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The History of Bread

Bread, in one form or another,

has been one of the principal forms of food for man from earliest times. The trade of the baker, then, is one of the oldest crafts in the world. Loaves and rolls have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. In the British Museum's Egyptian galleries you can see actual loaves which were made and baked over 5,000 years ago. Also on display are grains of wheat, which ripened, in those ancient summers under the Pharaohs. Wheat has been found in pits where human settlements flourished 8,000 years ago. Bread, both leavened and unleavened, is mentioned in the Bible many times. The ancient Greeks and Romans knew bread for a staple food even in those days people argued whether white or brown bread was best.

Further back, in the Stone Age, people made solid cakes from stone-crushed barley and wheat. A millstone used for grinding corn has been found, that is thought to be 7,500 years old. The ability to sow and reap cereals may be one of the chief causes, which led man to dwell in communities, rather than to live a wandering life hunting
and herding cattle.

Chef Steven Holloway
by Chef Stephen Holloway

According to botanists, wheat, oats, barley and other grains belong to the order of Grasses; nobody has yet found the wild form of grass from which wheat, as we know it, has developed. Like most of the wild grasses, cereal blossoms bear both male and female elements. The young plants are provided with a store of food to ensure their support during the period of germination, and it is in this store of reserve substance that man finds an abundant supply of food.

In Old Testament times, all the evidence points to the fact
that bread-making, preparing the grain, making the bread and baking it, was the women's work, but in the palaces of kings and princes and in large households, the bakers' duties would be specialized. Bread was leavened; that is, an agent in the form of a 'barm' was added to the dough that caused the mixture to rise in the shape of our familiar loaf.

The hurried departure of the Israelites from Egypt, described in the Book of Exodus in the Bible, prevented their bread being leavened as usual; the Jews today commemorate this event by eating unleavened bread on special occasions

The ruins of Pompeii and other buried cities have revealed the kind of bakeries existing in those historic times. There were public bakeries where the poorer people brought their bread to be baked, or from which they could buy ready-baked bread.

A Bakers' Guild was formed in Rome round about the year 168 BC From then on the industry began as a separate profession. The Guild or College, called Collegium Pistorum, did not allow the bakers or their children to withdraw from it and take up other trades. The bakers in Rome at this period enjoyed special privileges: they were the only craftsmen who were freemen of the city, all other trades being conducted by slaves. The members of the Guild were forbidden to mix with 'comedians and gladiators' and from attending performances at the amphitheater, so that they might not be contaminated by the vices of the ordinary people. We suppose that the bakers, instead of being honored by the strict regulations, must have felt deprived by them.
The Guild of Master Bakers is still alive today.

The ruins of a bakery in Pompeii, the oven and the mills to grind the flour. Actual loves of bread were found carbonized intact as shown in the picture below.
  The Greeks and Romans liked their bread white; color was one of the main tests for quality at the time of Pliny (AD 70). Those who think the craze for white bread is a modern fad should note this. Pliny wrote, "The wheat of Cyprus is swarthy and produces a dark bread, for which reason it is generally mixed with the white wheat of Alexandria".
Plato (c. 400 BC) pictured the ideal state where men lived to a healthy old age on wholemeal bread ground from local wheat. Socrates, however, suggested that this proposal meant the whole population would be living on pig-food. In those days, there were certain bakers who kneaded the meal with seawater to save the price of salt. Pliny did not approve of this.

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Last updated July 18, 2007