A slice of bread history


It doesn’t take much

Nothing gets your mouth watering quite like cutting into a freshly baked crusty loaf. The simple pleasure of bread and butter.

Gluten free potato bread
a loaf of crusty bread

How it all began

It started with porridge

It was very dry so, we started to add water and make a type of porridge, which probably no one would want to eat today. The next step was to use the heat of the sun by spreading the porridge out on a stone. Hey, presto! We had a kind of bread.

As if by magic

Way back then, wild yeast probably started to ferment with the flatbread. So, the crust rose. However, this was unpredictable depending on what type of grain and liquid you used, and how much yeast there was in the air. As this process all took place outside, the weather also played a significant role.

one of our staples

Roughly 10,000 years ago, we began to sow grain seeds and harvest the ripened grain.  Bread was well on its way to becoming one of our staple foods.

How breadmaking came to Europe

Bread was a significant part of Roman culture. They developed their baking skills so fart that by about 20 BC, there were over 300 pastry chefs in Rome. They made leavened and unleavened bread, crusty bread made from wheat and other grains, and made special bread to go with certain types of food such as cheese or fish.

The most popular bread among the well-to-do was soft white bread. It was the Romans who brought breadmaking to Europe.

Making grains digestible

We were most likely processing bread in a very frugal way and eating grains about 23,000 years ago.  9500 BC, probably by accident, we discovered that smashing the grain or grinding it with stone got rid of the outer husks and made it more digestible.

Yeast is in the air

Have you heard of wild yeast? There is yeast in the air which comes in handy if you want to make a sourdough starter for sourdough bread.

Baker's Trade

But these things are also important today. If you use the same recipe for different kinds of grain, it may not work as well. So in time, breadmaking came down to the art of controlling these factors to make good bread. If you were skilled at breadmaking, it gave you status. The baking trade had begun.

Status Symbol

It wasn’t long before bakers started to experiment. In time about 30 different types of bread were baked in Egypt. the builders of the Pyramids needed to be fed. It was also the Egyptians who started baking  in clay ovens. So like cars and yachts today, bread had become a status symbol, whereby the bread texture was the indication of how high up you were on the prestige ladder. If the bread was hard, you were lower down. If it was soft and white, you were higher up.

Bread fingers

My first memories of bread are not at all enticing. My mother loved to cook and eat. Unfortunately, she wasn’t one of those lucky ones who could eat what they desire without putting on weight.

So, she compensated her joys in life by periods of slimming in all manners and forms. I don’t think there was a diet she didn’t try out.

Nimble bread featured a lot in our diet. The trick to making it have fewer calories was to make the loaf much smaller and the slices thinner.

When I was at my dad’s house at the weekend, we had thicker sliced bread, which it was much easier to make toast fingers out of for dipping into things like the yolk of an egg.

One ritual when spending weekends at my dad’s was accompanying him and my step mum to the weekly shop on Saturday. This Brent Cross which I think was one of the first shopping centres in the UK.

My stepmother would stand in front of the shutters, list in hand. As soon as they went up, she was off. They shopped at a well-known British department store, and we went to another one for breakfast afterward and met up with friends.

Breakfast for me, consisted of thick slices of white toasted bread with lashings of salted butter, which melted on the hot toast, and strawberry jam with real strawberries in it. We washed it down with tea. Children drank tea from a pretty early age then, do they still? In Germany, where I have lived for the past 40 years, children only drink fruit and herbal teas.

As my grandmother came from Burma (Myanmar), neither she nor my mum baked typical English bread. We had Nan-bread and Chapatis, but there is nothing like the smell of bread baking in the oven and cutting the first slice when it is ready. M husband, too, is a great bread lover, there are so many types of bread in Germany, you are spoilt for choice.

What are your memeories of bread? Which types of bread do you like? Have your bread eating habits change?

In the video below you can learn how to make a sourdough starter.



Full circle

While most of us were eating mass-produced white bread during the ’70s and ’80s, I was lucky to have come to Germany in 1981. It has always been customary here to buy your bread from a bakery and not from the supermarket. Nutritionists and doctors began to realize how detrimental eating massed produced white pillowy bread was for our health. So now we are returning to artisan baking.

I have a gluten intolerance. When first diagnosed, gluten-free baking was a real challenge. There are many good gluten-free baking recipes out there. It is possible to bake tasty gluten-free bread.

Food intolerances can sometimes lead to good things. Alfred Bird, a chemist, looked for an alternative to yeast because his wife couldn’t tolerate yeast.


Diaz, F. C. D. & Pawlak, B. P. (2010, 11. November). Vom Getreide zum Brot. https://www.helles-koepfchen.de/. https://www.helles-koepfchen.de/artikel/2897.html

Menschen mahlten Getreide schon vor 30.000 Jahren. (2010, 10. Oktober). https://www.spiegel.de/. https://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/steinzeit-menschen-mahlten-getreide-schon-vor-30-000-jahren-a-723778.html

Sarrazin, C. S. & Währisch, R. W. (2019, 8. Mai). Die Geschichte des Brots – von Hefe und Hungersnöten. https://www.br.de/. https://www.br.de/nachrichten/wissen/geschichte-des-brots-von-hefe-und-hungersnoeten,RFnVVQy

Stang, M. S. (2010, 19. Oktober). Lust auf Grünes. https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/. https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/lust-auf-gruenes.676.de.html?dram:article_id=27857




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