The Staff of Life

Maggie Black on the history of bread and breadmaking.

Derived from Western man's most abundant raw food, grass seeds and grains, bread has been since before recorded time his staple and most valued solid sustenance. Naturally, therefore, it has a vital place in our folklore and in the record of our social and political development. For this reason, I want to look, this month, at the types of bread baked and eaten in the past, at their uses and what they signified.

The first breads we know about for certain in the West were Celtic, unleavened buns of mixed whole grains; but the Romans soon greatly improved the quality and quantity of bread-corns and of bread-making equipment. They introduced club wheat, and made wheaten white and spiced, enriched breads (sometimes whitened with chalk) for the aristocracy, coarser 'military' or 'secondary' brown and bran breads from mixed grains for lesser men. Wheat was however still scanty, so their Saxon successors used more barley, and favoured the mixed wheat and rye crop called maslin as a hedge against failure of the wheat crop.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.