't surrendered my copy to the library.
posted by mmmbacon at 4:49 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


On sale at Whole Foods - only $799.99!
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:07 PM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


($DCCXCIX.XCIX)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:12 PM on August 12, 2015 [31 favorites]


If I could bake bread at a level above "pour beer into flour mixture and stick in casserole thing" I would be all about this.
posted by sallybrown at 5:15 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


What possible indication does this guy have that Locatelli is putting in things that aren't in the video?

I think they've somehow got confused by the modernised version that there's a recipe for on the page that they link to. It's a bit odd as it's clearly not what's in the video.

There are such amazing things to discover, even in such aa heavily touristed site.

The loaf is from Herculaneum which is much less touristy than Pompeii, and still largely unexcavated. Since it's under about four times as much volcanic material it's much harder to dig, but you do get carbonised organic material (food, skeletons, wooden artifacts, even papyri) surviving there which you don't at Pompeii.
posted by sobarel at 5:16 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Where is the video? I thought I had a link to one and got an Page Not Found error instead.
posted by NoMich at 5:36 PM on August 12, 2015


Oh crap, never mind. Found it.
posted by NoMich at 5:37 PM on August 12, 2015


Does anyone have any idea why the loaf in video is being made with buckwheat? I find it very surprising as I always thought the Romans grew mostly wheat varieties (emmer, spelt). Buckwheat (which is not actually wheat) has not been commonly grown that far south in more recent history. Is there evidence that it was a major crop at the time or was used in particular in this loaf?

A 100% buckwheat loaf is very different than a 100% spelt loaf, for example.
posted by ssg at 5:41 PM on August 12, 2015


Dear Ask Metafilter,

I accidentally left a loaf of bread out for 2,000 years. It seems a little stale and black this morning. Can I eat this?

posted by Apelles Mus at hora duodecima on XII Augustus Mensis [+] [!]
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:06 PM on August 12, 2015 [54 favorites]


Still more edible than biscotti.
posted by zardoz at 7:20 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's confusing - some breads have been found in Pompeii, some in Herculaneum.
Pompeii

Vesuvius created a “snapshot” of Rome itself in 79 C. E. when it buried Pompeii and Herculaneum. Numerous works discuss the bakeries and breads found in these cities. Images of one from Pompeii is especially common: a low, slightly risen disk about eight inches across and roughly an inch and a half thick, divided into eight even sections, one of which bears the baker's rectangular stamp. The loaf, completely carbonized by the eruption, looks as if it were made of stone. In 1771 Winckelmann mentioned somewhat different loaves from Herculaneum, but cut in a similar way:

There are two whole loaves to be seen, both of the same form and size, that is, a palm and two inches in diameter, and five inches in thickness. Both have eight dents in the upper crust; that is to say, they were first divided by cross lines into four parts, and then subdivided into eight, by four other cross lines. There appears a division of the same kind on two loaves, in one of the pictures found at Herculaneum.

In 1853, Clarke published this description of some from Pompeii:

Their loaves appear to have been very often baked in moulds, several of which have been found: these may possibly be artoptae, and the loaves thus baked artopticii. Several of these loaves have been found entire. They are flat, and about eight inches in diameter. One in the Neapolitan Museum has a stamp on the top:—
SILIGO . CRANII
E . CICER
This has been interpreted to mean that cicer (vetch) was mixed with the flour.

One of the striking notes, in fact, about bread in Pompeii is the likelihood that cicer – chick pea – flour was used for some breads. Monnier mentions it as well in this description from 1886:

The very loaves have survived. In the bakery of which I speak several were found with the stamps upon them, siligjo grani (wheat flour), or e cicera (of bean flour) — a wise precaution against the bad faith of the dealers. Still more recently, in the latest excavations, Signor Fiorelli came across an oven so hermetically sealed that there was not a particle of ashes in it, and there were eighty-one loaves, a little sad, to be sure, but whole, hard, and black, found in the order in which they had been placed on the 23d of November, 79.....

Most of the loaves weigh about a pound; the heaviest twelve hundred and four grains. They are round, depressed in the centre, raised on the edges, and divided into eight lobes. Loaves are still made in Sicily exactly like them.
If sand was not found in this bread, powdered stone sometimes was, from the mills used. (But this was not particular to Rome; later stone mills would also leave traces in the flour).

At Herculaneum, one bread bore a stamp stating that it was "made by Celer, the slave of Quintus Granius Verus". There was nothing unusual about bread being made by slaves, but it is curious that the work of this one was individually marked. Since it seems unlikely there was any desire to promote his reputation, this was probably a quality control measure.
posted by Miko at 7:38 PM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Fresh Loaf is great, but that particular recipe seems to find every possible way to justify making a loaf of bread that appeals to modern sensibilities using modern techniques.
posted by teponaztli at 7:41 PM on August 12, 2015


Personally, I kind of thought the incisions for the eight slices could also have been made by a piece of string. Why use a knife when you have string?
posted by Miko at 7:48 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


If sand was not found in this bread, powdered stone sometimes was, from the mills used. (But this was not particular to Rome; later stone mills would also leave traces in the flour).

Would there be enough stone dust to cause teeth wear?
posted by Dip Flash at 8:02 PM on August 12, 2015


Personally, I kind of thought the incisions for the eight slices could also have been made by a piece of string. Why use a knife when you have string?

Yes! I was thinking that too - there's no ear on the original loaf, so it looks less like a cut and more like just an indentation.
posted by teponaztli at 8:13 PM on August 12, 2015


This was fun:

http://www.poweredbyosteons.org/2012/05/recipe-for-roman-diet.html

...

Ordinary Romans - that is, small farmers, peasants, and rural slaves who made up the majority of the ancient Italian population - likely got a large chunk of their diet from their non-cash crops like millet, legumes, and turnips, at least based on what writers such as Columella, Strabo, and Galen tell us (Garnsey 1988). Their daily diet would have been a far cry from the exotic foodstuffs found at elite banquets. But, as Horace writes, "Ieiunus raro stomachus volgaria temnit" (Satires II, 2, xxxviii). A hungry stomach rarely scorns plain food.

In order to find out what kinds of plain food the ancient Italians were eating, bioarchaeologists are starting to perform carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of skeletons (e.g., Prowse et al. 2004, Prowse et al. 2005, Craig et al. 2009, Rutgers et al. 2009, Killgrove 2010). Biochemical analysis isn't perfect, as it only yields a very macro-view of the diet. That is, the carbon isotope ratio can provide information about the kinds of plants and grains consumed, and the nitrogen isotope ratio can provide information on the relative amount of legumes and fish consumed. But depending on the rate of bone turnover, which can be different in different people because of age or disease status, the C and N isotopes represent an average of the last perhaps 5-10 years of a person's diet. With that in mind, here's what the skeletons are telling us about what people were eating in the Roman suburbs and down along the coast during the Empire:

(Image. Click to embiggen)
The carbon axis shows that the people living in the Roman suburbs and along the coast were eating mostly wheat and barley (C3 foods, which have lower carbon isotope values) rather than millet (C4 food, which has a much higher carbon isotope value, starting around -13.0 permil). But their carbon values are higher than a purely C3-based diet, so those could be affected by marine resources and/or consumption of animals that were foddered on millet. The nitrogen axis shows that most people were eating a terrestrial, fairly omnivorous diet, with the coastal population of Velia eating a surprisingly little amount of fish. The pure vegetarians would be at the low end of the N axis, and the pure pescatarians would be at the high end (along with breastfeeding infants).

posted by sebastienbailard at 8:58 PM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I suspect that this is really dwarf bread.
posted by boilermonster at 12:31 AM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


From Marcus Junkelmann's Panis Militaris (Deutsch), the problem is reconstructing the proportion of water in the dough, which has a big effect, as does the proportion of gluten.

And yes, chewing on stone-ground flour products wrecked people's teeth after awhile, though luckily they didn't also have cane sugar (a New World import).
posted by bad grammar at 6:26 AM on August 13, 2015


I would also guess that was probably the least of their teeth problems. If you lived long enough for that to be an issue, something else was probably already messing with your teeth.
posted by Miko at 7:00 AM on August 13, 2015


Didn't the Romans eat this bread?
posted by TedW at 8:13 AM on August 13, 2015


One of the striking notes, in fact, about bread in Pompeii is the likelihood that cicer – chick pea – flour was used for some breads.

I wonder was that Roman chickpea flour bread more like arkatena bread or more like Socca / Farinata? Chickpea flour ferments pretty easily so it strikes me that the Romans could hypothetically use that to leaven their wheat flour bread making something like arkatena bread.

Anyone know why Locatelli used buckwheat? Its not out of the realm of possibility that the Romans had access to it but it doesn't strike me as something they would have used.
posted by Ashwagandha at 6:52 PM on August 13, 2015


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