Slices of History

  • A Brief History of Bread

    Where to start? Some sources maintain that people have been eating cooked grains for 30,000 years. But it wasn’t until the Neolithic period, 10,000 years ago, that grains were first cultivated in areas near the Nile Valley. The shift from being hunting and gathering nomads to farming societies was a significant turning point in human history. That change spread out from the Fertile Crescent to North Africa and Europe, and resulted in the development of towns and more complex social relationships.

    As towns grew into cities, baking bread became a commercial activity. Free standing stone or brick ovens with doors seem to be a Greek idea. Bakeries flourished in Athens 2500 years ago and Greek bakers were making and selling bread in Rome three centuries later.

    During the Middle Ages, bread was used as a plate. A square piece of bread, called a trencher, served to hold other foods and soak up the juices of the stews that were common fare. After the meal, one could eat one’s trencher, but because it was very course and dense and purposefully stale, it was more often given to the poor, or fed to dogs.