For those who are new to the bread world, I highly recommend you listen to Jeremy Cherfas’ excellent podcast series on Bread from 2018. It’s 31 episodes of about five minutes a piece, which makes it a pleasant way to time your kneading process. You’ll learn a lot more about bread while you’re making it!
Dr. Lerer was talking about the compression of syllables at the border of Old English and Middle English circa 1100 which occurred in such terms as hlaf weard, the warden (or guardian) of the loaf.
Who is the guardian of the loaf? The hlfaf weard << The hlaweard << the laweard << the lord. This is the etymology of the word 'lord'. Lord is the guardian of the bread, the mete-er out of bread in a cereal society.
An interesting linguistic change that tells us a lot about power, structure, religion, and society surrounding bread of the time. I suppose one could also look at Christian traditions of the time which looked at the transubstantiation of the symbolic bread of the Last Supper which is ritually turned into the body of Christ–Christ, our lord.
Small bakers couldn’t compete with the giants created by Allied Bakeries, so they turned to science. That produced the Chorleywood bread process, which gave them a quicker, cheaper loaf. Unfortunately, the giant bakeries gobbled up the new method too. More and more small bakeries went out of business as a loaf of bread became cheaper and cheaper. Was it worth it? You tell me.
Photo of Beaumont House, former HQ of the British Baking Industries Research Association, where the Chorleywood Bread Process was invented, by Diamond Geezer. It is now a care home.
Size brings benefits to bakeries as much as to flour mills. The episode tells a small part of the story of how George Weston turned a bakery route in Toronto into one of the biggest food companies in the world, responsible for more brands of bread than you can imagine. And not just the bread, but many of the ingredients that make megabakeries possible.
Stone mills served us well in the business of turning grain into flour for thousands of years, but they couldn’t keep up with either population growth or new and better wheat. The roller mill came about through a succession of small inventions and the deep pockets of a few visionary entrepreneurs. They turned Minneapolis into the flour capital of the world.
Well, this is exciting, and a little bit scary. Proposal for the book of Our Daily Bread is on its way to publisher. Now to wait. Fortunately, baking with natural leavens teaches patience.— Eat This Podcast (@EatPodcast) October 18, 2018
August 15th is Ferragosto, a big-time holiday in Italy that harks back to the Emperor Augustus and represents a well-earned rest after the harvest. It is also the Feast Day of the Assumption, the day on which, Catholics believe, the Virgin Mary was taken, body and soul, into heaven.
Is there a connection between them? And what does it have do with wheat?
Apologies to listeners in the southern hemisphere; this may not reflect your experience.
It hasn’t gotten past me how much brilliance and thought went into the wonderful dense rich crumb that is the title of this episode. The audio is excellent as always, but I also notice there’s some fantastically overlaid background music that some may miss because it’s so subtly done. This is my favorite episode of the series so far.
The more I think about these episodes, which I like to listen to when I can devote my full attention rather than as background noise while I’m commuting or doing something else, I think they could be easily strung together to make a fantastic documentary.
It has been a long time since anyone who wanted to eat bread had to first grind their wheat. Grinding, however, was absolutely fundamental to agricultural societies, and still is for some. Archaeologists can see how the work left its mark on the skeletons of the women who ground the corn in the valley of the Euphrates. Then, about 2500 years ago, in the area now called Catalonia, an unknown genius invented the first labour-saving device.
Photo from the Mills Archive.
It’s a good thing the Egyptians believed strongly in an afterlife and wanted to make sure their dead had an ample supply of bread. The bread and the tomb inscriptions tell us something about how grain was grown and bread baked. To really understand the process, however, you need to be a practical-minded archaeologist like Delwen Samuel, who first set out to replicate Egyptian bread.
Photo of a model from the tomb of Meketre, Metropolitan Musdeum of Art, Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1920.
That kernel of wheat isn’t actually a seed or a berry, at least not to a botanist. I have no intention of getting into the whole pointless is it a fruit or a vegetable debate, so lets just agree that no matter what you call it, the wheat thing is made up of three major parts: bran, endosperm and germ. In this episode, a little about each of those parts and what they do for wheat.
Wheat has a hugely diverse genetic background, being made up of three different species, and genetic diversity is what allows breeders to find the traits they need to produce wheats that can cope with changing conditions. But because the accidents that created wheat might have happened just the once, plenty of diversity that is missing from modern wheats is still in wheat’s ancestors. Trouble is, crossing a wild wheat with a modern wheat is almost impossible. Solution: remake modern wheat.
Photo shows a commercial variety, wilted and collapsing, while behind it a synthetic derivative copes just fine with the drought. By Maarten van Ginkel, who headed the Bread Wheat Program at CIMMYT. Thanks Maarten.
Norman Borlaug created the wheats that created the Green Revolution. They had short stems that could carry heavy ears of wheat, engorged by loads of fertiliser. They were resistant to devastating rust diseases. And they were insensitive to daylength, meaning they could be grown almost anywhere.
All three traits had been bred into wheat 40 years before Borlaug got going, by the Italian pioneer Nazareno Strampelli.
Photo is a 1933 medal to honour Nazareno Strampelli.
History celebrates the battlefields whereon we meet our death, but scorns to speak of the ploughed fields whereby we thrive; it knows the names of king’s bastards, but cannot tell us the origin of wheat. That is the way of human folly.
For more than 40 years, one wheat variety dominated the Canadian prairies. Red Fife — the red-seeded wheat grown by David Fife, a Scottish immigrant — gave the highest yields of the best quality. It almost didn’t happen, if you believe the stories. And then, having set the standard, Red Fife was eclipsed by its own offspring and slowly slid into oblivion. Until, in 1986, Sharon Rempel set about rescuing it.
Thanks to Kara Gray and Richard Gray for their help.
This short episode fails to do justice to the man who, more than anyone, first grasped the importance of knowing where and how wheat arose. It does, however, explain why Vavilov wanted to collect the building material of future food security, for wheat and many other crops. In more than 60 countries, Vavilov and his colleagues gathered diversity from farmers’ fields; they died protecting their collections.
Thanks to Luigi Guarino for the photograph of Vavilov’s desk with his route across Ethiopia, and much else besides.
Kamut® is a modern wheat — registered and trademarked in 1990 — with an ancient lineage. The word is ancient Egyptian, and the hieroglyphics may literally mean “Soul of the Earth”. More prosaically, “bread”. The story of its discovery and growing popularity says a lot about our hunger for stories. It is also quite capable of leading hard-nosed molecular biologists astray.