Stone-age bread was a puny thing. Then again, the line between survival and starvation at that point was pretty feeble itself. Whatever happy accident brought it about, moistened grain on a hot rock that could provide a few days sustenance, it was a remarkably innovation. The oldest known record of such flatbread is found in pre-historic Ireland. Fortunately, news travels.
But bread alone? Probably not. On its own for to long, it goes stale. Bread appears to have social ambitions. For starters (pun intended), bread has a significant number of courting rituals: measuring, warming, kneading, rising, resting and punching down. And bread does not rise to the occasion without a partner. It is thought that the Egyptians are responsible for the marriage of dough and yeast.
Modern allusions to the basic-ness of bread in our culture are probably uncountable. In most cases, these references address the necessity of bread to life itself. Bread, in all its variations, is the most widely consumed food in the world. Cervantes, of Don Quixote fame, claimed that “All sorrows are less with bread.” With typical humor, Julia Child asked, “How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”
The very word bread is used to connote everything from basic nourishment to money. Breaking bread together is an inextricable social component of human interaction. Like family and friends, it is the stuff and staff of life. In 40 BC, the Imperial Roman Senate decreed that free bread would be distributed to the population, thereby inventing the dole. Those early Roman politians surely must have reminded the beneficiaries on which side it was buttered. A breadwinner puts it on the table and in the bank. Paired with salt, bread is the oldest housewarming gift. And while the term “white bread” is used convey the idea of blandness and homogeneity, half a loaf in your basket is better than none.
The Greek empire left many marks on Egypt among other places. Oddly enough, pyramid is a Greek word for cooked dough, which was baked in molds and stacked in the form of a pyramid. Pyramid builder bees were also paid in bread, the edible kind.
Early on, bread’s shape was a function of the pan or oven’s shape. As making and baking processes evolved, bakers became more playful, developing fanciful shapes. Planting rituals demanded bread in suggestive forms be buried in fields in hopes of blessings from capricious gods. Even today, one can find complex wedding breads thoughout the Mediterrean basin as symbols of prosperity and productivity. Eventually there were embellishments made, in shapes and flavors. Nuts and fruits were added and whimsy took it’s toll.
Just in time for Mardi Gras, Kay Carroll has provided a delicious new recipe for a Lousiana favortie, bread pudding. She used Wave Hill’s Cranberry Walnut bread and Brookside Farm’s maple syrup. I can personally attest to delectable results.