Wheat has been cultivated by man since before recorded history. It is conjectured by anthropologists that hungry hunter/gatherers first stockpiled the grain as a storable food source. When it got wet, it sprouted, and people found that if the grain was planted it yielded yet more seeds.
Grown in Mesopotamia and Egypt, wheat was likely first merely chewed. Later it was discovered that it could be pulverized and made into a paste. Set over a fire, the paste hardened into a flat bread that kept for several days. It did not take much of a leap to discover leavened (raised) bread when yeast was accidentally introduced to the paste.
Instead of waiting for fortuitous circumstances to leaven their bread people found that they could save a piece of dough from a batch of bread to put into the next day's dough. This was the origin of sour-dough, a process still used today.
In Egypt, around 1000 BC, inquiring minds isolated yeast and were able to introduce the culture directly to their breads. Also a new strain of wheat was developed that allowed for refined white bread. This was the first truly modern bread. Up to thirty varieties of bread may have been popular in ancient Egypt.
It was also during this time that bread beer was developed. The bread was soaked in water and sweetened and the foamy liquor run off. Beer was as popular in ancient Egypt as it is in America today.
The Greeks picked up the technology for making bread from the Egyptians; from Greece the practice spread over Europe. Bread and wheat were especially important in Rome where it was thought more vital than meat. Soldiers felt slighted if they were not given their allotment. The Roman welfare state was based on the distribution of grain to people living in Rome. Later the government even baked the bread.
Through much of history, a person's social station could be discerned by the color of bread they consumed. The darker the bread, the lower the social station. This was because whiter flours were more expensive and harder for millers to adulterate with other products. Today, we have seen a reversal of this trend when darker breads are more expensive and highly prized for their taste as well as their nutritional value.
In the middle ages bread was commonly baked in the ovens of the lord of the manor for a price. It was one of the few foods that sustained the poor through the dark age.
Bread continued to be important through history as bread riots during the French Revolution attest. The famous quotation attributed to Marie Antoinette that if the poor could not get bread for their table then "let them eat cake," became a famous illustration of how royalty had become ignorant of the plight of the lower classes. Actually, Marie Antoinette never said this and was merely being slandered by her detractors.
Still thought of as the "staff of life", for centuries bread has been used in religious ceremonies. Even the lord's prayer requests of God to "Give us this day our daily bread" – meaning not merely loaves, but moral sustenance.
Today, even with the competition of a growing variety of foods, bread remains important to our diet and our psyche. It has a prominent place in at the local market, in our cupboards and even in our language. The word "bread" is commonly used as a slang term for money. It connotes importance as when we say that some aspect of our work is "our bread and butter". In many households bread is still served with every meal.
Bread has a long history for a reason. It is a healthy and nutritious food that fills the stomach as well as the soul.
Whether you do it by hand or a machine try some of the recipes on this site and discover the magic that is in the very taste and smell of fresh baked bread!