It’s the 10th anniversary of Real Bread Week: the annual celebration of local, independent Real Bread bakeries, and home-baked bread.
Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods. It dates back to Neolithic times, when lumps of unleavened dough (made without yeast or other raising agents), were placed on hot stones in the embers of a wood fire. Archaeologists have correlated the development of human civilisations with the evolution of what is now regarded as the modern species of bread wheat.
Over the centuries bread became synonymous with life. In England bread defined the social hierarchy. The word “Lord” comes from the Anglo-Saxon hlaford meaning “loaf ward”, the master who supplies food.
Bread-making is chemistry-you-can-eat. Our ancestors discovered that ground grain mixed into a rough porridge with water could be transformed into a tasty, moist, puffy, mass that was crisp on the outside, simply by placing it near a fire. It was an extraordinary discovery. These flat breads as they are called are still meal staples in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
Somewhere along the way we also discovered that if the porridge mixture was left in the open air for a few days it magically began to rise and could then be baked into the most wonderful cloud-like substance, leavened bread.Although bread has occupied a central role in our lives and diet it hasn’t all been plain sailing. The rise of ultra-refined industrial bread in the middle of the last century led to mass-produced tasteless dough devoid of much nutritional benefit. Then there was the bread boycott led by Dr. Atkins and his low-carb, high protein comrades.
But real bread – naturally leavened, long-fermented, and hearth-baked is enjoying a comeback, thanks to bread pioneers in artisan bakeries across the country. They use an array of flours and traditional grains, like emmer and spelt. It’s now possible to buy high quality, beautiful, tasty loaves.
More of us are making our own bread too. There are bread-making classes and online tutorials. At the most basic level, it’s fairly straightforward to transform flour, water, salt and yeast into a loaf of bread and this is why the Real bread Campaign is keen to get children involved. The joy of nursing their first loaf from raw ingredients to mouth-watering yumminess slathered with butter and jam should not be underestimated. From then on it becomes a highly addictive pastime, it is the perfect family activity and you can eat the results. What could be nicer?