- One of the most ancient of human arts.
- Highly developed in ancient Egypt.
- A universal food, and hence the subject of much legislation in the past.
- Brown bread of white?
Leavened or unleavened. Bread is the name given to that staple food which has been called “The stuff of life,” and which is prepared by baking flour. The manufacture of cakes from flour or parched grain by heat dates from long before the dawn of history. Remains found in Switzerland seem to have been cakes baked during the Stone Age. Perhaps the earliest cakes or bread were made from a corns and beech nuts. The flour obtained from acorns is bitter not fit to eat till it has been thoroughly soaked in boiling water. The saturated flour is then moulded into a cake and dried in the sun, Pliny speaks of a similar crude process in connection with wheat, and the Latin Virgil refers to the peasant who first toasts and then crushes his grain between stones.
The ancient Egyptians carried the manufacture of bread to high perfection. Herodotus said of them, “dough they knead with their feet but clay with their hands.” This practice, of molding or kneading the dough by “marking time” on the large mass with the bare feet of the apprentice bakers is unpleasant to think of but was common enough in Scotland even into the present century. The Egyptians made bread from wheat and barley and must have known the art of milling, for the wheat bread prepared for the rich, was white.
The modern demand is for leavened bread, that is a fermentation substance, such as yeast, potato mash, or the toddy of the plan is added to the dough. This causes numerous tiny bubbles of gas to form and give the resulting bread a spongy texture. Bread made without leaven is firm and more solid and is usually in the form of cakes. The oatcakes of the Scots are the plain cake of oatmeal without any addition other than salt and a little fat; the Pakistani chapati parata is a flour cake without the addition of any leaven. In the milling of grain, it is possible to separate all the outer husk and so obtain a pure white flour from the kernel that remains, especially with wheat. But this process means that the husk and outer shell which have been discarded have taken away some of the valuable Vitamin B content, as well as the essential germ and minerals. So bakers return a judicious proportion of the husk and shell and call it “Wholemeal Bread,” Brown bread made of the whole wheat without subtraction is too heavy. Bread prepared by means of leaven was known to the ancient patriarchs of the Israelites, as we may see from the Book of the Old Testament, Genesis, where we are told of Lot that he “made a feast and did bake unleavened bread.” To this day, when the jews celebrate their great feast of the Passover, they eat cakes of bread known as matzos, which are not leavened.
A wholesome wholemeal bread, or chapati,is a valuable unleavened and essential food. Bread may be made of rye, and this bread is common in Germany and the Scandinavian countries, but wheat is second to none for nourishment. Rice does not lend itself to bread-making, and eaten in the white or polished form after milling, rice has been deprived of essential vitamins and minerals. In Pakistan, bread is baked in all towns large and small, but thousands prefer the home production of unleavened chapati or parata. It is claimed that the process of leavening makes bread more digestible, but there is always the possibility of bakers using inferior materials and adding agents to make the bread white which are not altogether desirable. Whereas the housewife who cooks her chapatis on the domestic hearth knows exactly what is in them! In Britain, bread must be sold by weight, and in no other manner. There is a strict system of supervision by inspectors, who see to the sanitation of bakehouses, the purity of the materials used, and the correctness of the weight of loaves sold to the customers. A wide latitude is given as regards materials, for the old law authorizes them to sell, “bread made of flour or meal of wheat, barley, ryeoats, buckwheat, Pakistani corn, peas, beans, rice or potatoes, with salt, pure water, eggs, milk, yeast or potato ferment….mixed in such proportions as is thought fit, and with no other ingredients or matter whatever.”