Posts Tagged With: Kitchen

Barley Bread for Breakfast

Barley Grain

Barley Grain

Welcome back to the dig!
Today, we’re traveling back 8,000 years to unearth the origins of this week’s key breakfast ingredient: Barley! Near the end of the stone age (also known as the Neolithic time period), the men and women of the fertile crescent, a band of well-watered land spanning from Egypt in Northern Africa to the Persian Gulf in Southwest Asia, were on the brink of a discovery that would change the world forever. These people groups and civilizations had abandoned nomadic lifestyles in favor of settling down in one general area. For settlers in what is now known as the West Bank region, the existence of wild cereal grains inspired them to develop what may be the first, true system of agriculture. Out of this initial grain of inspiration grew an ancient food revolution, where farming and the domestication of crops became truly widespread.

Out of Three, One

During the dawn of agricultural technology, three cereal grains were formally domesticated (part of the Neolithic Founder Crops): einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, and barley. While einkorn and emmer can still be found today, and are prized for their ability to grow on poor, mountainous soils, barley clearly won the popularity contest when it came to Neolithic grain choice. From Egypt to Nepal, barley was domesticated and prized for its adaptable use in beer and bread.

Barley for Sacrifice, Health, and Exorcism

Beyond its use in food, however, barley enjoyed a baffling level of popularity in religious circles. In the Jewish Pentateuch (written sometime between 1,400 and 500 BCE), barley was specifically called on to be used as a religious sacrifice. In a hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad in the 600’s CE, the founder of Islam prescribed barley as a medicinal food, which could cure a variety of ailments. Perhaps most interestingly (to me at least), the Anglo-Saxon leaders, most likely between 900 – 1,000 CE, fed cheese on barley bread (imbued with exorcising words of power) to accused criminals in the belief that a guilty man would be unable to eat the bread, and would instead be racked with convulsions and choking. This mystical use of grain was not invented by the Anglo-Saxons, but instead was borrowed from the ancient Greeks, who developed the fortune-telling practice of Alphitomancy, or “divination using barley.”

Greco-Roman Barley Bread

Roman Coin Depicting Barley and a Date Palm

Roman Coin Depicting Barley and a Date Palm

When we’re asked to think of ancient culture, images of alabaster columns, enormous temples, both to gods and to entertainment, and Italian cooking often come to mind. Even Google, when searching for the innocuous term “ancient” instantly suggests that we peruse the ghostly white ruins of Greece and Rome. Because of the unmistakable impact that these ancient civilizations have had on our modern world, I’ve decided to devote our first, ancient breakfast recipe to these cultural monoliths. According to some scholars and researchers, the most common food eaten for breakfast in these ancient realms would have been a hunk of bread (barley bread for the Grecians and Roman gladiators, wheat bread for the rest of Rome). If you had the means, it was also common to adorn your bread with honey or dried fruit (a practice I highly recommend for today’s recipe).

Barley Breakfast Bread Recipe

Complete recipe yields one short loaf of unleavened (yeast-less) bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cups barley flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup olive oil – avoid extra virgin olive oil (or another oil of your choice)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk

Directions

  1. Wet and Dry Barley Bread Ingredients

    Wet and Dry Barley Bread Ingredients

    Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C

  2. Lightly coat a 9″ x 5″ bread pan with oil
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, oil, eggs, and milk
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture, and stir well until combined
  6. Pour the batter into your greased bread pan, and cook for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the bread reaches an internal temperature of 190 F / 85 C
  7. Allow to cool in the pan for several minutes before turning the loaf onto a cooling rack.
  8. Let cool, then slice and enjoy with a drizzle of honey, and a dried date or two!

Because this bread lacks the fluffiness-imbuing element of yeast, the final consistency of this recipe feels and tastes more like a dense, lightly sweetened cake. Because it is so dense, dipping or drizzling it in honey (or a moistening agent of your choosing) is recommended. However you take your barley, though, I hope you’ve enjoyed this excavation into barley: a grain with a mystical past and a healthful future!

Until next time!
Nate

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Categories: Baking, Bread, Breakfast, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking Ground and Breaking Bread: A Tradition 30,000 Years in the Making

As this is our first expedition into the excavation of food and cooking, I thought it best to build our foundation on what might be considered the cornerstone of true baking as we know it. Often cited as the most frequently eaten food item in nearly every culture (both modern and ancient), bread has long established itself as a true necessity in every kitchen. But for all the credit we give to this versatile, delicious, and (when prepared well) soul-satisfying food-staple, I believe most of us (myself included) take bread’s journey for granted. For when we look deeper at bread’s history, the lovable loaf becomes far more interesting than the sum of its ingredients.

The Lore of the Loaf

While it may seem as though bread simply appears on our grocery store shelves every week, our modern method of seemingly instant and reliable bread production belies the accidental and unpredictable origins that faced the pre-historic loaf.
Bread’s beginnings, while difficult to solidly determine, seem to reside in the middle of the Upper

An artist's depiction of the Red Lady of Paviland being coated in red ochre.

An artist’s depiction of the Red Lady of Paviland being coated in red ochre.

Paleolithic age in Europe, roughly 30,000 years ago. While culture and civilization as we know it had not been fully derived by this time, people groups were beginning to develop unique identities. Ceramics adorned with artwork, cave paintings, and the use of dyes (notably used in the creation of the Red Lady of Paviland, a near-complete human skeleton ceremoniously dyed with red ochre) all seem to stem from this time period; and, most important for the inception of bread, cooking on heated stones finally came into vogue during this era. No longer did Paleolithic men and women have to subsist on raw grain and water gruel, but, with the application of their revolutionary cooking technology, they were able to enjoy the first steaming morsels of unleavened flatbread. With portable bread in hand, this discovery exploded across the ancient world, giving rise to many of our modern flatbreads (tortillas, pitas, and naan, just to name a few).

Bread’s Rise

But how did bread grow from flat discs into the fluffy, rounded loaves we know today? The answer to this question baffled pre-modern man for over 20,000 years, as the means to attaining yeast, the microbial agent that “puffs up” our modern bread, would require not just a mastery over fire, but the control of the winds themselves.

Pictorial account of ancient Egyptian breadmaking

Pictorial account of ancient Egyptian bread making

Although you might not be aware of it, you’re currently surrounded by the very yeast particles needed to create a satisfyingly airy loaf of bread. The trick to creating that loaf, however, is in capturing and controlling that yeast (a wildly unpredictable process that I hope to showcase in a future excavation). Historians suggest that yeast could have been used in the ancient world, if only by accident. While yeast may have wandered into the bread dough being prepared for the fire, the true, intentional use of yeast falls to the Egyptians. Because the ancient Egyptians (around 5,000 years ago) left behind preserved food stores, scientists have been able to inspect the air-bubbles left in ancient Egyptian bread: air bubbles that indicate the direct handiwork of tiny yeast organisms. From here, yeast became an integral component in not only the nutrition of modernizing cultures, but also in the sordid side of cultural advancement as well (most notably in the beer and wine making industries). While bread continued to evolve on a small scale as it encountered new cultures and time periods, leavened bread has remained relatively unchanged from antiquity to the present.

So, to celebrate such a time-worn, and ancient practice, my first recipe for today will introduce a simple, yet fulfilling and delicious bread recipe that can form the basis for your own experimentation and advancement of the bread making tradition! I chose to pair flax seeds with this week’s bread, as the use of flax also dates to the Upper Paleolithic: again, roughly 30,000 years ago. Feel free to substitute the flax with the seeds, nuts, or fruits of your choice!

Melding Ancient Practice with Modern Technology: Whole Wheat and Flax Bread Recipe

Complete recipe will make two loaves of bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cups warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees F / around 45 C)
  • 2 packs of active dry yeast (roughly 2 Tablespoons)
  • 2/3 cup honey (divided equally into two parts)
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • (Optional) 3 Tablespoons flax seeds
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 – 4 cups whole wheat flour
  • (Optional) 2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

  1. Mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup of honey in a large bowl. Add the bread flour and flax seeds and stir until combined. Place in a warm place for 30 minutes, until the dough has risen (see Before and After #1 at the end of this post)
  2. When the dough has risen, mix in 3 Tablespoons melted butter, the rest of the honey, and the salt. Stir in two cups of wheat flour.
  3. Cover a flat surface with flour and kneed the dough until it’s not real sticky. The dough will pull away from the counter, but still be sticky to the touch. You may have to add additional wheat flour – I usually add an extra 1 to 1 1/2 cups, but this amount varies each time.
  4. Place the dough into a large, greased bowl, and turn the dough until it is covered in oil. Cover the bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled – this typically takes around 1 hour (see Before and After #2).
  5. When the dough has doubled, punch it down and divide it into two loaves. Place loaves into two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Let the dough rise another 10 – 20 minutes until the dough is at least one inch above the edge of the pan (see Before and After #3).
  6. Bake the loaves at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes.
  7. Optional (but highly recommended): Brush the additional 2 Tablespoons of melted butter onto the tops of the loaves to prevent them from hardening.
  8. Let cool completely before slicing.
  9. Enjoy a taste of modern history!

    The Finished Loaf!

    The Finished Loaf!

I truly hope that you’ve enjoyed this first excavation into ancient baking! Stay tuned for the second half of our ground-breaking introduction, which will be a bit more GrecoRoman!

Keep digging!
~Nate


Before and After #1

Before and After #2

Before and After #3

Categories: Baking, Bread, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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