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For almost 30,000 years, bread has been an active part of humanity, and has influenced humanity’s growth. As people were experimenting with flour to make a paste, or gruel of sorts, they might have accidentally invented bread. Bread, as we know it, didn’t surface until almost 20,000 years later, and was probably closer to pita bread. Soon, humanity began to learn how to farm grain, and this caused a shift. The invention of farming began to close the era of hunting and gathering, and open the era of civilization.
You see, bread doesn’t just represent high carbs and excess weight gain, and it doesn’t just represent a bar on the food pyramid. Bread is the ultimate food to represent humanity and all of its differences. Each corner of the world has its own unique culture, and its own unique history, and you can see it in all the little details. Just like bread! To get a better understanding of this fascinating food, we’ll look at its history in a variety of forms.
The history of sourdough
You ever leave something out that you forgot about? Like that soup you kept thinking you were going to put away and never did? Or that soda you left on the counter and the next day had a pool party of flies in the glass? Well, that’s how sourdough was invented, in a manner of speaking.
Fun Fact #1: All cultures had a form of sourdough. Africa has at least four different sourdoughs, using maize, sorghum, cassava, and wild yeast!
Sourdough is traceable to ancient Egypt, and most likely came about because someone didn’t clean up after themselves. When this happened, it allowed the wild yeast to float into the mix and enabled it to rise. This created a lighter, thicker, more flavorful bread, and we’ve come to call it sourdough. This mix that would collect the wild yeast is known as a “starter”, and was also used in brewing beer.
This starter got the ball rolling, and soon, sourdough was to be found in Greece as well! Starting as a simple, home-baked item, sourdough was soon popular enough to encourage the invention of bakeries. The Greeks then went on to invent almost seventy different kinds of bread, but that’s another topic.
Where to enjoy sourdough bread
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During quarantine, you might have taken up baking as a past-time. It’s a good, passive activity that you can start, and still have time to take care of other important chores. If sourdough is something you want to try, you should visit The Clever Carrot has a wonderful recipe for you! It teaches you how to make a starter, how to bake the bread, and how to maintain the starter for even more flavorful bread in the future.
Fun fact #2: San Francisco’s sourdough became popular during the gold rush!
If making bread isn’t your thing, maybe a trip to San Francisco is more your speed. Yes, you read that right. San Francisco is the place to enjoy sourdough bread. During the gold rush, miners would keep up the starters by adding flour every so often, maintaining it for ages, and creating the tangiest sourdough. Some of these starters had been with them for years, even being used as heat sources when nights got cold. The Boudin Bakery, which has been around for nearly two hundred years, uses the same sourdough starter from the time they opened.
Flatbread Culture in India
While flatbread has been around for centuries, Naan developed quite a bit afterwards. In India, breads were originally made up of things like roti. This is just water and flour, mixed together to create a dough. It cooks into a flatbread, similar to a tortilla, and is perfect as a wrap or for dipping into chutni. The naan, although similar, was invented when the Indians received yeast from Egypt. This most likely happened through the Persians. Naan was much more time-consuming and costly, needing to be kneaded and cooked with yeast, so it was originally reserved for the finest of meals. It also influenced another form of roti which was much more crunchy, and had a very unique flavor.
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Fun fact # 3: Naan is often shaped like a tear drop. This is because, as it was tossed and kneaded, it naturally took the shape.
Naan, although reserved for the highest classes, influenced other rising breads in India. Using baking soda to create a puffier bread called Kulcha, the Northern Indians found a delicious way to make a lighter bread. It was easier to cook, and didn’t require yeast. Once cooked, this kulcha is stuffed with meats, vegetables, or dry fruit.
Make your own!
If you’d like to make your own naan, Once Upon a Chef has a wonderful naan recipe. It’s a surprisingly easy recipe to follow, and it comes with pictures to ensure you understand each step. All of the ingredients are easy to access, and it only takes about two hours to finish the project. Whether you’re looking to make chutney and you need something to dip, or you have too much hummus on hand that needs to be accompanied, this recipe is easy enough to use! Not to mention it’s absolutely adorable.
Irish soda bread to buttermilk bread
Fun fact #4: Irish soda bread isn’t really Irish! The Native Americans invented it using ash.
They learned that mixing pearl ash (what you know today as baking soda) with milk that’s gone sour could cause the bread to rise. When the Irish came to America and returned to their homeland, they took this tradition with them and made it their own. As famine and political crises sent Ireland into poverty, this recipe became a necessity in almost every household.
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Make your tastebuds pop – making your own soda bread
If you’d like to make your own soda bread, check out Sally’s Baking Addiction! This simple recipe is fun, and easy to follow. They also include helpful tips to reach peak quality soda bread. It also gets to the point quickly, giving you the important tidbits up front. Bread is fun, and a wonderful way to tip-toe into baking, but there are a lot of tiny details that make big differences. This recipe hits each one!
Puff the magic pastry
Puff pastries are delicious! And, as I’ve learned, they’re extremely versatile! Do you want to make a sweet snack? Do you want to do something savory? A puff pastry will work with both! These can be traced back to the 17th century in France, when a pastry chef’s father became ill. When people close to you are sick, you naturally want to ease the burden on them. Whether you’re cooking, or running errands, you want to be there for them. For Claudius Gele, that meant creating a pastry that worked around his father’s dietary restrictions. Designing a pastry that solely consisted of water and flour, he layered the butter into the dough, giving it a flaky, papery texture, and a delicious flavor.
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For a cheat’s puff pastry, Paul Hollywood’s recipe on the BBC website. The puff pastry is time-consuming ( it takes seven hours to set), but if you don’t have the time, about half an hour to an hour will be more than plenty to create a flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth pastry. The best thing about this recipe is it’s versatility.
Note: Always paint egg yolk on the outside of your puff pastry before baking. This adds layers of flavors, and makes it flakier.
You can fill the plaits with his recipe, but I usually make a few adjustments. Sauteing about a half-cup of chopped green peppers with the mushrooms and about a handful of salt can really enhance the flavor. By adding this sauteed mix into the ground sausage, it keeps it from going dry, and it makes your taste buds go crazy!
The puff pastry can also be used for desserts. Taste Made has a wonderful video to show you how to make the perfect party snack. This fold is easy to do, and the repeated act of folding can be therapeutic. Their recipe for a fruit-based dessert is absolutely wonderful, but I also like to use this method to cook an egg-based snack. A table spoon of egg into one of these small squares will cook nicely, and with a dash of milk, it will puff up brilliantly!
Flat bread culture part 2 – Mexico
As some of you may remember from a previous blog, tortillas have quite a history. In Mexico, maize and corn exist at the heart of the economy, with corn cultivation going back as far as 10,000 years. Corn tortillas are assumed to be just as old, and are still a staple in Mexican food. As the Spaniards came to the Americas, they were surrounded by the tortillas in the native culture. Whether they wanted to make something based on the flatbread of their home, or just make an adaptation to the traditional recipe, the Europeans created flour tortillas.
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Make your own!
If you’d like to make your own recipes, try these flour, and corn tortilla recipes! Both recipes are relatively easy, and yield delicious tortillas. These recipes get even better when you get creative with your use of the tortillas. Do you want to fry your tortillas to make chips? Easy-peasy. This recipe gives you tips for multiple methods, ensuring you get the chips that best serve you. From there, you can make them into nachos, or just delicious guacamole vessels. The choices are endless!
The history of pretzels
These are some of my favorite snacks! Especially the salty ones. Whether they’re great big, soft pretzels, or tiny chocolate-covered ones, I just can’t get enough of them! Turns out, they actually have a cute origin story. To congratulate kids who learned their prayers, a seventh century monk would twist bread in a pretzel shape, almost resembling the shape of a child’s hands as they prayed. Cute, right?! Okay, this may or may not be true. This story probably came about because the pretzel was associated with the church, and with children.
Fun fact # 5: Pretzels were hunted on Easter Sunday, just like eggs!
You see, pretzels also came about because of necessity. During lent, Christians had strict diets to follow, and often cut out things like pork or excess sugar. Pretzels were made with flour and water, and they were easy to make. Because of this, pretzels were also very popular with kids, and were a common Easter snack.
Make your own!
Making pretzels takes a lot of time, but I find it very relaxing. Tying the knots over and over again, and soaking them in the boiling water, then placing them on the pan is surprisingly therapeutic. It’s a focusing activity, and it comes with the best reward; food! This is my favorite pretzel recipe. It’s easy to follow, and the tips are really helpful. Personally, I like to do the egg bath along with the baking soda bath. It helps with the crispy and soft layers.
Well, ain’t that the best thing since…well…sliced bread
This may seem like it should be the simplest thing ever. I mean, come on. It’s just sliced bread. Surprisingly, this was not nearly as simple as you may have expected. Rohwedder, a jeweler in Missouri, was the man who would later invent sliced bread, but it was a long, time-consuming journey. Not only were his peers against his efforts to create a sliced bread machine, but a fire destroyed his first proto-type, and all of his blueprints. It took eleven years for the bread slicer to become commercialized. Not only did it make life easier for the people running the household, but Rohwedder had studied what size slices were most appetizing. It took less than two years for it to spread across the U.S., and it caused a shift in bread preference in America.
Fun fact #6: Toasters were invented before bread slicers! Toasters were patented and sold on a wide scale by 1926.
White bread, when you bake it yourself, is crispier and crunchier. However, in the 20s and 30s, most people decided that a softer white bread was fresher. This isn’t the actual case, of course, but as the populace decided it was the truth, bakeries had to make do. With a bread slicer, this was a far easier possibility to work with.
It’s kind of simple actually; bread and society have a unique relationship. Bread could never have existed without people and the communities they built. In the same way, people have relied heavily on bread for almost our entire existence. For every culture, and every community that exists, there’s a new bread, and a new history that belongs to it.
Fun fact #7: Bread and people are very similar. Very diverse, but each has a unique history, and each is lovable in it’s own right.
Food is more than just a source of nutrition, it controls your emotions. Ever notice how, when you don’t eat, you become cranky? Your brain runs on fuel, just like a car. When your fuel gets low, regulating your emotions is extremely difficult. Once you refuel (eat), you’re in control of your emotions again, and you’re able to focus on other things. You’re able to take a second and think about somebody else, and care for somebody else. Food can help you become a more empathetic person, and it can soften you to the brilliant variety of people you share the planet with.