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History of Bread
history of wheat flour

    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.

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.

When ancient man discovered a food that would keep through the
winter months, and could be multiplied in the summer, it could be
said that civilization began. He might have a reasonably safe store
of food to carry him over, which would give him time to develop other
useful skills besides hunting, fishing and cattle-herding.

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
The Guild of Master Bakers is still alive today.

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.

The Romans enjoyed several kinds of bread, with interesting names. There was oyster bread (to be eaten with oysters); 'artolaganus' or cakebread; 'speusticus' or 'hurry bread'. There was oven bread, tin bread, and Parthian bread. There were rich breads made with milk, eggs and butter, but these of course, were only for the wealthy and privileged people. The Egyptiangrammarian and philosopher Athenaeus, who lived in the third century AD, has handed down to us considerable
knowledge about bread and baking in those days.

He wrote that the best bakers were from Phoenicia or Lydia, and the
best bread-makers from Cappadocia. He gives us a list of the sorts of
bread common in his time-leavened and unleavened loaves; loaves made from the best wheat flour; loaves made from groats, or rye, and some
from acorns and millet. There were lovely crusty loaves too, and
loaves baked on a hearth. Bakers made bread mixed with cheese, but
the favorite of the rich was always white bread made from wheat. In
ancient Greece, keen rivalry existed between cities as to which
produced the best bread.

Athens claimed the laurel wreath, and the name of its greatest baker, Thearion, has been handed down through the ages in the writings ofvarious authors. During the friendly rivalry between the towns, Lynceus sings the praises of Rhodian rolls. "The Athenians", he says, "talk a great deal about their bread, which canbe got in the market, but the Rhodians put loaves on the table which are not inferior to all of them. When our guests are given over to eating and are satisfied, a most agreeable dish is produced called the "hearth loaf", which is made of sweet things and compounded so as to be very soft, and it is made up with such an admirable harmony of all the ingredients as to have a most excellent effect, so that often a man who is drunk becomes sober again, and in the same way, a man who has just eaten is made hungry by eating of it."

The island of Cyprus had a reputation for good bread. Another old
writer, Eubulus, says, "Tis a hard thing, beholding Cyprian loaves,
to ride carelessly by, for like a magnet, they do attract the hungry
passengers." All through the ancient days, bread and bakers were held
in the highest respect; this respect lives on to our times, for what
would we do without our bakers?

In early English historical times, there were constantly recurring
periods of famine, due to not enough, or too much rain, or frosts,
and other natural causes. The ruling classes, knowing that rebellion
often followed famine, did their utmost to keep the price of bread
from rising too high. Laws regulating its price were passed during
the reign of King John (1202). Not only did the law fix the price,
but also it strictly allocated that price between cost of material
and an allowance for necessary charges to the baker. In 1266, the law
allowed the baker twelve pence for each quarter of wheat he made into
bread, split as follows:

For three servants,4½d. *The reason for this ½d. for sieving
was, that in those days, the baker - not the miller as now -
separated out the wheat flour into its white and brown categories.
This does not add up to twelve pence - apparently the baker was
allowed a quantity of bread and bran to make up the difference. The
amounts seem tiny, but this is due to the greater value of money in
those days.
For two boys 1d.
For salt ½d.
For yeast ½d.
For candles ¼d.
For wood 2d.
For sieving ½d.
 12d (old pennies), or one shilling is worth 5p

For instance, a master carpenter would be paid only 2d. per day,
ordinary woodworkers were receiving only 1½d. Bakers earned less than
this, but they were not dependent on the weather and could always be
at work, unlike the carpenters. All through English history, great
efforts were made to keep the price of bread low, to maintain good
quality, and to prevent corruption and dishonesty.

The bakers liked to keep the 'mystery' of the trade to themselves
and to prevent unlicensed people from starting up. If a young man
wanted to become a baker, he had to serve an apprenticeship of seven
years. The law supported the bakers in preserving their craft to
themselves, and there were statutes published with various penalties
for infringement. In those days there were certain dishonest persons
in the trade. We read that in 1298 AD heavy fines were inflicted on
bakers for selling short weight bread. There are the most stringent
regulations about the weight of bread today. No baker would wittingly
sell underweight. Bakers are sometimes, it is true, prosecuted for so
doing but this is invariably due to faulty machinery or sometimes
lack of proper supervision. The fines are pretty stiff.

Until Modern mechanization, the tools of the baker changed but little over the centuries. In 1310, a number of female bakers at Stratford were
arrested for sending short weight bread to London in their long
carts. As the bread was stale, however, they were let off with a
reprimand, but were forced to sell their stale ½d. Loaves at three
for 1d. In 1327 a fraud was discovered at a public bakery where the
citizens used to take their dough to have it baked. The bakers who
ran the place had secret openings made in the molding boards, and
when the people's dough was placed on the boards, one of the bakers
would secretly pinch off piece after piece from the uncooked loaves
for their own benefit.

They were exposed and caught, the men placed in the pillory with slabs of dough round their necks, while the women were sent to the Newgate prison. You can imagine that the angry populace took full advantage of the pilloried thieves, and pelted them with any foul thing that came to hand. In the time of James the First, there are records of bakers slicing their stale bread into fingers, soaking it well in water, and mixing it with the new dough. Some used tricks to deceive the Bread Examiner about weight by
inserting copper coins into light-weight bread, or by having correct
weight loaves in the shop, and keeping light-weight goods in an inner
room. But it must be said, in fairness, that the majorities of bakers
were, and always had been honest, and proud of their products.

The invention of the steam-engine changed the industries and the
lives of the people in Britain, except, strangely enough, the milling
of flour. One miller in London who used a steam engine to drive his
machinery, found the mill destroyed by fire one day; this apparently
discouraged him from attempting to use the new steam machinery again.

Millers everywhere continued to use the ancient methods of wind and
watermills, except for a few progressive men who strove to free
themselves from the restraints of waiting on the wind and water to
drive the mill machinery. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a
Swiss engineer invented a new type of mill; abandoning the use of the
stone mill wheels, he designed rollers made of steel that operated
one above the other. It was called the reduction roller-milling
system, and these machines soon became accepted all over Europe and  in Britain.

They were driven by steam engines, which had by now much improved, and the new method proved a great success. So popular did they become, that within about thirty years from their introduction into Britain in 1880, more than three-quarters of the windmills and watermills which had served so faithfully (if sometimes erratically) for hundreds of years, were demolished, or left to rot. Meanwhile, the development of the North American prairies, ideally suited to grow wheat, provided ample grain for the fast-growing population of Great Britain at the time of the Industrial Revolution (which in turn reduced the farm acreage here). This, together with the invention of the roller-milling system, meant that for the first time in history, whiter flour (and therefore bread) could be produced at a price that brought it within the reach of everyone – not just the rich.

As we have noted, during periods of famine or other calamities
during history, the governments of the time were quick to protect the
people's bread. For instance, in the First World War, many
regulations were passed controlling the bread trade. Experiments
began to solve problems, like keeping bread fresh for troops in the
trenches, the conservation of supplies and the stoppage of waste.
Substitutes for wheat, such as mixtures of peas, arrowroot, parsnips,
beans, lentils, maize, rice, barley and oats were used in bread

By 1917 food-ships were being sunk by submarines to such
an extent that the nation was in dire peril of starvation. As well as
using some of the substitutes mentioned the government fixed a
maximum price for bread and issued rules for reducing waste. Bakers
were forbidden to sell bread until it was twelve hours old; no stale
bread could be exchanged; only 'regulation' flour could be used, the
millers preparing flour from such grains as the authorities provided,
and under their control. Even the shape of loaves was controlled, and
all fancy pastries were forbidden. Another order was made in 1918,
that bakers should use a proportion of up to 20 per cent of potatoes
in their bread.

In the Second World War, regulations were again imposed on the
baking industry. The 'standard' loaf was then a gray color, not very
appetizing to look at, but not at all unpleasant to eat. When you see
the beautiful loaves on sale today in all their variety of shape,
texture, and flavor, still at a comparative low price, and available
to all, think for a moment of the days, a few hundred years ago, when
it was thought that 'poor and common people should eat poor and
common bread', and only the rich should be able to enjoy the real
white wheaten loaf.

The stone-age man's method of pounding wheat between two stones
was not basically very different from the, method of grinding by
millstones in a wind or watermill. In either case the bottom stone
was fixed, and a grinding movement by the top stone was the required
action to produce ground meal. The stones were round, the bottom one
fixed, and the top stone, or runner, was balanced on a spindle which
could be raised or lowered, making the space between it and the
bottom stone as narrow or as wide as the miller wanted. Both stones
were corrugated, so that when the top stone was running, the wheat
between it and the bed was scraped rather than bruised. The wheat to
be ground entered the mill by a hole in the top stone, and was
carried out towards the edge, leaving in the form of a meal by holes
round the outside of the bed. By raising or lowering the top stone,
the meal could be made as fine or as coarse as required.

To obtain white flour from this meal, it was sifted through sieves
of different mesh; the finest sieve made of very strong silk.
Nowadays in America stone mills are of course not used much for flour-
making; only a few are still used for wholemeal flour and specialty

Watermills for grinding flour were of two varieties; in the first
kind the wheel turned horizontally in the stream, its shaft turning
the millstone directly, without any gears. The second type had its
wheel standing upright and the shaft at right angles to the stones,
moving them by means of a system of cogs.

The windmill made its appearance at the end of the twelfth century;
as it depended for its working on the amount of wind available, it
was not by any means an efficient machine. For over 700 years these
attractive buildings with their long sails were used for grinding
corn for people and for cattle-feed. There are still one or two of
them preserved in various parts of our country.

The plant of a modern flour mill has four main functions which are to
store a reserve of wheat, to remove all the impurities from the wheat
and prepare it for milling, to mill the wheat and separate flour from
the bran and skins of the wheat, and to store the milled products
before shipping.

You have no doubt seen the wheat stores or silos at a flourmill.
They are tall buildings housing a number of large cylindrical bins.
They are 60 to 90 feet high and may each hold 1,000 tons of grain.
The silo is equipped with mechanical elevators for dealing with
wheat, which invariably arrives, by road to the mill. It is also
equipped to weigh the wheat, to clean it of impurities, dry it to a
safe moisture-content before storage.

The cleaning section or screen room draws wheat from the silo. Here
wheat is first cleaned on sieves, which removes all the impurities
different in size from the wheat grain. Magnets next remove any
fragments of iron or steel. Further equipment then takes out
impurities similar in size but different in shape from the wheat
grain, such as foreign cereals or round seeds. In the mill, the grain
passes through more than forty processes before it emerges as flour
and bran.

At the first stage of the milling process, the clean blended wheat
passes between chilled iron rolls, which revolve rapidly, one roll
faster than the other. These first sets of rolls (known as the break
rolls) have ridges or "flutes" on them. The slower moving roll tends
to hold the wheat while the faster one strikes the grain as it passes
between them. They are set very delicately, so that as the wheat
passes between them, they do not crush it, but shear it open in order
to make the inner white floury portions of the wheat come away from
their brown outer skins. If the wheat were merely crushed, the brown
skins would break up into countless tiny fragments, and would mix
with the white portions so thoroughly, and so finely, that they could
never be separated properly. These skins would then discolor the
flour badly and also spoil its baking qualities.

Some of the white floury portions will have broken away cleanly from their brown outer skins, but other white portions will still have pieces of skin
fastened firmly to them. Therefore the materials from the break rolls
must be sorted out. The pieces of brown skin must be separated from
the white portions, and some of the material must be sent back to the
fluted rolls for further separation. Mainly sifting the mixture does
this sorting out of particles from the 'break' rolls; elevators first move the mixture to the top of the mill. There are several different types of sieving
machine but usually only two kinds are used at this stage: first
the 'plansifter' and then the 'purifier'. This is how they work.

Plansifters on Sifter Floor The plansifter is an arrangement of
about a dozen large sieves, one below the other-just like the floors
of a tall building. The top sieve has the coarsest mesh, the next not
quite so coarse, and so on. These sieves are all made to swing
briskly by machinery. The broken wheat comes first onto the top
sieve, and then through the others in turn, each sieves helping to
separate the material. The first sieves remove the bran skins, which,
because they still have flour particles adhering to them, are
returned to another milling machine for re-treatment. The finest
sieves are of silk, and these separate flour, which then starts on
its way to the flour-packing spout. The majority of particles are not
of bran, of course, but are at present too large for grinding down
into flour. They are known as semolina at this stage. They are taken
to the next sieving machines - the purifier.

The purifier is an ingenious machine that not only separates the
broken parts of the wheat by sieving, that is, according to size, but
it also separates those parts which are of the same size but of
different weight. Using currents of air does this. The skins are much
lighter in weight than the inner white floury parts, and a current of
air is drawn upwards through the mixture on the sieve, lifting up
and 'floating' the skins, but allowing the heavier white parts to
remain on the sieve and be separated by the sieving motion. Sieving
on the plansifters and purifiers will eventually have removed most of
the brown skins. Now the inner floury portions of the broken wheat
grains are brought together for final milling between the 'reduction'

These are smooth rolls that mill down very gradually and
accurately the inner white portions of the wheat (the endosperm or
semolina) into smooth, powdery, 'lively' flour. Thus flour, clean
bran and wheat feed are collected, each in its own channel, from a
large number of different machines and are finally brought either to
bulk storage bins or to a packing floor where they are filled into
sacks and weighed. Lastly, the packed products are sent to the mill warehouse and  stacked ready for shipment. However, around 70% of the flour is shipped in bulk. The whole process of cleaning, and milling, etc., is
done by machine, with the material passing automatically from machine
to machine, and from one stage to the next. No hand touches the wheat
from the moment it arrives, throughout its long journey in the mill,
until the flour leaves the mill for the baker, biscuit-maker and
other users.

Today the range of flours available is wider than ever before. Each
type of flour has been milled with specific uses in mind. Flours
vary in their composition and, broadly speaking, are defined by their
rate of extraction. This refers to the percentage of whole cleaned
wheat grain that is present in the flour. The three basic flour
categories are Wholemeal -100 percent extraction, made from the whole
grain wheat with nothing added or taken away. Brown -usually contains
about 85 per cent of the original grain; some bran and germ have been
removed. This flour is frequently labeled as "85 per cent flour"
rather than brown. White -usually 75 per cent of the wheatgrain. Most of the bran and wheatgerm have been removed during milling.

Other varieties of flour:Wheatgerm -white or brown flour with at least 10% added wheatgerm. Malted wheatgrain -brown or wholemeal flour with added malted grains. Stoneground -wholemeal flour ground in traditional way between two stones. Organic -flour milled from wheat grown and processed naturally without the use of chemicals.

Bread in this country has to everybody's benefit reached a high
standard of purity and hygiene. Bread is perhaps the most important
item in our diet; it has often been called the staff of life. To give
you an idea of the benefit we get from flour and bread, a Government
survey showed that flour and bread provided us with more energy
value, more protein, more iron, more nicotinic acid and more vitamin
B1 than any other basic food. Bread comes to us in many interesting
shapes and Flavors, from the time-honored 'cottage' loaf, to some of the
delicious Vienna rolls. Nowadays, the sliced and wrapped loaf is the
most popular loaf of all. It is ideal for making sandwiches for
picnics, and for workers' lunches; there is, however, an important
drawback. If you like your bread with a beautiful rich golden crust
on it, do not buy the ready-wrapped variety.


One of the nicest things in life is to come home hungry from school or work, and have set before one the fresh, buttered crust from a well done home made loaf.

Chef Steven Holloway

By Chef Stephen Holloway CEC

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