Date: 19 May, 2004
Subject: [EKSouth] Links: The Staff of Life

Greetings everyone!

This week's Links List is a bout Bread. Bread, yeast, flour, Baker's Marks and ovens are all covered here. Thought there were no surviving recipes for bread? Think again. Can't figure out how to make Sourdough? This list is a good place to start. Want to build a medieval style bread oven? You can, with the information below.

Please use this information as you see fit and "pay it forward" to those who would be interested. Remember to carefully weigh the information you read. Not all of it should be taken as gospel. I've included, at the end, an OLD webpage of mine from many moons ago...when I built and fired and used a bee-hive oven for an even here in the Barony of the Endless Hills (or, Shire as we were then!). I'd do it a bit differently if I could do it all over again, you know, mostly because I have so much more information to draw from nowadays. Meanwhile, my old page stays up. It pops up every now and again when people contact me out of the blue for oven information. If this is a subject that is near to your heart, please join the SCAbakers list-serve (link below). Folks on there know a LOT about Historical baking, and the archives alone are filled with baking gold.


Dame Aoife Finn
a/k/a Lisbeth Herr Gelatt

FAQ Medieval Bread
(Site Excerpt from the "What was the Leavening used?" section) Generally, sourdough - much like today, they would create a culture with flour and water to attract the local yeasts. This would either be maintained as a separate culture to mix into each batch, or more often, a bit of dough was kept from one day's batch to start the next. "Barm", or ale yeast, was also widely used. Since producing carbonation for beer does not exhaust ale yeast, the dregs can be strained out and used to leaven bread. Bakers and brewers were often working side by side, if not the same person. (and from the "Were only Men allowed to be bakers?" section) Old English has both masculine and feminine words for bakers (baecere and baecestre) and the word "lady" comes from the Old English word hlaefdige, which derives from hlaibadigon, or bread kneader. Medieval Bread
(Site Excerpt) Its likely that trencher bread was only served at feasts where a person of substance was paying the bill. For the wealthier host, bread trenchers were relatively cheap and had the bonus of being easy to prepare and use. Meat with sauce was served directly onto the bread platter, which had a shallow hollow or 'trench' cut into the bread to retain any gravy or juices. Medieval meat was served in bite-sized chunks. The cut worked well on the platters and was easily eaten with the fingers or stabbed with a thin bladed knife. Slices would have been much harder to handle.

The World of Richard Cullinan: A Short Note on Medieval Bread.
(Site Excerpt) One of the main components of the European diet is bread. One of the most surprising things I encountered when I first started looking at period recipes was the lack of recipes for bread. In fact, this belief is so widespread that Black has this to say:
We have no recipes for medieval breads, but we know their names and uses as well as Chaucer's miller did. The finest, whitest wheat flour, boulted several times, made bread called wastel or paynedemain (demesne bread). This is what the prioress fed to her dogs. The only finer flour was the wheaten type used for the light pastries called simnels and cracknels, or wafers (the sacramental Host consisted of these delicate white wafers).

Bread Oven, Thetford Priory
A photo of the oven, which is completely intact, circa 16th century.

History Learning Site: Medieval Food and Drink
Food and Drink in Medieval England
(Site Excerpt: Note, this site is for school children and is somewhat simplistic) Most people in Medieval England ate bread. People preferred white bread made from wheat flour. However, only the richer farmers and lords in villages were able to grow the wheat needed to make white bread. Wheat could only be grown in soil that had received generous amounts of manure, so peasants usually grew rye and barley instead.

Midlaurel Links Medieval Arts and Sciences Web: Bread Articles Links

Early Agricultural Remnants and Technical Heritage: Aspects of Swedish prehistoric bread: identification and symbolic use by Ann-Marie Hansson
(Site Excerpt) Loaves of bread are sometimes used as grave gifts in cremation graves, especially during the later Iron Age. In many graves there are also found small burnt concretions, some of which might be fragments from bread, porridge or the like. It is now possible to separate this type of organic remains from organic residues of other origins, using help of Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy analysis.

Stefan's Florilegium: Ancient Grains
Also see: Food - Breads and Grains and the
Ovens Message at

The Flour of Chivalry:
The Rise of Bakers' Guilds in the Middle Ages
(Site Excerpt) The most widespread regulation was the "Assize of Bread". This English law of 1266 attempted to standardize the various local policies - although in practice, it was not any simpler. The Assize directed bakers to make a common weight of bread known as a penny loaf. However, the loaf could vary in weight, and thus price, according to the type of flour used: the white loaf was made from the finest white flour available; the "wheaten" loaf was coarser, and weighed half again as much; "household" loaves were approximately double white loaves, made from unbolted flour "as it cometh from the mill." This sounds fairly clear, but bread weights were inconsistently based on the going local rate of grain, and weights differed throughout the country. The Judgment of the Pillory was a law spelling out procedures to investigate and punish offenders.

A bit more information on Baker's Marks
(Site Excerpt) (After making the dough into loaves, but before baking) the bread then received a "mark" unique to each baker which permitted, at the time of inspection, a quick and indisputable identification of the bakery where the merchandise came from. The marking of bread, like that of beer barrels and many other non-alimentary products, only became obligatory throughout Europe in the second half of the 15th century. The bakers became constrained at the time they set up shop, when they "put out their shingle", to choose a mark.

Gode Cookery: Breads, Cakes and Pastries recipes

History Magazine: Bread
(Site Excerpt) Bread and the Law Bread was so vital to people's lives that it was subject of special laws almost everywhere. As early as medieval times, bakers were subject to regulations which were supposed to protect the consumer. The price of wheat in England has been recorded continually since about 1200 and even in times of generally stable prices, it could fluctuate dramatically. What made the price of bread so sensitive is that most people had little opportunity to substitute other foods.

SCA Bakers e-group homepage (be sure to look at the archives, too)
(Site Excerpt) This site is for bakers of all ages and skill, to gather and discuss baking techniques from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, roughly 600-1600 ce. This includes any manner of breads, cakes, or pies that would have been baked in an oven or over a fire and the items that would have been used for baking (pots, pans, ovens, kneading troughs, rotary kerns, etc.).
Our discussion need not be limited to European recipes, and can include recipes and techniques from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. This site is primarily for people who are members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), but anyone who is interested in learning about the history of baking is welcome.

A Brief Note on Yeast (Stefan's Florilegium) copyright Terry Nutter
(Site Excerpt) In their article "Winemaking in the Modern Middle Ages" in volume ten of the _Boke_of_Divers_Knowlege_, Lord Ivan Kalinin and Lady Valentina Krasnaya (Jay Toser and Christa Toser) write: "Yeast is not mentioned as a separate entity until Louis Pasteur discovered it in 1857." Claims of this sort must, I think, be very carefully stated, or they risk misconstrual. It would be natural to concluded from this, that medieval brewers, bakers, and cooks had no notion of an ingredient corresponding to yeast, let alone of different strains of it. That conclusion would be false; and the culinary recipe corpus clearly attests its falsehood.

City of London Worshipful Company of Bakers
(Site Excerpt from a bakers guild that is 800 years old) The Company is one of the oldest City of London Liveries with a history dating back over 800 years. The first known records of the existence of the Bakers' Guild are contained in the great 'Pipe Rolls' of Henry II which listed the yearly 'farm' paid to the Crown and in these it is shown that the Bakers of London (the BOLENGARII) paid a Mark of gold to the King's Exchequer for their Guild from 1155 AD onwards. (See also 2000 years od baking at and Olde Recipes at

MOAS Atlantia
Click on the Cooking and Food links, and scroll down to Bread, to find a large array of links. Many are not working, but many of them ARE. Large number of links for ethnic breads.

Medieval Russia -- Food and Drink
(Site Excerpt) what foods were eaten in medieval Russia? It is simple enough to deduce what foods were not part of the diet, since some staples of modern Russian cuisine are New World foods: potatoes, tomatoes, corn, green peppers. And some standard foodstuffs are as old as the land (or almost): rye, wheat, millet, barley, oats. These grains were used predominantly to prepare sourdough bread. Buckwheat was introduced only in the XV century, but as we know, it has become one of the most common foods in Russian cuisine. Grains were also used to prepare a variety of porridges ("kasha" refers to a porridge-like dish, not to buckwheat only). These porridges could be sweet or savory, a meal in themselves or a side dish.

Building and Using a Medieval-Style Hemispherical Bake Oven ? 1999 Carolyn Priest-Dorman
(Site Excerpt) Our oven is an unvented hemispherical structure with one door, built on a small wood-framed platform; the oven causes no fire hazard to turf because of the dirt-filled, brick-faced platform. Our oven is based on one from the 12th century found in an excavation at York, England (i.e., Norman period), although it is similar to earlier Viking Age ones. The original was made out of wickerwork and completely covered inside and out with daub. However, in order to make a wickerwork oven you need a three-week period before use in order to ensure that it is dried and fired correctly. Needless to say, we don't have that kind of time at Pennsic, so we make do with a different armature.

Experiments with Early Medieval Ovens by Matt Smalley, UK
(Site Excerpt) The oven at West Stow was built by members of the living history society Angelcynn. Its 'footprint' was the exact shape and size of a 7th Century oven found on the site during archaeological excavations. The height of the original oven is unknown. The reconstruction was carried out by members of the society with previous experience of reconstructing early medieval ovens. The base of the oven consisted of a layer of flint, covered with a mix of straw, sand and clay. The walls were constructed with a wicker framework of young, green willow withies, over which was plastered, both inside and outside, a thick layer of the clay mixture. The oven was quite small, had a smokehole at the back and a low entrance tunnel at the front. After construction the oven was allowed to dry slowly, then 'fired' by building a fire in the front entrance of the oven, and then slowly moving the fire inside over a period of several hours.

A VERY old site of Aoife's, and she was surprised to see it was still up and active and HIGHLY traficked:
Beehive Oven: how we did it, why we did it, what it was like.
(See espescially the photos. Site excerpt) How to fire and use an earthen oven:
Use kindling to start a small fire inside the oven. Chop firewood into slim, short pieces and use these to build a quick, hot fire. Keep this fire going fairly strong (fire shooting out the top hole (if you have one) is appropriate so long as you do not set the camp on fire! We pre-heated the oven for the length of time it took the bread to go through 2 risings on a chilly day (about 3 hours). By this time we judged it had stored enough heat to bake our bread. The fire was shovelled out and the ashes swept out quickly, and the loaves were placed in side. The oven was sealed with a rock door that had also been pre-heated (use thick leather gloves to handle large, hot rocks!). The bread baked in the expected amount of time. The oven had to go through another brief firing in order to bake a second batch.

Simple Sourdough
How to Bake the Best Bread in the World By Mark Shepard
(Site Excerpt) It's funny to hear people talk about buying sourdough starter. Buying starter is a lot like buying air. Because that's where the sourdough "yeast" comes from. Forget fancy starter recipes-especially the ones telling you to add baker's yeast! Just put a little whole wheat flour in a small dish and mix in some water till it's like pancake batter. Then set it out uncovered, in a warm place, but out of direct sunlight. (Exact amounts really don't matter, but if you need a guideline, try half a cup of flour with an equal amount of water. After evaporation, that should yield about half a cup of starter.) The starter mixture will pick up wild "yeast" from the air-actually, a variety of microorganisms-and feed them. Within a few days, the mixture should bubble and smell sour. FAQ.Starter.Doctor
(Site Excerpt) When you are getting started, or when you are trying to troubleshoot a starter, then the first thing you need to do is accurately determine what state it is in. I've noticed that many people, including people with more experience, still have questions about determining what the current state a starter is in based upon visual clues. I'm sure everyone knows at least most of the following material, but there should be a little something for everyone in it.
Neophyte sourdough bakers or people starting new starters should find the most use out of this information. Finally, although these techniques work well and are well-proven in my kitchen, they are by far not the only techniques which work. They are good guidelines though and the neophyte should at least try following them before experimenting with other methods.

The Biodiversity of Lactic Acid Bacteria in Greek Traditional Wheat Sourdoughs Is Reflected in Both Composition and Metabolite Formation
Copyright ? 2002, American Society for Microbiology
(Site Excerpt) Application of sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of total cell protein, randomly amplified polymorphic DNA-PCR, DNA-DNA hybridization, and 16S ribosomal DNA sequence analysis, in combination with physiological traits such as fructose fermentation and mannitol production, allowed us to classify the isolated bacteria into the species Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus paralimentarius, and Weissella cibaria. This consortium seems to be unique for the Greek traditional wheat sourdoughs studied.

You can buy regional Sourdough strains from around the world at:
(Site Excerpt) Sourdoughs International is dedicated to promoting the resurgence of sourdough bread baking. For over 5 ,000 years, from man's first bread in Egypt to about 100 years ago, all bread was leavened with wild yeast. In addition to the many wild yeast strains in sourdough cultures, lactic acid bacteria generate 45 flavor producing ingredients. Breads baked with commercial yeast can never equal the flavor and texture of sourdoughs.