A Fabulous Horse Bread by Gervase Markham, 1607

The big author for horse breads was Gervase Markham (ca 1568-1637 ). Markham is the horse trainer who perfected the type of breads fed to race horses as part of a structured exercise program for race horses, thus establishing horse training on a modern basis. The custom at the time was for men to agree amongst themselves to a cross country race three months in advance and then to begin a training regime. Markham, beginning in the 1590s, developed a strict system of physical training coupled with diet. His system is conceptually similar to training programs today. Today’s race horses are not fed carefully formulated breads, but they are fed carefully formulated pelletized feed. Prior to Markham — and, of course, there were hold outs for a while — a big part of the training regime was feeding horses breads filled medicinal herbs, as were fighting cocks, in the magical belief that the herbs would give them the qualities they needed to win the race.

The horse breads formulated by Markham for race horses included breads made with wheat ground on the best grindstones and bolted through the finest bolting cloths, as for manchet and other fine white breads. The only difference between his more refined horse breads and the breads eaten by the owners of race horses is that the horse breads incorporated at least some bean flour. As flour made from fava beans, the bean of choice for a high status horse, is hard to make and not possible to buy, I make my Markham horse breads with chickpea flour. If you mill your own grain I think you will find that you can mill chickpeas.

The bread that I am suggesting for the seminar on Thursday, November 5, is the bread that was given to the horses on race day. It is a bread in the tradition of lightly enriched French breads that the English called “French bread.” There were three breads formulated for the training period. The horse started out on a bread that was 3:1, bean to wheat, then graduated to a bread that was 2:2, and finally to a bread that was 1:3, bean to wheat and that has been enriched with egg white, ale, and milk. This is the bread fed to the horses during the last fortnight of the training period.

The first two breads were mixed and worked the same way this one is, but the were not enriched with egg, ale, and milk. They were just made with water.

The Last Bread (fed to the horse during the last fortnight training before the race) from Gervase Markham’s Cavelarice (1607) 

Take three Pecks of fine Wheat, and put one Peck of clean Beans, grind them to powder on the black stones, and bolt them though the finest Bolter you can get; then knead it up with very sweet Ale Barm, and new strong Ale, and the Barm beaten together, and also the Whites of at least twenty Eggs, in any wise no water at all, but instead thereof some small quantity of new milk. Then work it up, and labor it with all painfulness that may be, tread it, break it, and after cover it warm, and let it lye a pretty space in the Trough to swell: then after knead it over again, and mold it up into big Loaves, and so bake them well, and them soak soundly; after they are drawn from the Oven, turn the bottoms upward and let them cool.

Gervase Markham writes about the “black stones” in the portion of the text that he contributed to the 1616 edition of the Maison Rustique. The black stones are the best quality basalt French grinding stones. The “finest Bolter” means the finest bolting cloth or sieve. This would have been around 300 microns. It produces white flour that will weight 1 pound per US quart, which in Markham’s period was called a “wine quart.” The bread is yeasted — ale barm — and uses ale and milk for the liquid. No water. It is a stiff dough. So stiff it cannot be kneaded by hand. “Labor it with all painfulness”! The bread is first worked under foot — sandwich the dough between two pieces of cloth and work it with your feet — and it was then worked in a brake. If you have a hand crank pasta machine you could use that in lieu of a brake. I also sometimes use a long thin rolling pin to work over the dough in the manner of a brake. As you see, no expense or effort is spared making this bread! It is again kneaded after the bulk fermentation. Though, this second time, I just give it a cursory knead being a lazy person from the 21st century.

At the seminar on Thursday, will be comparing this recipe with Markham’s 1615 recipe for Brown Bread. His Brown Bread was intended for the “hinde servants” — the landless farm laborers — and was, in his estimation, the coarsest bread for “man’s use.” The work you put into this horse bread will give you a visceral sense of the difference between this high status bread for a high status horse and the low status bread Markham formulated for low status people.

Because of the amount of work this bread requires, you may want to have made the dough before the seminar so that you are doing the first or second working of the dough during the workshop part of the seminar.

75% white flour, if homemade, use a 300 micron screen

25% chickpea flour, if homemade, use a 300 micron screen

4% egg whites

1.5% yeast

1.5% salt (optional) No salt in the original recipe but if you are eating it and prefer salted bread, then add salt.

45% to 48% is the range of hydration I am suggesting at this time. Please report your experiences in the comments. The dough has to be stiff so it won’t stick to the cloth when you are working it with your feet. If you vary the hydration from what I have recommended, then please note what you have done so you can share with the group at the seminar. As Markham says to use “a little milk” I would keep the milk ratio low.

For 500g total flour.

375g white flour

125g bean flour

225g – 240g liquid. The recipe for this bread calls for mostly ale, with some milk, but no water. Use your judgement. I also make this bread with water, only, which is the liquid used for most of Markham’s horse breads. You could also use milk, or a mix of milk and water. This a really good bread! If you don’t have ale on hand, then don’t stress it. The heart of the recipe is in the flour ratios, the flour refinement, and the way the dough is worked.

20g egg whites (about ½ egg white)

7.5g salt (optional – was not in recipe for the horses, but we like salted bread)

7.5g yeast

Mix all of the ingredients, and then either follow the instructions for working the dough with feet and a brake that are described, above, or work in a mixer with a dough hook. After the first kneading, let the dough rest, covered, in a warm place. When it has risen, knead it again, but only for a short amount of time. Then, form into a loaf. Let that proof until it increases in size around by about 50% and then bake in an oven at 195C or 385F for around 1 hour. You may score the bread if you like. A big cut around the waist would be consistent with the way manchets were scored. The crust should be crisp. It was often chipped off before serving to the horse.

Bacon Sandwhich, circa 1747

Those who inabit the Mountains of Calabria, which are ver’d with Snow almost the whole Year, toast their Bread, as also t heir Bacon, which they press between two hot Toasts, in order to make the Bread imbibe the Fat expres’d from the Bacon; and they enjoy good Healh by Means of this Nourishment, which is easily prepar’d, and the only Species of Aliment they use during the considerable Part of the year. 1747

Totally serendipitous find form a Google Books search. This is from the completely obscure “Soldier’s Vade Mecum; Or the Method of Curing the Diseases and Preserving Health in Soldiers” by Luca Antonia Prozio. In terms of diet, Ponzio seems to imagine Calabria as a kind of Arctic. A greasy bacon sandwich is the staple food. When I used to travel to Hungary and Lithuania in the late 1990s, the biggest fireside treat was melting cured bacon fat skewered on a stick over a piece of bread or toast. I think the last time I had it was sitting around a stone ringed campfire in the clearing of a pine forest, at the house of “The Sheriff,” a colorful bearded man in his late sixties who spoke no English, but sported a sheriff badge. He had lost his job in the troubles of 1968. He lived in a log cabin in the forest where, amongst other things, he made puppets out of sticks he found in the forest that were naturally shaped like people or animals. I was with my friend, the mycologist, David Arora. We were guests of the Bratislavan Mycological Society in September of the momentous year, 1989.

Perhaps, from the diet of our Calabrian bacon sandwich eaters, we can infer that besides growing wheat, that they ran pigs in the Calabrian oak forest. Calabria, in the Italian far South. It is Durum country. It might be right to think of this bread as similar to the now world famous Pane di Altimura.

Cock Breads — 18th Century Breads for Fighting Cocks

The following text is from the “Royal Art of Cockfighting” by Robert Howlett, published in London, 1709. The portion of the text I reproduce here concerns the breads fed to fighting cocks — known in the period as cock-breads. A couple things I’d like you to note.

Firstly, in the section, “Of the several Ways of making Cock-bread.” Howlett says that it is impossible to innumerate all of the breads fed to fighting cocks because everyone has their own opinion. While Howlett clearly has his own point of view, he is deferential to his readers. I find this same deference to the reader in gardening books, as well. I find the attitude refreshing. Our texts tend to suggest that the author is offering you the one true path to mastery. I get the sense that the 17th and 18th century writer assumed that his, and sometimes, her reader had their own opinions and expertise that needed acknowledging.

When it comes to the breads what you see is a reliance on the best commercial form of white bread — the manchet. The commercial form will have been made with wheat flour refined through a bolting cloth of approximately 300 microns. The flour should weight 1 pound per wine quart, which is the US quart measure. A refined animal is here being associated with a refined bread.

While just plain white bread is clearly the bread of choice for many cock trainers, others tend towards some of the ingredients in the breads that Gervase Markham formulated for race horses on race day — white flour plus refined bean flour and egg white. But Howlett also goes where Markham does not. Markham argued that herbs were for the sick and should be fed to well animals and furthermore that herbs had no efficacy in regulating how well a horse ran. Howlett, and his group of trainers are clearly big believers in the power of the herb to convey unusual strength and perspicacity.

Pea flour was a low status flour, while bean flour was considered edible, at least in extremis, by people of all social classes. In other words, a “student” as young scholars were denoted, might in extremis eat a cake of fava bean meal, they could not be expected to manage one made of pea flour. You will find this in Cogan Thomas’ “Haven of Health” from the mid 1500s. The acceptance of pea flour — a flour that has a rank smell — suggests to me that the cock, while honored, was not on the same footing as a race horse. Which is fair enough! A fighting cock is a magnificent looking animal — but compared with an Arabian?

In terms of ingredients, the recipe, “How to Make the Best Sort of Cock-Bread” is the most complex bread recipe I have seen. Embedded in the herbs used in its creation is an entire cock fight.

Excerpted from: “Royal Art of Cockfighting” by Robert Howlett, published in London, 1709.

To make the Scowering Pill.

Take of white Sugar-candyRosemaryFetherfewGround-Ivy bruised, mingle these with Sweet Butter, let the Sugar-candy be finely Powdered, and let these be well incorporated together, and just before you give the Cocks these Pills, put them into warm Urine; and these will cleanse a Cock of Grease, add to his Strength, and lengthen his Wind.

When and how to Stive your Game-Cocks.

And after the Cocks have been Sparred (as aforesaid) let them take a Diaphoretic, or Sweating after this manner: First take off their Hutts, and then immediately Stive them very close in some warm Room, where no penetrating Air can come to annoy the heated Cocks; for otherwise they [Pg 56]will loose the benefit of their Sparring, and in these Stoves you must leave the Cocks for three or four, six, eight or ten hours together, according as the Cocks are in Strength and Flesh; for a poor weak Cock will not bear long Stiving: And now in the Cock’s absence let their Pens be cleaned, and fresh Straw be put into them, and if need be, you may then alter their Perches higher, or lower, or remove them to another side of the Pen, as you see cause for it.

And when you take the Cocks out of the Bags or Stives, lick with your Tongue the Eyes and Heads of them, and so put them into their Pens, and so fill their Troughs with Cock-bread cut into small square bits, and steept in Urine, that so the Cocks may feed whilst ’tis warm; for this will cause their Scowering Pills to work and greatly cleanse, and purify both the Head and Body of your Cock.[Pg 57]

Of the several Ways of making Cock-bread.

Now to make Cock-bread aright, and at the same time, to have it suit with every Feeder’s humour, is a thing altogether impossible; seeing we are quot Homines tot Sententiæ.

How to make the ordinary Cock-bread.

Some fancy that the common Bakers Bread is as good as any: Others will tell you that there must be some Bean, or Pease Meal put amongst it, and a few Anniseeds, with the Whites of Eggs; and this is the best Cock-bread say they.

Another Receipt for to make Cock-bread.

But there are others will tell you, that you must take of WheatPeaseBeans, and Oates, of each a like quantity in Meal, or Flower finely dressed, with the Juice of Liquorish, and a little Sack, or strong Stale-Beer, with Brown Sugar-candyAnniseedsCarroway-seeds, mixed together: But if the Season be very hot, you [Pg 58]must put White-Wine instead of Sack, and as much common Ale as will make the Flower up into Dough, with the Whites of ten or twenty Eggs, and a Yolk or two amongst them; and this they take to be the best sort of Bread for to Feed Cocks withall.

How to make the best sort of Cock-bread.

But in my opinion there is yet a better sort than any of these, and I make it thus, viz. of the best and finest Wheat-meal, I take three-quarters of a Peck, and one quarter of Oat-meal of the purest sort, and first of all mix these well together; then add the Whites of twenty new laid Eggs, four Yolks, an Ounce of the best extract of Liquorish, and as much of the fine Powder of brown Sugar-candy, a quarter of an Ounce of Anniseeds, and Carroway-seeds grossly bruised, with a Lump of good sweet Butter as big as your fist at least, and a quarter of a Pint or more of the best White-Wine that can be bought for Mony, with three or four spoonfulls of Syrup of Clove-gilliflowers put into it, and a Date or two, with some Candyed Eringo Roots cut very small so that it may be scattered into every part, and let these Ingredients be all well worked together, in some Tub, or Pan fit for that purpose, with your hands, until you are Satisfied that they are thoroughly incorporated.

Then take Wood-sorrelGround-IvyFeatherfewDandelion, and Burrage, of each a like quantity, and distill them in a cold Still, and add three or four Spoonfuls of the pure Juice of Lemmons to every Pint of distilled Water; And add as much of this Julip as will serve to make all into a good stiff Past; let this be wrought quick, and made into little flat Loaves, which ought to be a day or two old before you spend them, and then being well rasped, or pared, so that none of the burned or brown outside remain, they may then be cut and given to the Cocks, as aforesaid.

And this I take to be the best and fittest sort of Bread for English Cocks, it being a Food that does greatly strengthen and exhillate them, and at the same time cools, and keeps them Temperate in their Bodies, provided you have regard to the Season; for in Hot Weather, or where the Climate is more than ordinary hot, there must be more of the cooling Ingredients added; and fewer, or a less quantity of those that are hot in Nature.

Of other Food used by some for Game-Cocks.

There are those that think the finest Wheat-bread, with good store of hot Spices in it, and soaked or sprinkled only with the simple Water or Juice of Wood-sorrel to be the best of Food for a Cock.

And some again heed not what Bread they have, so that they have but good store of Flesh to give their Cocks, crying that up for the best and strongest Food.

But in my opinion these extreamly err in fancying Flesh to be Food fit for a Cock, these carniverous Sots understand not the nature of these valiant sort of Birds, who force such unnatural food upon them, nor is it possible for a Feeder to make a Cock strong, and at the same time Fight cool, and be long winded with such sort of Diet.

How a Game-Cock should be Fed before he Fights.

But suppose your Food to be either this, or that, or what you like best, be it what it will, yet is this on all hands agreed on by every one that pretends to Feeding, that the last Meal you give your Cock before he Fights must be common Manchet-bread, such as the Bakers usually make, with good store of Barm therein, and what they sell at every Market; for this sort of Bread is [Pg 62]ever very light and goes off quick, it being soon digested, leaves the Craw or Crop of a Cock fine and clean, and so it ought to be when your Cock Fights, for otherwise you do in effect but throw your Cock away.

And tho’ ’tis highly necessary to bring a Cock into the Pit clean and empty, yet you may, and ought to give him five or six little bits of par’d Pippin put into a Cup, or Dish of Spring Water, out of which let him pick the Apple, and drink a little if he pleases, of the Water: Or, for want of Apple, you may (as I said before) give your Cock a bit of White-bread, and drink after it, and so turn him into the Pit to try his Fortune.

American Pullman Loaf, also called Sandwich Bread circa 1920

all aboard for the dining car! | Jama's Alphabet Soup
A Pullman Dining Car in the late 19th century. The bread on the table, right front, has rounded edges, so, it is not a Pullman Loaf. The perfectly rectangular mold-baked pullman loaf is stored efficiently and cleanly in the limited space of the train carriage kitchen.

The Pullman Loaf , also often published under the more generic name, “Sandwich Bread,” is the classic American soft white crustless bread identified with morning toast, diner grilled cheese sandwiches, and school lunches. It became the focus of attention for the more industrial bakers in the first half of the twentieth century, whose industrial take on the bread produced the rapid mix very soft crustless pre-sliced breads that Anglophone contemporary high end food culture has roundly rejected. The British Real Bread Campaign says it all in its title. It speaks to a way of thinking of bread in which some bread is “real” and some bread is not. The pullman loaf is baked in a four sided pan. In America this is sold either as a pullman loaf pan or as a pan for the French pain de mie. The french name says it all — a bread focused on crumb.

The American Pullman or Sandwich Bread finds its direct antecedents in the enriched yeasted French breads in the pain de luxe tradition. These go back hundreds of years. In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, enriched yeasted breads were known as “French Bread.” Louis Liger, the French 18th century editor and author of the long-running French text, “Le Maison Rustique,” is a good source for the French version of this bread. As of this writing, the Louis Liger entry in the French Wikipedia is poor, but as usual, the Wikipedia page is the best place to start one’s research. An 18th century edition of Liger’s Maison Rustique is available at Google Books.

The following recipe is from “Treatise on Flour, Yeast, Fermentation and Baking” by Julius Emil Wihlfahrt, 1920. The 1.5% sugar will mostly ferment dry. In this quantity it is more of a yeast food and dough conditioner. It helps make the crumb soft. The 18th century version of this bread would have had butter rather than oil, and raw milk in place of the optional milk powder or condensed milk. The sugar and malt extract are both relatively recent additions to American bread recipes. Today, malt is pretty much the only additive that the contemporary artisan bakers add to their dough. The 54% to 56% hydration makes this a stiff dough by modern standards. Use an all unbleached, all purpose flour, not a bread flour.

Pullman Loaf or Sandwich Bread in bakers math: 100% flour, 54-56% water, 1.5% sugar, 1.5% malt extract, 1.5 % oil or other shortening, 1.75% salt, 1.75% yeast, and 1% milk powder or 2% condensed milk (optional).

The final note appended to the recipe that follows states that the bread is also made in some bakeries with just their standard white dough or a Vienna dough baked in the Pullman or pain de mie four-sided baking pan.

Tandoor Oven 2,600 Years Ago

Terracotta woman baking bread, Cypro-Arcahic II, circa 600-480 BCE
Metropolitan Museum, The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76

The tandoor oven (there are variant spellings) is ancient. There had been tandoor-style ovens for thousands of years before this terracotta figurine was made. The YouTube video that follows shows someone making an oven very similar to the one pictured above:

Tandoor Ovens Being Made in Inda

There are lots of good YouTube and Vimeo videos that show baking in the tandoor. I include two here. If you want to make your own modeled on the ancient Cypriot example, I suggest you make the form out of damp sand and make the oven out of a 3:1:.5 mix of sand, fireclay, and Portland cement. If you are experienced working in clay that you have mixed yourself, then omit the Portland cement. The .5 ratio of Portland cement insures that those of us who are not skilled in this don’t have to worry that a mix that is slightly too wet will slump. The Portland cement causes the clay to cure. The cement will burn off when the oven is fired.

As you will see when you start looking at the videos, the shells are often built into a box that has enough room between the walls of the box and the oven shell to let you fill it with sand to act as an insulator. If you are just using the oven to bake a few flatbreads, then I advise not bothering with insulation.

Bread on a Spit: Fragment from Atheneus

Twist bread made during a Scouts Camp.jpg
Bread on a Stick. Same as “Bread on a Spit” from 400BCE?


From 6 Athenaeus 645bc

ἐγὼ μὲν ἄρτους, μᾶζαν, ἀθάρην, ἄλφιτα,κόλλικας, ὀβελίαν, μελιτοῦτταν, ἐπιχύτους,πτισάνην, πλακοῦντας, δενδαλίδας, ταγηνίας.


6 I <have, provide> loaves of bread, barley cake, porridge, barley groats, rolls, bread on a spit, honey cake, cupcakes, barley gruel, flat-cakes, barley cakes, pancakes.

Greek Woman Baking Bread Circa 500 BCE

Reading in translation is always problematic. One has to trust the translator to have gotten it right. In this fragment from Athenaeus, preserved in a work by the Greek comic poet, Nicophon (late 5th to early 4th century BCE), in his work Testimonia and Fragments (Loeb Classical Library LCL 415 p. 400-401), we have a bakery’s worth of baked goods: loaves of bread, barley cake, rolls, bread on a spit, honey cake, cupcakes, flat-cakes, barley cakes, and pancakes! Obvious questions: what is the difference between a loaf of bread and a roll? What is the difference between a barley-cake and a flat-cake? What is a cupcake?

“Bread on a spit” is one of those tantalizing breads whose mention is always brief, and in my experience, always lacking context. Is “bread on a spit” the same as the bread on a stick popularized by the American scouting movement? Who, exactly, was making bread on a stick? Was it a style prized as, say, a street food? Should we imagine a shepherd bread being sold in the city? Or a shepherd making bread on a stick while tending goats and sheep? Nostalgia? Regional specialty? The list implies equality between the items. “Honey cake” is on a par with “porridge” which is on a par with “bread on a spit.” Everybody knows porridge, so everyone must know “bread on a spit.”

If “bread on a spit” is a shepherd bread, then we can assume the shepherd carried flour, not baked breads. That implies a flour and water dough and that implies a relatively coarse flour to keep the crumb palatable.

Male Bias in the History of Bread: Logo for Fleischmann’s Yeast

Fleischmanns Yeast | Busy Beaver Button Museum
Fleischmann’s Yeast Advertisement circa 1912

When The American yeast company, Fleischmann’s, had a pictorial logo in the first decades of the twentieth-century, they made it male.

From the Neolithic and up until very recently, women were responsible for most of the process of producing bread. With the limited exception of baking bread in commercial operations and certain grain planting processes, like plowing with animals, bread making was woman’s work. They became involved with harvest and post-harvest grain processing. While men may have fashioned the large wooden tools used in agriculture, women wove the baskets used to clean grain. Women made the baskets sieves and spun and wove the cloth used to sift meal into a more refined flour. Women made the dough, managed the fire used to bake the breads, baked them, served the bread, along with other foods, to her household. While we do not know how various levels of commercial baking were distributed by gender, taking a global survey of bread production today, we usually see men in the higher status baking jobs, with women in more subsistence baking operations.

Male bakers dominate the public face of the contemporary bread world. Girls growing up today would never guess that for virtually all of the last ten thousand years women were at the center of bread production. Women are largely invisible in the written history of bread. When we start getting cookbooks in the sixteenth-century, it is easy to see that the assumed recipient of baking advice is female. But, she has no agency.

I got to thinking about the way in which woman’s role in bread is depicted from a passage I read this morning in Seneca The Younger’s Epistle XC.

It is hard to believe, my dear Lucilius, how easily the charm of eloquence wins even great men away from the truth. Take, for example, Posidonius—who, in my estimation, is of the number of those who have contributed most to philosophy—when he wishes to describe the art of weaving. He tells how, first, some threads are twisted and some drawn out from the soft, loose mass of wool; next, how the upright warp keeps the threads stretched by means of hanging weights; then, how the inserted thread of the woof, which softens the hard texture of the web which holds it fast on either side, is forced by the batten to make a compact union with the warp. He maintains that even the weaver’s art was discovered by wise men, forgetting that the more complicated art which he describes was invented in later days—the art wherein

The web is bound to frame; asunder now

The reed doth part the warp. Between the threads

Is shot the woof by pointed shuttles borne;

The broad comb’s well-notched teeth then drive it home. (Ovid book vi 53)

Seneca the Elder, Epistle XC. Loeb Edition.

Seneca drew on Ovid for the poetical citation — “The web is bound to frame…”. Ovid was describing the contest foolishly consented to by Arachne with Pallas Athena. Seneca is aware that women, and female gods, are associated with weaving. Nonetheless, while indirectly acknowledging women, Seneca ascribes the invention of weaving to a man.

Women were at the center of the invention of bread. As a group, woman functioned as a vertically integrated baking establishment — milling, sifting, creating the dough, baking, and serving. I think the, “and serving” is important. Women bakers were “field to fork.” When serving bread to their families, they will have noted how their breads were received, and made adjustments accordingly. Women will have been talking with each other, in many cases processing grains together, so they will have shared experiences.

The archaeobotanical evidence of early breads having been sifted may offer a simple proof that, on average, us humans prefer refined breads to whole grain. As sifting is an extra step (or even multiple extra steps), it seems unlikely this would have been undertaken for no reason. While we cannot prove that the flour in the earliest bread thus far excavated was sifted, we do know it was finely ground as 41% of the starches are in the range of what we consider white flour. The flour was either sifted, as it did not contain many very large particles, or it had been super finely ground — which is itself a lot of extra work.

My sense is that early on, even 14,000 years ago, when women in hunter gatherer communities were first baking breads, women recognized that their families preferred breads made with a relatively finely ground flour over breads made with coarser flours. They will have spent the extra time to produce a relatively fine flour out of the same emotion that drives us to do our best to please our children at mealtime: love. I think it is important to look at the material culture of the Natufians and early Neolithic peoples to be reminded that they had a rich material culture, one that was richer than many people living today, and that they will have brought intentionality to their baking, just as we do.

Women will have shaped the domestic bread culture on which higher status breads produced outside the house were produced. When the household bread is a flatbread, so is the bread served at court. And when the household bread is a loaf, so is the bread served at court.

Big issues in bread history — like the rejection of rye in most of Western Europe — will likely have had its origin in the ways in which cultural preferences evolve, and are then reinforced within the household. This whole domestic dynamic — the female dynamic — is missing from bread history. We inherit an unrelenting male bias towards seeing men as the agents of innovation — in Seneca’s formulation, men as the inventors of weaving.

In real life, no one person, male or female, invented weaving. But, as one of the household arts, its development belonged to women. Their understanding of weaving and grain grinding put them at the center of flour, the single most important ingredient in bread.

Portable Oven — Campaign Oven — Dutch Oven

The impromptu oven is beyond ancient. This said, in terms of the history of bread, its documented history is recent. The documented history only goes back to ancient Greece and Rome. If you know of something earlier, then please share in your comments.

The biggest literature on impromptu ovens prior to the Early Modern English cookbook literature is from Classical Rome. One very good source of information is “Testa and Clibani: The Baking Covers of Classical Italy” by A. L. Cubberley, J. A. Lloyd and P. C. Roberts. You will find this at Jstor.com. (If you haven’t already, then you can sign up for a free account that lets you read 100 articles per month.) The testa and cibani were systems for baking under a heated lid and/or in what we call a Dutch oven, which is a pot with short legs so that embers can be placed both under the pot and on the pot’s lid.

As often happens with me, I got to the Latin literature on Dutch ovens via a search on the term “portable oven” in an English cookbook from the 17th century. I found this fabulous passage by Seneca in his Epistle XC about the history of bread baking.

Tum farinam aqua sparsit et adsidua tractatione perdomuit finxitque panem, quem primo cinis calidus et fervens testa percoxit, deinde furni paulatim reperti et alia genera, quorum fervor serviret arbitrio.” Non multum afuit, quin sutrinum quoque inventum a sapientibus diceret.

This loaf was, at first, baked by hot ashes or by an earthen vessel glowing hot; later on ovens were gradually discovered and the other devices whose heat will render obedience to the sage’s will.” 

Epistle XC, Seneca the Younger, Harvard University Loeb Classical Library

I guess, strictly speaking, this fantasy concerning the invention of ovens is correct. When bread and other dough products were first baked, the people who did that baking, the Natufians in southwest Asia, had neither developed the art of pottery, nor the art of building clay ovens, so it is undoubtedly true that the first breads were baked as ash cakes. But the shift to ovens was so early on in in the history of bread that focusing on a “before” makes little sense. Small clay ovens were a common feature in some early Neolithic communities, notably in Çatalhöyük, a large Neolithic and Chalcolithic community in what is now Turkey. There was an oven in every house. It was a small oven that could have been operated either on a continual feeding of fire into the oven — the system that was used for the ovens depicted in Greek terra cotta figurines — or as a retained heat oven. Once pottery was invented — and it is always important to keep in mind that in Asia pottery was invented thousands of years before its invention in southwest Asia — creating an impromptu portable oven was just a matter of heating the ground with a fire, sweeping the embers away, putting down the bread, cake, or other item to be baked, covering the food with a pot, and piling the swept-away-embers around and over the pot. The best description of this system was published by Frederick Vine in the introduction to his 1900 book, “Practical Bread-making: A Useful Guide for All in the Trades.

So much for the digressions!

If you don’t have a wood fired bread oven at all, or only have a very large oven and you just want to bake a small pie or pastry, then either bake under a post as per Vine’s instructions, or follow the advice of Mounsieur Marnetté in his 1656 book, “The Perfect Cook,” and use a Dutch oven — formerly called a campaign oven, portable oven, or, later in the 19th century, a bake oven.

Recipes for Bread History Seminar #14, Domestication of the Bread Grains

An Imagined Early Bread

Natufian & Pre Pottery Neolithic

The first breads were made by Natufian hunter gatherers around 14,000 years ago. Naatufians are the people in southwest Asia that we know for sure first utilized bread grains for bread. We know this because we have proof in the form of archeological remains. Natufians, and the early Neolithic peoples, were working with the wild grains that were eventually domesticated, and that we still know today: wheat, barley, rye, an oats.

The very earliest site where bread has been found is Shubayqa 1, in Jordan. In addition to charred bread crumbs, the site also contained large quantities of a starchy plant, Bolboschoenus glaucous, which was included in some of the the Shubayqa 1 breads. Adding starchy plant material is analogous to our sometimes adding mashed potatoes to our bread dough.

One big difference between the Natufian culture and early Neolithic cultures is that the early Neolithic communities purposefully cultivated wild grains, which the Natufians were not. These first cultivators still practiced hunting and gathering. There are several Neolithic breads that have been analyzed that we could try to replicate, but for today, I’d like to stay less technical. And more creative.

Image of a crumb of the Shubayqa 1 bread taken through a scanning electron microscope. Photo: Joe Roe.

In total, 254 crumbs (2.5×4.4×5.7 mm average size) have been found, 100 of them have been analyzed, and only 24 yielded the data for its composition. The contents of crumbs varied. But from the analysis of some crumbs and overall presence of food remains at the site, the following ingredients have been identified. The bread was made from a wild wheat (Triticum, unclear which species) or wild rye (Secale, unclear which species), wild oats (Avena, unclear which species), and wild tubers of Tuberous Bulrush, Bolboschoenus Glaucus. The proportions of each ingredient in the bread were not identified.

Archeologists work with carbonized crumbs, such as the one pictured, above. Current regional ethnographic practice that sees flatbreads as disks may not completely reflect ancient practice. While a disk is the most convenient shape for production flat breads, the Natufians and early Neolithic peoples were not making production flatbreads. Even today, for example in Ukraine and Sardinia, women sit around tables making meticulously shaped breads for ceremonial occasions.

If you will look up Natufian art online you will find that these people had a high level of material culture, and the decorative arts were well developed. You will also find some extraordinary images of art from early Neolithic communities.

I would like to focus on the exact formulas for early breads extracted from archeobotanical texts at another time. For this seminar, I suggest you make sculptures out of a stiff dough made from flour that ranges from whole grain down one that would be the produce of a 500 micron screen. Even if white flour existed at the time, and whitish flour probably did, this project requires a less refined flour so that the baked bread will still be palatable.

We have no idea whether sculpted bread actually existed in this early bread period. But, why not? Shaped breads are known from Mesopotamia and Egypt, and they are known today. I would let your imagination be free. You can work from known period images — search online for Natufian and Neolithic Art — and also from your imagination. Animal figurines, for example. This link will take you to the incredible scythe handle, below, at the Museum of Israel where you will also find other well reproduced images of art created by the Natufians and other early residents of southwest Asia.

Handle with animal figure

These next images are of faces from Natufian and early Neolithic communities.

Comparison of NEGII human-face depiction (d) to examples derived from different diachronic contexts. Early Natufian (a-c), PPNA (g), PPNB (e-f) (prepared by Dana Shaham and Noa Lichtinger). a. Human head figurine, el-Wad Cave, calcite, 3.8x 2.8x2.2cm (Garrod & Bate 1937: pl. XIII.4), b. Human face figurine, Eynan, limestone pebble, 8x6.3x3.7cm (Perrot 1966: fig. 23.2), c. Human head figurine, Eynan, limestone pebble, 4x4.3cm (Perrot 1966: fig. 23.3), d. Human-head figurine, NEGII, Area B, limestone pebble, 9.5x7.5x3cm (photo by Gabi Laron), e. Modelled skull, Kfar HaHoresh, life-size, 12x21x14cm (Goring-Morris 2000: fig. 3), f. Human face carved on a bone wand, Tell Qarassa North, a rib of large bovid, 5.1x1.7x0.7cm (after Ibáñez et al. 2014: fig. 3), g. Life-size human head sculpture, Göbekli Tepe, limestone, 23cm (after Schmidt 2010: fig. 19)
Comparison of NEGII human-face depiction (d) to examples derived from different diachronic contexts. Early Natufian (a-c), PPNA (g), PPNB (e-f) (prepared by Dana Shaham and Noa Lichtinger). a. Human head figurine, el-Wad Cave, calcite, 3.8x 2.8×2.2cm (Garrod & Bate 1937: pl. XIII.4), b. Human face figurine, Eynan, limestone pebble, 8×6.3×3.7cm (Perrot 1966: fig. 23.2), c. Human head figurine, Eynan, limestone pebble, 4×4.3cm (Perrot 1966: fig. 23.3), d. Human-head figurine, NEGII, Area B, limestone pebble, 9.5×7.5x3cm (photo by Gabi Laron), e. Modelled skull, Kfar HaHoresh, life-size, 12x21x14cm (Goring-Morris 2000: fig. 3), f. Human face carved on a bone wand, Tell Qarassa North, a rib of large bovid, 5.1×1.7×0.7cm (after Ibáñez et al. 2014: fig. 3), g. Life-size human head sculpture, Göbekli Tepe, limestone, 23cm (after Schmidt 2010: fig. 19) (https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Comparison-of-NEGII-human-face-depiction-d-to-examples-derived-from-different_fig3_337632588_

The sculpture, below, is at the British museum. It is Late Natufian and is the first art work we know of that depicts humans having sex.

Sculpted figurine of two  lovers, Natufian, from Ain Sakhri (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
Late Natufian. This sculpture is at the British Museum.

This patterned Natufian pattern in clay would make a beautiful bread.

Wadi Hammeh, one of the largest repertoires of Natufian art


For Thursday, please have your dough mixed, and then together we will make shapes, sharing our ideas as we go along.

Ingredients: You cannot go wrong with using wheat and barley. In terms of ancient grains, then, in order of domestication we first have first einkorn, then emmer, and then common bread wheat and spelt. They also had, rye and oats. Feel free to mix different flours.

If using flour that you purchase, then I would use a finely ground whole grain flour. Thicker unleavened breads require some bran so they are still palatable after baking.

If you make your own flour. Flour will have been ground just before use on a basic quern. Evidence suggests that grains were well cleaned before milling. The earliest Natufian bread so far analyzed had particle sizes as follows: 41% of the particles were under 300 microns, which is white flour, 29% were between 300 microns and 1000 microns, which in British English is semolina, and another 29% is greater than 1mm. The paper doesn’t specify the largest particles, but does say that the flour is clean of chaff, stones, or other large impurities. The mix of sizes could be the pure product of milling on a quern, so this would be that miller’s whole meal. It is also possible that the largest particles were sifted out. To make your own, I would temper your grain to 15%, mill fine, and sift through a 1.5mm to 2 mm screen.

If you want a more refined flour, then archeobotany from a later early Neolithic site suggests that a flour with particles less than 500 microns would be appropriate. That is the flour I am using. A 500 micron or less flour is similar to the wheaten flour we discussed in the last session on the English Medieval Assize regulations.

500g mixed flours, commonly wheat & barley,

250g-300g water to form a stiff dough

Knead until supple. Then, break into pieces the size you want to work with. Shape with your hands. It is often helpful to start with a ball. Use tools as needed to sculpt and/or pattern your bread.

Bake in a moderate oven, 175C, 350F. Early Neolithic households in some parts of southwest Asia all had small ovens in their houses. Alternatively, if you have had a fire going for at least a day in your fireplace, then bake in a mix of ash and embers.

I had originally thought that we might attempt a bread baked between tiles inspired by an archeologist’s speculation for a Harappan bread. I have been testing the idea, and don’t have enough success to bring it to the seminar this week. Here is the image that inspired me. The archeologist who published this photograph speculated that the triangular piece of terra cotta might have been for baking bread. If so, they would have heated tiles in the fire, pulled them out of the fire, and then baked brads on the tile’s residual heat.

Bread Recipes from the Assize of Bread, Late Medieval England for the Thursday, October 8, Bread History Seminar

Note: Please choose which of the three breads you will make for the Seminar/Workshop on October 8, 2020. Please weigh out the ingredients. We will mix and talk about the recipe after the formal lecture is completed.

The English Assize laws dating to the Late Medieval Period, the 1100s and the 1200s, were very simple, very elegantly written rules for insuring that while grain prices were set by the market, that consumes were guaranteed that bread prices would always be fair. Fairness in pricing is implied by the way the Assize laws were structured. The pricing rules were set out in black and white, with the principles behind the calculation, and the calculations themselves, open for everyone to see.

It is my thesis that we can use that openness to reverse engineer the tables of bread types, prices, and weights to get to a recipe.

I look forward to the discussion around my calculations. Would be chagrinned to be proven wrong — but I will welcome the challenge!

This list of bread types in the table, above, is from the very early years of the Assize. Over time, the Assize was simplified and only three breads were covered by the regulations — Household, Wheaton, and White. In the table, above, the wastel, cocket, and simnel breads were all white. You can tell that by their weight compared with the weight of the whole grain loaf — the household loaf. As I will explain.

The ingredients for the breads is simple. It is wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast. There were no sourdough breads baked by British Assize bakers. The weights of the three breads whose recipes I will give you were as follows.

I’m going to explain the math at the talk. But you can see on the table that I have penciled in some percentages. In this case, if the penny Household loaf weighed 56 pounds, plus a little we find that 75% of 56 is 42, which is the weight of the penny wheaten loaf. As they both started with the same amount of grain (this is how the Assize regulation worked), the difference is how much bran was sifted out of the whole meal flour to make the wheaten flour. The baker got to keep the bran as part of his pay, so it was wasted.

The table, above, is in troy pounds. Converted to avoirdupois the breads would still be large. I will give three recipes, with their final baked weights keeping to the proportions in the Assize table.

How close are these recipes I am giving you to what period bakers would have used? I think they are close enough that period bakers and consumers would have recognized them.

The recipe for each of the breads in bakers math is:

100% flour, 60% water, 1% to 1.5% dried yeast (depending on how fast you want the dough to rise), .5% to 2% salt (depending on how salty you want the bread to be).

Make one or more breads, as you wish. If you want to make larger loaves, then use the bakers math to scale up. The farthing household loaf weighed 14 troy pounds. This is 11 pounds avoirdupois or 5kg.

There are three flours: Whole meal, Wheaten, and White. Whole meal should be 100% of the grain from the mill. Use a 600 micron bolting cloth to create the 75% extraction wheaten. This is also called a 34 wire screen or a 34gg nylon screen. For the white flour use a 54gg nylon screen or a 315 micron sieve.

Household: 1000g wholemeal flour, 600g warm water, 10g-15g dried yeast, 5g – 20g salt.

Wheaten: 750g 75% extraction flour, 450g warm water, 7.5g-10g dried yeast, 4g-15g salt

White: 500g 50% extraction flour or all purpose white flour, 300g warm water, 5g-7.5g dried yeast, 2.5g-10g salt.


In a bowl, mix the flour, yeast, and salt. Then, add the water, which should be warmed to blood heat. Using an electric mixer, or dumping onto a counter a working by hand, knead until the dough is well mixed and satiny.

Put into a clean bowl, which will be easier to clean if you coat it with a thin layer of oil. Cover, and let rise in a warm place until it doubles. Whole wheat breads do not rise as high as white breads.

Once the dough has risen, turn onto the counter, and gently form the loaf into the shape you prefer. A round or oval would always be appropriate. After forming, let the bread rise again about 50% before putting into a pre-heated oven. Bake at approximately 190C (385F).

If possible, add a pan of water to the oven along with the bread to increase the moisture content inside the oven. This goes some way to replicate the more humid atmosphere of bread baked in a wood fired oven.

Bake the Household whole wheat loaf for around 1 hour and fifteen minutes. The other breads should be baked in approximately one hour. As always, when it comes to bread, in case of doubt, bake it a little longer.