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.