Saturday, March 12, 2016

Medieval Recipe Day: Bread!

Bread was a big, big deal in the medieval European diet. The Europeans weren't alone in history, of course - Jesus was fond of it too ("Give us this day our daily bread") and for Jews, bread occupies a place just below wine as a ritual food - both are considered necessities for a Sabbath/holiday meal.

Nobility preferred tasty white breads made of highly sifted wheat; commoners made do with darker breads. Ironically, the peasants' breads were probably more nutritious, with a wider variety of grains and even legumes and other veggies baked in. (Imagine you're a poor housewife, and you have a double handful of last year's dried peas to get rid of. Add them to the grain that you hand the miller to be ground into flour and bake it into your bread...)

Unfortunately, because bread was *so* common and such a staple, and (maybe) because so much of it was baked by guild bakers, instead of in the home (heat sources big and hot enough to bake fine loaves weren't as common as they are today) there are relatively few bread recipes from that period.
In fact, one of the few types of bread made in the average commoner's home, instead of by a baker, involved putting the dough in an overturned pot in the embers of the fire lit on the flat rock that was the single source of heat for the entire hut. Unleavened oatcakes were another staple. We do know that there were a lot of varieties of bread. Honey was often used as a sweetener, and ale (perhaps as a fermenting agent?). A cross was often cut into the top of the loaf.

Here's a recipe for barley bread that was probably a big hit among the monks of the day.

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