Everybody throughout history ate bread; Stone Age man ate bread, the Greeks ate bread, the Romans ate bread, even the Vikings ate bread. But they all had different ways of making it and used different ingredients.

Stone Age Man was probably the first to make bread about 7,000 years ago, but not the kind we eat today. the theory is that whilst out hunting for meat they may have collected wild grains, crushing them between big stones and added water to make a thick gruel. Next, at some point, they started to heat this gruel on hot stones into thick flat cakes, the first bread was baked!. 'Now that's a good idea', they thought, "if we collect all the wild grain we can and store it we can make these thick flat cakes whenever we want, even in the winter!' Soon they had another great idea. They realised that If they collected the wild grain seed and planted it near their cave they wouldn't have to wander around looking for it. Plus they soon discovered that once planted it kept coming back every year- even better! This changed the way Stone Age Man lived his live. No longer did they live as Nomadic tribes (wandering tribes looking for meat) they settled down, formed settlements or villages and became farmers. You could say that Bread helped invent civilisation, how cool is that!

Until Egyptian times bread was 'unleavened'. This means that it was flat bread like the naan or pitta bread we eat today. It was 4,000 years ago that the Egyptians discovered a kind of yeast to add to the dough called 'Barn', to make bread 'leavened' or risen. We can see loafs of bread from this time in the British Museum that look similar to the ones we eat today, but I wouldn't like to make a piece toast out of one!
The Egyptians invented a process to grind the grains into a course flour, but it was the Romans who developed the idea of grinding or milling the grain and then sieving it to make fine flour. Their milling process used two large flat stones, the bottom stone stayed in one position and the top stone rotated - this is still the basis of the technique we use today! The Romans brought this system of bread making to all the lands they conquered. Thanks, Maximus Buttius!

The Romans and Greeks loved bread. They liked to make lots of different breads, experimenting with the shapes and adding fruits, spices & honey. They had bakeries in those times too. One kind was for poor people who would bring the bread dough they had prepared at home and have the baker bake it into a finished loaf. Bakers were very important in Roman times, they were the only craftsmen to have freedom of the city and not be considered slaves. They even had their own Bakers Guild called Collegium Pistorium. But such privileges did have their drawbacks, Bakers and their children could never be anything but bakers and they weren't allowed to go to the amphitheatre to see the Gladiators. We have a Guild of Bakers in England today called The Worshipful Company of Bakers, but I'm sure they'd be allowed to go to the theatre if they wanted too!

Vikings and Normans also ate a lot of bread, usually made from rye and qat grains instead of wheat. The Normans sometimes made a large flat loaf which they used as a plate for their dinner, these were called Trenchers. Does that mean if they were very hungry they would eat their plates too? What a great idea!

 

In the English Middle Ages times got very hard, because as well as the Civil War there were numerous natural disasters such as floods and frosts that destroyed many of the wheat harvests. If there was no wheat there was no grain and no grain meant no bread which lead to a lot of suffering, especially amongst the poor. So King John fixed the price and weight of a loaf of bread to keep it low and stop corruption. There were heavy fines, and even prison, for bakers who sold bread that was underweight. To protect themselves bakers decided that if a customer wanted to buy twelve loaves of bread, the baker would give them an extra loaf just in case, making it thirteen loaves the customer took away. This is why a Baker's Dozen is thirteen and not twelve. Now that's what I call using your loaf!

The Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century had a big effect on wheat and the bread making industry. To earn a few more pence a day, farmers came from the country to work in the new factories that where being built in the towns. But if there were less farmers in the country then there was less wheat being grown. Bread became scarce and once again people were hungry and suffering. So in 1846 the Government decided to import wheat from other countries, usually Canada. In 1880 a Swiss engineer invented a new way of milling the grain into flour using the new steam powered technology, it was called the Reduction Roller-Milling System. This system used steel rollers instead of milling stones, and steam engines instead of windmills and watermills. This new technology combined with the increased importing of foreign wheat meant that bread could be made cheaply and everyone, even the poor, could now afford it.

Today Bread is one of the cheapest and healthiest foods available, and is eaten everyday by most people in the UK. Since the early 20th Century white bread, once only eaten by the rich, has had vitamins and minerals added to the flour before being baked, making it almost as good for us as wholemeal bread. With such a huge variety of breads available, from a traditional crusty white loaf to an Italian chiabatta a trip to the bakers is not only a mouth watering experience but also a chance to get a taste of cultures often 1000s of miles away!

I hope you enjoyed this brief history of bread. Now why don't you try my quick quiz at the bottom of the page. Let's see who uses their loaf...

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