An Early Account Of Bread-Baking’s Ancient History
Editor’s Note: This is a lovely excerpt of a very old book from 1883. It’s what I would definitely term a long — and a worthwhile — read for food-lovers and history dabblers. It is a chapter I excerpted from A Practical Guide for the Cake and Bread Baker, published in 1884 by C.W. Schlumpf, a baker with 25 years of experience at the time who wrote with a great love of baking and knowledge of the bakery trade.
The concentration of this blog is both food, and history, and while admittedly the lens in which the author sees the world is colored by his German roots, he also writes with a love of baking, cooking, and the perspective of his trade as a baker. Little is available concerning Schlumpf’s biography, but ancestry websites reveal he immigrated from Germany and landed in the Pittsburgh area in the late 1800’s. In addition to running a successful bakery, he as a husband and father of eight. No doubt things have changed a lot since then. The ovens he would have used would have been very different from the rmachinery ones often found in modern bakeries today! And imagine the amount of blood, sweat and tears that would have gone into the batches (not literally, I hope). All the mixing of doughs and batters would have had to have been done by hand, whereas nowadays there are commercial air mixers (you can get the facts on those on the Arrow Mixing Products website) and similar pieces of technology that take a lot of the hard work out of things. They also allow the batches to be a lot bigger than the ones Schlumpf would have been making.
If you’re interested in running a bakery business there are courses available such as Saavor Baking Classes which offer training in both baking and how to run a successful business like Schlumpf.
The excerpt below has been adapted for clarity and a bit of modernization.
I have added subtitles for easier reading on the web and corrected grammar where appropriate. You can download the entire text at Food of History’s home on Scribd .
A Sketch Of Ancient And Modern Bread-Baking
It is hard to place a certain data where or when the first bread was baked, but one fact is certain, that bread-baking did not take place until proper social intercourse in the human family was established, and, no doubt, the stomach helped greatly in shaping things in the world’s affairs, in ancient times as now-a-days and preparation of food received more attention in an approved style when people began to entertain one another in a patriarchal manner, “hence society.”
Roasting grain is an acknowledged fact was the first manner of preparing grain food, and is yet practiced among some uncultured Asiatic races for traveling purposes Then grain was pounded on flat stones, and after a while mortars came in use, and still are in use.
Mush was the next thing, as Pliny tells us, that all ancient Greeks and Romans ate mush for a long time before they began to bake it.
Bread of the Bible
Sifting and baking flour, we find first in the Bible, Gene. Xvii :6, when the old Nomad Chief, Abraham, told his wife, Sarah, to prepared some cakes made from fine flour; again in Gene. Xxi : 14, we find him supplying poor Hagar and her child with some bread, before he told her to make room for a more legitimate heir; again in Gene. Xl : 2, we find Pharaoh angry, which brought his baker to jail, which was a bad beginning for the first baker.
In Exodus xi : , we find Pharaoh having another spell, and had his slave millers killed, which was also a bad beginning for millers; later again in Exodus xii : 34, we find the first leave, which was neglected, however, as silverware business seemed to be a more important matter, but the bread was ate afterwards by the name of “Mazsas,” or Unleavened Bread, which is yet made to celebrate the crossing of the Red Sea.
Baker of Ancient Greece
In Homer’s “Odyssey,” we find that bread was consumed in great quantities during the Trojan war, and supposed to have been invented by Mylas, the son of the first Lacedemonien King; also, in Homer’s “Iliad,” we find the Grecian soldiers sacrificing a sow, the enemy of corn, to please the Goddess Ceres. She, also, should have invented bread-baking.
The old historian, Aelus, tells us that the great tyrant King, Mitylene, should have been a great friend to bakers, and kept about forty in his household. Theorio was the most gifted one, and had, therefore, maybe privileges, “and all bakers were free men.”
Athenaus another historian tells of seventy-five different kinds of cakes that were baked in Athens at this time, but that early art was lost in the down fall of that country.
Bakers of Ancient Rome
Pliny’s National History says the Romans ate their grain in mush until the Macedonian war took place, when bread makers, called “pistores” were brought to Rome, and carried their mortars with them to mash grain and bake it, and enjoyed therefore many privileges as prisoners of war. Strabo says in the war against King Perseus of Macedonia, mills built on ships were found in that country which the Romans took home after the war, but were unable to put them in operation and were not of any use until the war against Mithridates about eighty-eight years B. C. when Balisar was brought to Rome, he reconstructed them, but they were not used for some reason or cause until the siege of Rome by the Goths took place.
Pliny says further that Rome had many public bakeries in the 580 years after Rome was built, or 173 years B. C., and they had organized guilds and enjoyed many other rights, but lost them “if their children would not follow their parents trade.”
The first baker in Rome was a slave and for his talented baking was made a free man, “for baking as good bread as they had in Athens,” which city in those days was far ahead of Rome in all works of art. He was a great favorite among the nobles of Rome for inventing a great variety of cakes for heathen feasts, for Adonis feast, he made Anise cakes for Saturn’s feast, a ring with a cross in it like a pretzel called Saturnias, for Sun’s feast he made ring cakes made of honey, also tarts and many other things.
But while the Romans made steady improvements in baking and enjoyed the luxury of advanced baking, the Teutons and their Gaellic cousins ate their cereals in raw and roasted state, but after a while when Caesar came to stretch his Roman eagles over Celtae and Galli, as the Romans call it, to conquer and make Roman subjects, he also brought laws and arts, baking bread was the first that took well, and Teutons were in a short time better bakers than the Romans, who afterward invited them to Rome, because Romans had no time those days to bake their own bread, neither had they time to work at anything else, and yet there was so much need of Artisans, who could do good work, the Romans were willing to pay well, because wherever their eagles stretched their wings there was a new source of revenue, and all the Romans did those days was to spend money, suppers often cost millions, and took regiments of cooks and bakers to prepare them, which gave the Germans a good chance to improve their trade and condition. They made good use of it, they organized guilds all over Italy to control the whole business of baking and cooking.
This state of affairs lasted until the Gauls appeared before the walls of Rome, and after a short siege became master of that lustful city, but these new rulers soon began to take hold of every branch of business which gave their German cousins a chance to migrate to where they came from because things were not handled with gloves those days, “might was right,” but when the Germans came back home they found things greatly changed, their own trade was heavily taxed and encumbered with all sorts of laws, every bakeoven had to pay a tax, and bakers were only allowed to bake certain cakes or bread on certain days of the week, which made their trade not a very lucrative one, and if any one broke these laws or regulations he was heavily punished, and if brought before the bar of justice a second time, was put in a sort of an iron basket or cage and sunk in deep water where death became often a welcome savior, and any who survived through a course of such rude baptism was even afterwards regarded as a criminal or outcast. These laws lasted from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century. In the national museum of Muenchen, such iron baskets among other implements of torture can yet be seen.
After Rome lost its Gallic master, and they again ruled themselves, it gave their former bakers again a chance to try their luck with Rome, to improved their condition in life, and the Romans received them with open arms because they had greatly degenerated in their idle times during the French rule which gave the Germans a good chance to install themselves again in their former organization called guilds, and gained them a citizenship of Rome, which cost a great deal of money, but gave them many rights.
The History Of European Bread-Making
But while bakers enjoyed good times again in Rome, their craft fellows were still sorely oppressed in Germany, which lasted until Emperor Joseph’s time. He was a friend to his fellow man, and also was a keen observer of things coming under his eyes which soon gave him a chance to do away with some old obnoxious laws which were neither good for himself or his subjects, he used to go to every bakeshop and try their goods to ascertain who could back the best bread in Vienna.
This soon made a change among bakers, they began to do better work, and at the same time Hungarian milling improved considerably, which gave old Joseph still more pleasure in eating good “Muerbe Kipfel” (aka “crumbly croissants”) which was his favorite bread for breakfast, and the better the bread the more privileges the bakers received, which was in forming guilds or zuenfte, and every person had a right to build a bake-oven, and bake in it what pleased him, provided he understood his business and could make a “meister-stueck” (“masterpiece,”) to prove he was competent to handle flour, as old Joseph had a good opinion of economy like old Fritz of Prussia who later quarreled a great deal with old Joseph’s daughter Marie Theresa.
When she became possessor of her father’s crown, and at the same time the Vienna bakers found out what sort of a woman she was, they began to call her all sorts of names, and wished she had gone to a nunnery where she might have been of more use, because things began to shape themselves again as her father found it. Every old law that her father repealed, that used to oppress or law that her father repealed, that used to oppress or extort money from the working class was brought out again, which made things rough for bakers. She compelled them to sell bread cheaper than they could replace it again, and were forced to bake a certain amount every day, until bankruptcy stared in every baker’s face. When a baker could not buy more flour, he was told to go to her commissary and work up grain that she had laid up for war purposes.
Often the wheat she furnished was spoiled from age or bad storage, but good bread had to be produced or the laws were enforced, which made things very hard for bakers. White bread was a luxury, and the storming of a bakeshop became a daily occurrence. Such drudgery lasted until the invasion of Napoleon took place, which shook the old dust up among the crowned donkeys of Eastern Europe, which was very hard on all, but that electric storm was necessary to give tone again to a sound beginning of brighter days, like Caesar of old, wherever he went he left some of his republican codes; he put a new face on everything’s, and every person believed the last judgment day was at hand; but the storm soon cleared and gave the old corsair a homestead on St. Helena, which gave the people a chance again to mend their clothes and repair other damages, and when that was done, it seemed it was a good storm anyhow, only there were less people in Europe to eat bread.
The bright sun of prosperity soon made things look lively again; people breathed freer, the crowned drones made wiser faces again, and learned the lesson “that they are no Gods,” neither were the people so many cows, but all were of one common family, with a perfect right to eat as much bread as they pleased provided they worked or paid for it, and made bakers busy again because all others were busy, new vigor and strength animated the bakers to resume again with a better will and spirit to improve mentally and otherwise, and when the Vienna bakers came to the Paris exhibition in 1867, to show what they could do in the line of their trade every person was satisfied except the Paris bakers, because the Vienna bakers received the medal for being the best bakers in the world and the French the Second best, but all promised emphatically that they would still keep on improving which turned out to be true, when nine years later, they came to Philadelphia and showed General U. S. Grant that they were the “same old boys” still, which pleased the old General, as he smoked faster, which showed he was satisfied with both the Germans and their Gaelic cousins.
But while the Germans do the best work in small fermented cakes, and spend all their forces in that direction the French do not remain idle, but keep improving in bake-ovens and dough kneading machines, and in fermenting processes to economize in producing the most bread from wheat, also in fuel and labor to emancipate themselves from the hardest work in the bake-shop, they realize the fact that they are human as will as all others, and claim to be recognized as such. They let the Germans have all the fun in getting more consumptive from long hours work, the French tell them every day that there never was in any climate under the sun any slavery that deformed humanity more than a German baker-shop, but time is the best panacea to cure all the ills.
In ordinary baking in France leaven or sour dough ferment is used which was adopted by law as the safest ferment for the human organism, which was so proclaimed by the faculty of Medecine in Paris, over a hundred years ago, but that is considered now a days an exploded theory. Some localities suit sour ferment better than others, where in others again sweet ferment is better; it all depends on the water which is a great factor in baking, which makes bakers adopt such ferment as will suit the water and flour they use, limestone water is always good for dough — more so where poor flour is worked up — and if none is handy, it should be procured by slacking lime. When the water gets clear on top it can be used — say one-half necessary for mixing dough — and is greatly applied where sour ferment is used.
Near Seville, Spain, they bake a small fermented cake which has a great reputation for its fine flavor, which is attributed to the water they use for baking.
In Naples they also bake bread similar to that in Spain, as a traveler remarked going through that country : “Their bread is as beautiful as their sky,” while the bread in Germany is as dark as their clouds, but I have observed that people’s tastes often times run ahead of their prudence. Some localities can produce an article through favorable circumstances that gives such localities a reputation that could not be produced by the same people else-where.
In Westfallen they bake Pumpernickel that cannot be produced as good anywhere else. Hungarians also bake such good wheat bread that strangers at first cannot eat enough of it; it has a fine flavor, and the people there know how to preserve it, which is the true secret in baking good bread anywhere.
Their neighbors “Croatians” would to touch it, they want Indian corn, “Kukuruza” they call it, and they want Kukuruza all the time, and in every shape, they roast it when green as we here boil it, and their own brethren a little further west in the Warasdin Mountains will not touch corn, they eat buckwheat in bread if it does look dark, also millet “hirsca’ or Moharca in Hungarian in soup, as we use rice or barley. These mountains are full of large size chestnuts on which they live for nearly six months in the year. They eat them boiled with milk for supper and think there is nothing better in the world; they also make meal from chestnuts to mix in bread. Potatoes are hardly known, where in Germany and Ireland they make up one-half their daily bread.
In Scotland’s olden times only oatmeal and barley cakes called “scones” were known, now the Scotch are taking to wheat bread, eating more every day, as late as 1804, Glasgow had no bakeshop, now every little town has her baker, and Scotland is known now as the land of cakes, which no doubt comes from scones baking which are made up in small size.
In England, 750 A. D. — Pipins time — white bread was only used for communion bread, and who ever wanted to eat it outside of that, had to go to the Bishop and get it by paying so much tax on it. Later in the middle ages as Sir Edward Cook tells us no servant was allowed to eat white bread, but only a mixture of rye and oatmeal bread.
Later again, 1626, Charles I. thought barley bread was good enough for common people, but the English people began to raise more wheat every year, and now every person can eat such bread as they have money to buy.
London has now a little over 2000 bakeshops, and would have had more if their laws did not interfere with the trade.
The Sclavs and Czechs when they migrated to Bohemia brought the knowledge of bread baking along, which was only carried on by the mother of the house, and bread baking was considered as a holy affair, and the first that was baked was dedicated to their house good or idol as an offering.
The Anglo-Saxons and the Polish races had the same superstition in sacrificing the first bread baked to their house-goddess called “Matergabia,” the giving mother.
The Swedes and Russians eat altogether rye and barley cakes or bread, where in the southern part of Russia all wheat is eaten, and it is one of the best wheat fields in the world.