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Jeruba's avatar

Bread making: how did it start?

Asked by Jeruba (41919 points ) July 12th, 2009

How do you imagine the first prehistoric bakers of bread came up with the process of storing and grinding grain, mixing flour with water and leavening and salt, and baking it? What steps do you imagine took place leading up to the discovery of principles that made this work?

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19 Answers

ubersiren's avatar

I imagine it took a lot of experimentation, and may have included accidents. It probably started out with people eating boiled ground grains (like oatmeal). Then came a pancake-like bread, or pita, maybe because someone wondered what a thicker version of the stuff would be like if made on a griddle. Then once yeast and its properties were discovered, it changed the whole biz.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Bread has been around for at least a couple of minutes. It has even crossed over into the slang dictionary meaning money right? Odd that bread is so prevalent, and yet so understated. I want a sandwich now.

YARNLADY's avatar

The link above will tell you a lot about the history of bread. Basically, while chewing grain, someone realized that the paste that formed could be achieved by pounding two rocks together, and feed more people with less trouble. Then Hubby accidentally spilled some yeast in it while he was making beer, and bread was born.

Jeruba's avatar

That’s speculative, @NaturalMineralWater and @YARNLADY, since we have no record or witnesses. So what I was asking was for others to speculate: how do you imagine it happened?

For example, people might have eaten grain raw just as other herbivores did, and then discovered that they could store it dry and reconstitute it later with water. Or they might have tried mashing it in order to feed infants. When you think about the process and break it down and consider the steps, I’m asking, what does your imagination suggest?

marinelife's avatar

Well, since people had to move during hunter-gathering to follow animals and go to sites of wild plants, I suspect an unleavened journey bread like a meat jerky made sense for travel.

I am sure they gathered wild grains for a long time before cultivating grain.

I wonder if for some reason a dough was not left too long because of some kind of emergency or accident and it fermented thus becoming the first sour dough. They baked it and liked it that way, and thus repeated it.

Jeruba's avatar

Or maybe they were trying to make edible wine.

I think about things like this sometimes as I consider how rapidly we are moving further and further away from basic survival skills and even from doing anything for ourselves with our own hands. We even buy salad in bags. I wonder what would happen if some natural or apocalyptic disaster threw the survivors back on their own resources. Most citizens of the modern world wouldn’t have the beginning of a clue how to build a shelter or identify edible plants. If we wanted to reinvent bread, what would we do?

People in primitive societies would suddenly be gods. They would own the technologies most needed for survival. That notion has a screenplay in it.

I’m also curious about the fact that the same or similar processes for numerous things seem to have evolved in different cultures in different parts of the world. It has to be more a matter of logic and experimentation than chance, don’t you think?

casheroo's avatar

I remember when I was i ngrade school, our teacher gave us an assignment to make bread at home. I think it was with just flour and water on a stone. Not the tastiest, but not terrible.

In my mind, I imagine the people who created anything to do with food were looking to explore new things. I’m sure food could be very boring, so they were always looking for ways to spice it up…as people still do today.

skfinkel's avatar

I would guess it was an accident—that someone paid attention to and then duplicated on purpose, like so many other discoveries.

sawcawmahtaw's avatar

When a mommy loaf of bread and a daddy loaf of bread love each other very much…

marinelife's avatar

@Jeruba Well, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be like a Jean Auel book.

Jeruba's avatar

Funny you should say that, @Marina. I’m sure you know that Jean insisted on thoroughly researching everything, to the extent that she went and learned how to do the things her characters did—knapping flint, identifying herbs, scrubbing with soaproot, visiting cave country in France, etc. I had an idea for a novel or a screenplay in which, following some disaster, the only one who knows how to do the essential things is the author of a series like her Earth’s Children. In typical Hollywood fashion, this author becomes the leader of a small and very motley band of survivors, teaching them the ancient skills as they attempt to form a new society.

Lupin's avatar

@Jeruba When the disaster strikes, I want to be standing next to MacGyver . He’d make bread out of tree ashes, a paper clip, a piece of string and a wad of chewing gum.

Judi's avatar

@Lupin I married a McGyver

marinelife's avatar

@Jeruba I think that idea for your screenplay is a winner, and you should go forward with it. I loved Clan of the Cave Bear, but I found the following books too formulaic and the improbability of one person inventing everything strained even my willing suspension of credulity.

Lupin's avatar

@Judi And don’t you love it? Except for all the duct tape marks.

mattbrowne's avatar

Visit Germany, the number 1 country for bread. There are bakery tours and they will explain all about their secrets. Well, almost.

Judi's avatar

@mattbrowne ; when I was in Munich the Hotel we were staying in was making the most delicious smelling pretzels!! We wanted to buy a hot, out of the oven pretzel and could not communicate it at all! They just couldn’t get why we wouldn’t want a stale pretzel. Why would we want one while it was soft? We finally thought we had communicated it and we paid for them and then they brought out cold stale pretzels. Still good, but those hot ones are still haunting me. Next time I go I will have to write down how to say “fresh hot pretzel, right out of the oven please.”

mattbrowne's avatar

@Judi – Sorry to hear that. Yes, you need to write this down:

“Bitte eine warme ofenfrische Brezel.”

Judi's avatar

—taking notes!!!—-

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