The first traces of bread flour carbon-date back to the Upper Paleolithic period in Europe – about 30,000 BC. Evidence of yeast usage to make bread rise dates back to ancient Egypt (10,000 BC).
Gauls and Iberians used hops from beer to make bread rise in Southern Europe well before Jesus rose from the dead. Sourdough (day old dough that fermented) was used at the time for the same effect. Amazing loaves preserved from Pompei after Vesuvius erupted back in 2 AD show that modern-day bread loaves were prevalent at the time. Murals of communal bakeries there show that bread was a mainstay.
Some of the best bread today is found in the Middle East and North Africa. This summer, I was with a small group of family/friends traveling in Cappadocia (Turkey). We happened on a remote village with a communal oven used for baking and asked our driver to stop. Women were baking flat breads for their families. The smell was pure manna from heaven. The ladies offered us a loaf – it was AMAZING – the best bread I’ve ever eaten! After they saw we liked it – they offered us more. They were so proud and genuinely happy to see that we loved their bread! We offered them a little money yet they were reluctant to take it.
Funny, they were dirt-poor, yet very generous at heart – a world apart from the smug debating politicians and swarmy televangelists we see on TV every day.
In France, we are lucky to have fantastic breads made daily in small bakeries everywhere. Alsatian bakeries have the greatest variety – they produce many fabulous German seed-breads, beautifully knotted/braided loaves and salty Bretzlen. In Provence, we have amazing Fougasses too – stuffed with olives, herbs, onion or cheese.
To this old, heretic shoe, there is nothing better than a fresh, warm baguette, unpasteurized cheese (Camembert, Roquefort Reblochon, Munster, St Félicien…), sour cornichons, a little roquette salad and a glass of St Emilion.
Heaven on Earth!