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Bread-Hist-art - 5/7/08


"A Treatise on Bread" by Mistress Aldyth Trefaldwyn.


NOTE: See also the files: Ancent-Grains-art, bread-msg, breadmaking-msg, flour-msg, grains-msg, leavening-msg, Trenchers-Hst-art, brd-mk-sour-msg, boulting-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org





The following paper is the result of my research into the origins of bread.  I hope to achieve a way to document ingredients in bread from specific regions of the world during the time frame of 500 A. D. to 1600 A. D., providing people who wish to recreate meals during that time a source for accurate ingredients and fermentation techniques for bread.


Mistress Aldyth Trefaldwyn



A Treatise on Bread

by Mistress Aldyth Trefaldwyn


From the pre-written history hunter-gatherers processing grains and other ingredients as a means of subsistence, to the modern accomplished bread maker using time-honored recipes, bread in its' many forms serves as a benchmark of civilization.  I believe that individual culture, the regional climate, and the basic available ingredients and type of fermentation used determined the shape, texture and usage of bread. I will discuss grain availability, harvest, milling, and fermentation techniques as well as cooking procedures.


Earliest recorded history confirms the existence of bread.  The epiphany came when man essentially domesticated the fermentation of yeast. Clay tablets in Babylon seventeenth century B.C. speak about making flat bread from selected cereal grains. (Dupaigne 13)  Egyptian frescos depict both flat and round loaves with differing cooking apparatus for each. (Dupaigne 24)


The Grain


Each geographical area contains different naturally occurring grains. All grain started as a wild grass. (Zohary xx)  Rye is one of the earliest grains identified by way of archeological evidence through DNA stamping, dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating.  Rye thrived in most climates as a weed, and tended to take over cultivated areas. (Zohary 76)  Millet is referred to as the Father plant, with documented archeological evidence to 2800 BC. (Jacob 13) It did not grow well in cold climates, and with the diversification of mankind other grains easily took hold. (Zohary 83)  Most notable of these was barley, which was a milder tasting grain but more difficult to harvest. (Zohary 101)  Barley seeds were easily blown from the plant by the wind before man could recover them for planting and cultivation. (Zohary 68) The oat was largely relegated to the role of animal feed rather than a grain useful for bread. It was difficult to mill and process into usable flour. Instead it was eaten as porridge. (Zohary 77)  Emmer, an ancestor of modern wheat, turned the tables on all other grains producing both a beautiful and tasty product as bread (PNAS).


Emmer wheat and rye exist as wild grasses over much of the earth, and are very efficient self-propagators.  Wheat, barley, and rye were the most common grains used for bread in the region encompassing most of the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. (PNAS) Wheat, millet, rye and oat were more common in Central Europe.  Barley, wheat and oat were more common in Northern Europe and the modern British Islands. (Zohary 229-238)


Some cultures did not harvest enough grain for breadmaking, instead relying on various pulses and nutmeats in combination with grain for their bread.  The pea was a close growing companion in the field to rye, barley and wheat. Chickpeas, lentils and fava beans were also ground into flour for bread. (Zohary 113)  Vetch was a less desirable but available pulse. (Zohary 116) Walnuts, almonds and pistachios were also used. (Zohary 118)


The Harvest


Individual enculturation dictated what and how you harvested as well as whether the crop was wild or purposefully cultivated. Whether by cutting the plant with a sharp implement, pulling up the plant itself, or stripping the plants by hand, the harvest was a labor-intensive proposition. (PNAS)


Bean products were taken from their pods if necessary, and laid to dry before milling. While methods for storing whole grain are mentioned many times, storing milled flour is not. Accepted practice demonstrated that whole grains survived in storage for a longer period of time than milled flour, although animals found the grain more desirable as a food than milled flour. (PNAS)




           There are no accurate accounts of when mankind made the decision to separate parts of the grain from itself, or indeed why it was considered a requirement to do so. What we can document is the large amount of labor involved in the milling process.  Reducing grain into smaller particles so that the starch contained in the endosperm can be digested is more important to baked goods than other grain based foods.  Man can only metabolize this starch when it is separated from the rest of the grain. (Moritz xxv)

From individual family units utilizing small flat stones and milling personal amounts to groups and guilds milling grain for mass consumption, the method of milling depended largely on naturally occurring or easily adapted heavy things that could crush the product with sufficient force in a timely manner. (Moritz 37)  Millstones were maneuvered around larger grain processing areas by people and animals, and later using wind and waterpower. (PNAS)  Egyptian hieroglyphs and Greek stone carvings from thousands of years B.C depict grain being processed on a stone platform or shallow stone bowl between stones. (Dupaigne 10-11) The kind of stone the mills were made from, and the shapes of those mills were as diverse as the cultures that formed them. Also important was the method of the mill.  Personal mills could be as simple as a mortar and pestle or as complicated as a quern. (Moritz 109)


The degree that the grain was crushed depended on the size and weight of the stone and the surface texture of the grinding surface. As it became more important to utilize all parts of the grain, the mills became more specialized in the way they ground or cut.   It became more important not only to grind the grain quickly but be able to collect the finished product more efficiently. (Moritz 124)  Grain processed on certain mill designs was seen as more desirable for bread and in Roman times was illustrated by a comprehensive written grading system. This system also indicated the proposed amount of processed flour that prescribed weights of individual grains should be expected to produce. (Moritz 108) The finished flour was processed most efficiently by bolting, where the flour is forced through increasingly tighter woven cloths, with only the finest and whitest product being used for bread for the aristocracy, with each previous bolting being graded as a lower quality product suitable for a lower quality bread. (Wihlfahrt 8)




           After the milling began the painstaking process of separating the newly ground grain from the perceived less desirable by-products. Harvested grain was stored in a central area convenient to where the plant and chaff could be separated. (Dupaigne 14-16).  The lefts over stalks and grain casings were taken from the grain by many different methods. Some cultures beat the plants on rocks; others beat the plants against each other, or walked on or through them.  Descriptions and pictures show raking larger pieces out of the grain, tossing the entire product into the air so that the lighter chaff sails away on the wind, re grinding the end product and some method of sifting the end result. (Dupaigne 79)




           Fermentation in bread making refers to the introduction of ingredients that will produce a chemical reaction resulting in the formation and release of gas into the dough, making it "rise". (Wihlfahrt 165)  Mixing flour with a warm liquid and letting it stand exposed to the air is one method.  After a period of time bubbles will form, and this mixture is added in its' entirety to the rest of the ingredients for the bread.  This method is "growing a sponge". (David 106) The warmer the climate, the better a sponge develops, allowing for the natural interaction between the wild yeasts in the air and the flour and liquid.  The longer this process is allowed to take, the better the rise of the bread will be.


Another fermentation process is called the "mother bread" (David 107). This method involves creating a sponge and only using a portion of it to create bread. When the final product is ready to bake, a portion is returned back into the sponge, feeding it, and creating a readily usable and sustainable fermentation source.  The flour, liquid and resulting culture produces an environment that inhibits mold growth, encouraging yeast and alcohol in a ratio for peaceful existence. The flavor of bread produced in this manner is distinct, with varying degrees of sourness. The differences in taste are directly attributable to the strain of lactobacilli available in the area the culture is created in.


Other cultures did not depend on any fermentation process at all, relying on the action of heat on the liquid in the dough to produce steam, and raise the bread. (Jacob 133)  Barm, or the sediment from brewing beverages like beer and wine, was also introduced as a leavening agent with varying success that was dependent on whether the natural yeast from the beverage was still active.


Assembling the Bread


           For making raised breads, varying proportions of a fermentation sponge is added to the bread recipe, which usually consisted of more flour, sugar, salt, and a source of fat or oil. The use of Barm as leavening could produce different colors and taste depending on the type beverage being brewed. The size and shape of the bread differed by grain usage and enculturation. (David 114)  Some were kneaded constantly to produce bread of a dense nature.  The kneading process reduces the gas pockets within the bread dough. The end process can be heavy and tough, more suitable for eating with soups and stews.  Others were not kneaded at all but simply mixed together in an attempt to make the bread of a lighter consistency. This product can have large pockets of air, and a fluffy consistency.  These raised bread doughs were generally allowed to sit in a warm area for a period of time before baking to "finish" the rising process.  The grain used in the bread and the method of fermentation dictated the texture and weight of the end product. (Wihlfahrt 19)  Breads that do not contain a measure of wheat flour do not produce uniform loaves. (Jacob 16) The amount of natural gluten contained in each individual grain flour in reaction with the method of fermentation and the kind of liquid introduced into the dough accounted for the texture, color and taste of each loaf of bread. (David 297)


           Un leavened bread was produced without addition of any leavening agent.  This process of bread making was deliberate in the Hebrew culture where it signified both sacrifice and punishment, with the availability of leavened bread only on certain days. (Jacob 40) Notably in the arid climates bread dough was little more than liquid and flour hastily mixed together and cooked on hot rocks or fried in skillet like appliances.  The result was more like a modern cracker than resembling bread. (Dupaigne 108)


Cooking the Bread


Some cultures built ovens in which to cook the bread. Ovens were of varied shapes and sizes.  Ovens could stand alone above ground, or be a hole in the ground, and the entire spectrum in between. In some cultures a space was allowed for a water source to be present in the oven during baking. This process creates a crisp brown crust.  Ovens were heated, or fired with charcoal, hot stones, and/or open flames. (David 98-101)  The bread dough could be placed on the floor of the oven, on a rack or stone within the oven, or sticking/ throwing them against the sides of the oven, where they would fall away when done. Baking was not the only method of cooking bread.   Some were fried in oil, or baked after a fashion on rocks or skillet like appliance. (Dupaigne 106)  In areas where either the bread was not allowed to rise, or not expected to, the dough or batter was poured onto flat hot surfaces and cooked quickly. (Dupaigne 108) When the batter was unleavened, the finished product was hard and sometimes brittle. When natural fermentation was allowed to occur, the batter was thicker and more like a dough, yielding a more pliable product that could stand alone or serve as a container for other foods to be served in or on such as Middle Eastern flat breads.


The Bureaucracy of Bread


Throughout history various ruling entities recognized the importance of bread in the diet by placing regulations upon the bread itself, the people who made the bread, and those who sold the bread. Beginning with biblical accounts and continuing through the various Roman emperors Aurelian and Constantine from 275 – 330 A.D we see consistent evidence of the size and weight and content being legislated. (Jacob 83)  In 1047 King Edward the Confessor proclaimed the Hlafclaennes Dom, the Anglo-Saxon Bread Purity Law, essentially listing the only things bread should be made from are fine flour, water, barm (yeast) and salt. (Postan) This sheds light on why there are so few recipes for bread in our area of study since the four components were universally known.  The Assize of Bread superseded the Hlafclaennes Dom in 1266, again listing principally fine amounts of ingredients and in what weight they should exist.  In all of these writings it is clear that the finer and whiter the flour, the more costly the loaf of bread was, and to alter the bread recipe with other ingredients was forbidden. In the later period, there is a representation of a baker that committed such a transgression being dragged thru the street by horses with the offending bread loaf hanging around his neck. (Jacob 227)


Broadly speaking, the cultures of the Middle East and Orient have over all more flat breads than raised, and the European, Slavic and Russian more raised breads than flat.  However the Slavic and Russian breads are heavier by weight and grain than the others. (Dupaigne 60)


Central Europe and Russia tended to have darker grains, and darker drinks, yielding darker and heavier breads. Many Middle Eastern breads were made and served the same day, which did not allow much time for naturally occurring yeast in the air to combine with the liquid and flour, resulting in a much flatter bread. The available grains were also lighter in color. (PNAS)  Some breads were made without leavening at all, and not allowed time for wild yeast cultures to mix with the bread dough. (Jacob 218)   In areas with a cold general climate, sponges were difficult to create and maintain, resulting in denser, fuller flavored breads (Dupaigne 212)


Cultural constraints, combined with naturally occurring or cultivated grains and the abundance or lack or wild yeast due to climate shaped the world's breads. In the areas where distinct fermentation techniques were practiced, each bread retained a different flavor in direct relation to the different strains of lactobacilli present during fermentation. Breads of the Middle East are flatter and light in color, as are those of the northern European areas due to the scarcity of high gluten grains and temperature fluctuations that were not conducive to the formation of viable sponges.  Religious enculturation also dictated that breads be flatter, or unleavened.   Breads of the central and southern European areas are darker and heavier due to the abundance of high gluten darker grain and more abundant wild yeast cultures, along with the availability of dark beverage barm.


The Recipes


In the European corpus of recipes from 500 C.E. to 1600 C.E., there are few

written recipes for bread. Due to the universal nature of bread baking, common

knowledge in each culture diminished the need to make a written record of ingredients.


Harleian MS 279, approx. 1430, as taken from Austin, Thomas, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books.


Brede and Rastons


Take fayre Flowre and the whyte of Eyroun and the yolk, a lytel.  Then take Warme Berme, and putte al thes to-gederys and bete hem to-gederys with thin hond tyl it be schort and thikke y-now, and cast Sugre y-now ther-to, and thenne let rest a whyle.  An kaste in a fayre place in the oven and late bake y-now.  And then with a knyfe cutte yt round a-bove in maner of a crowne, and kepe the crust that thou kyttest, and then cate ther-in clarifiyd Boter and Mille the cromes and the botere to-gederes, and kevere it a-yen with the cruste that thou kyttest a-way.  Than putte it in the oven ayen a lytil tyme and then take it out, and serve it forth. 


 Platina's De Honesta Voluptate 


I recommend to anyone who is a baker that he use flour from wheat meal, well ground, and then passed through a fine sieve to sift it; then put it in a bread pan with warm water, to which has been added salt, after the manner of the people of Ferrari in Italy.  After adding the right amount of leaven, keep it in a damp place if you can and let it rise.  That is the way bread can be made without much difficulty.  let the baker beware not to use more or less leaven than he should; in the former instance, the bread will take on a sour taste, and in the latter, it becomes heavy and unhealthful and is not readily digested,  The bread should be well baked in an oven, and not on the same day; bread from fresh flour is most nourishing of all, and should be baked slowly.


The Good Huswife's Handmaide for the Kitchen, 1594   


To Make Fine Manchet 


Take halfe a bushell of fine flour twise boulted, and a gallon of faire luke warm water, almost a handful of white salt, and almost a pint of yest, then temper these together without any more liquor, as hard as ye can handle it: then let it lie halfe an hower, then take it up, and make your Manchetts, and let them stande almost an hower in the oven. Memorandum, that of every bushell of meale may be made five and twentie caste of bread, and every loaf to way a pound besyde the chesill.     


The Good Huswife's Handmaide for the Kitchen, 1594


To Make Good Restons 


Take a quart of fine flower, lay it on a faire boord, and make a hole in the midst of the flower with your hand, and put a sawcerfull of Ale Yest therein, and ten yolkes of Egges, and put thereto two spoonefuls of Synamon, and one of Ginger, and a spoonfull of Cloves and Mace, and a quarterne of Sugar fine beaten, and a little Safron, and halfe a spoonefull of Salt. Then take a dishfull of Butter, melt it and put it into your flower, and therwithall make your paste as it were for Manchets, and mould it a good while and cut it in peeces the bignes of Ducks Egges, and so moulde everye peece as a Manchet, and make them after the fashion of a Ackorn broad above, and narrow beneath.  Then set them in an Oven, and let them bake three quarters of an howre.  Then take five dishes of Butter and claryfie it clean upon a soft fire the drawe foorth your Restons foorth of the Oven, and scrape the bottoms of them faire and cut them overthwart in foure peeces, and put them in a faire charger and put your clarified butter pon them. Then have powder of Synamon and Ginger ready by you, and Sugar very fine. And mingle them altogether, and ever as you set your peeces thence, together cast some of your sugar, Synamon and Ginger upon them, and when you have set them all by, lay them in a faire platter, and put a little butter upon them, and cast a little sugar upon them, and so serve them in.


The Good Huswife's Handmaide for the Kitchen, 1588


"The making of manchets after my Ladie Graies use. Take two peckes of fine flower, which must be twice boulted, if you will have your manchet verie faire: Then lay it in a place where ye doe use to lay your dowe for your bread, and make a litle hole in it, and put in that water as much leaven as a crab, or a pretie big apple, and as much white salt as will into an Egshell, and all to breake your leaven in the water, and put into your flower halfe a pinte of good Ale yeast, and so stir this liquor among a litle of your flower, so that ye must make it but thin at the first meeting, and then cover it with flowre, and if it be in the winter, ye must keepe it verie warm, and in summer it shall not need so much heate, for in the Winter it will not rise without warmeth. Thus let it lie two howers and a halfe: then at the second opening take more liquor as ye thinke will serve to wet al the flower. Then put in a pinte and a halfe of good yest, and so all to breake it in short peeces, after yee have well laboured it, till it come to a smoothe paste, and be well ware at the second opening that yee put not in too much liquor sodenlie, for then it wil run, and if ye take a litle it will be stiffe, and after the second working it must lie a good quarter of an hower, and keep it warme: then take it up to the moulding board, and with as much speede as is possible to be made, moulde it up, and set it into the Oven, of one pecke of flower ye make ten caste of Manchets faire and good."

Libro Novo, 1548


Prima per Fare Cinquante Pani de Latte e Zuccaro di Oncie nove l'


When you have made your sourdough or yeast, you shall take thirty-five pounds of the flower of sifted wheat and a much less amount, so that it shall be enough to have made the yeast (starter), and six pounds of good white sugar, and seventy-five egg yolks, three pounds of rose water, and six pounds of fresh milk, and six ounces of fresh butter, and you shall knead your bread.

You shall note well that the water or milk does not scorch, and you shall make certain that the egg yolks are to be warm, and you shall scald them, putting in the hot water. And you shall put suitable salt, and you shall make the dough, so that it is neither hard nor tender, but harder than you shall have at firm. And you shall knead it very well and then you shall make your bread, and you shall leave them to rise well, and you shall cook them with serious method so that they do not take too much fire, but that at your very good judgment.

And this bread is more beautiful by making them round, that twist, or in buns. Then they can be made larger or smaller, what ever you shall want. You shall govern yourself to one according to this way, which is proven.



Works Cited


David, Elizabeth. English Bread & Yeast Cookery. Harrisonberg: Donnelley & Sons 1977

Dupaigne, Bernard. The History of Bread. New York: Abrams 1999

Jacob, H.E. Six Thousand Years of Bread. Doubleday Doran & Co. New York 1944

Moritz, L.A. Grain-Mills and Flour in Classical Antiquity Oxford University Press 1958

Wihlfahrt, Julius E. A Treatise on Baking .  New York: The Fleischmann Co. 1928

Wood, Ed.  World Sourdoughs From Antiquity. Cascade: Sinclair Pub. 1989

Zohary, Daniel.  Domestication of Plants in the Old World.  Oxford University Press 2000

Period Manuscripts

Harleian MS 279, approx. 1430, as taken from Austin, Thomas, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books.

Platina's De Honesta Voluptate 

The Good Huswife's Handmaide for the Kitchen, 1594   

The Good Huswife's Handmaide for the Kitchen, 1588

Libro Novo, 1548


Proceeding of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America (PNAS)


           Mordechai E. Kislev, Ehud Weiss, and Anat Hartmann. "Impetus for sowing and the beginning of agriculture:' Ground Collecting of Wild Cereals. Ed. Patty Ho Watson, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 2004

               Postan, M.M& Rich EE Ed. The Cambridge Economic History of Europe Volume III Cambridge, University Press 1965


Copyright 2008 by Deborah Hammons, 10700 Ranch Road, Cheyenne, WY 82009. <Aldyth at aol.com>. Permission will likely be granted for republication, however please contact the author first.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org