It’s been a good week for archaeology news. Not only did the Brú na Bóinne site give up some more of its secrets after several millennia, but scientists in Jordan have identified bread fragments that date from a period in history long before any others that have been discovered.
There is a timelessness about bread. Its enduring appeal has lasted through the ages in its simplest companionable form of breaking bread together. But the positioning of this baked bread in a period that predates settled agricultural activities, when people started growing cereal crops, suggests that bread became big part of social interaction long before it was a staple food. What is intriguing about this latest piece of information is that there was more than one flour used in the preparation, which makes this a recipe rather than simply a process. It has even been suggested that wheat and barley were cultivated by the first farmers because they were already an important ingredient in special foods for big occasions.
What is evident, however, is that bread has not changed its basic composition in all those years. Flour and water are still the main ingredients. Grinding, mixing and baking still form the structure of the breadmaking process across the world. Whether the flour comes from wheat or rye, is organic or sprouted, (or in the case of this most recent find, tubers from bulrushes), the fermentation process is the same.
Few things can claim to be that consistent. Although there were advances made in large-scale bread-making in the twentieth century, no one in all that time has come up with a better way of making really good bread.
So we will keep to our methods of long-fermentation coupled with good ingredients and, who knows, maybe in another 14,000 years a Bretzel sourdough will be a piece of history. Now that’s what I would call a find.