The cultivation of grain is said to be the true beginning of civiliation. Grain was first planted, harvested, ground into flour and baked into bread in the region of the Fertile Crescent, where lie the modern countries of Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Lebanon.
The first bread was probably made 12,000 years ago or so by combining coarsely crushed grain and water. This “dough” was then heated on hot stones and baked by covering it with a layer of ashes.
The job of baker is one of the oldest trades in the world. Loaves of bread, perfectly preserved, that were found in Egyptian tombs can be seen at the British Museum in London. These 5,000 years old loaves and rolls are an eerie link to our distant ancestors.
It was the Egyptians who accidentally discovered that when they allowed wheat dough to ferment with wild yeast that was in the air, a gas that made a light, expandable loaf formed. Wheat quickly became the grain of choice over others grown in the region, although barley was grown by necessity because it was easier to cultivate in the poor soil and dry climate.
Hereodotus (484 - 424 B.C.) describes millet that grew in the hanging gardens of Babylon, and Isaiah mentions that the rye was sown at the border of barley and wheat fields. These grains were very nutritious. Einkorn wheat, which still grows wild in the Middle East, has 1.5 times as much protein as modern wheat varieties. There is some speculation the that Egyptians also developed the first ovens.
All evidence indicates that during Bible times, breadmaking was women’s work, a task usually performed early in the morning. Grinding was done by hand using a mull (a type of bowl) and a millstone. Most families had their own. The bread was leavened - caused to rise - with a leavening agent similar to sourdough starter. It could be baked directly in the ashes of the fire as shown in John 21:9, “As soon as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.” The bread could also be placed on the hot stones, which was more sanitary considering that kindling often consisted of animal droppings.
Bakeries existed where rich and poor alike could purchase loaves or bring their own loaves to be cooked in communal ovens. The quick exodus of the Israelites from Egypt prevented them from baking bread in the usual manner - they were uable to let it rise. Today, Jews commemorate the Exodus by eating unleavened bread.
Although it is said that “man shall not live by bread alone,” bread was long thought to be the one food essential for survival, and the acts of baking and eating bread often took on a magical significance. This “bread magic” could appear in many forms, from speaking charms over bread about to be eaten to baking it into all sorts of shapes and effigies. Early Christians would mark their loaves with crosses - a modern equivalent is the Hot Cross Buns served on Good Friday.
Essene bread gets its name from the Essenes, an ancient Jewish sect whose members may have included both John the Baptist and Jesus. Many Essenes were said to be healers, and folklore said they could cast out demons, cure illnesses and raise the dead. Many of their values - poverty, austerity, meditation - were adopted by the early church.
Originally, this bread would have been baked on hot rocks under the blazing Middle Eastern sun. A slow oven and a lot of patience (this bread takes several days to make) will get you a decent result.
3 c. hard wheat berries
Water to cover
Soak hard wheat in a jar, covered with water, overnight. The kernels will soak up a significant amount of water. Transfer to a colander, rinse and set aside to sprout. This will take about two days. Rinse periodically with cold water to keep from drying out.
When ready, the shoot should be approximately the same length as the berry, perhaps a bit longer. Grind in a food processor or meat grinder, not a blender. Turn onto a clean surface and knead for about 5 to 10 minutes. Form two loaves.
Sprinkle sesame seeds on a cookie sheet and place your loaves on top of them. Sprinkle seeds on the surface of the loaves as well, if desired. Bake at 250* F. for approximately 3 1/2 hours. Your sprout bread is finished when the bottom is no longer soft.
Because of its high moisture content, store this in the refrigerator if you do not eat it right away.
This recipe for bread was told to Ezekiel by God. Unfortunately, Ezekiel does not provide us with exact measurements, so what follows is a modern reconstruction - but feel free to experiement with the ingredients yourself.
Leave your mind open for guidance as you prepare this bread - many people say they feel closer to God in the simple act of baking.
4 c. lukewarm water
1/2 c. olive oil
1 c. honey
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
3 c. whole wheat berries
1 c. rye flour
1/2 c. barley
1/2 c. millet
1/4 c. dry green lentils
1/2 c. assorted, dried beans (soy, kidney, pinto, navy, etc.)
2 T. salt, or to taste
Combine water, olive oil, honey and yeast ina large mixing bowl. Be sure that the water is not too hot, or it will kill the yeast. (Baby formula temperature is just about right.) Set aside for 10 minutes.
Combine all remaining ingredients ina flour mill. Add to the yeast mixture and blend well. It should have the consistency of a batter bread. Divided dough into two greased and floured 9 X 5-inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Do not punch down.)
Bake at 350* F. for 50 minutes. Loaves are done whne they are a rich golden brown.
**There is much debate over what is meant by “fitches.” It was probably meant to be an herb, and nutmeg, fennel, and cumin have all been recommended by various cooks. Fennel does make a tasty bread.
Many people think that white bread, which has a refined texture and smooth taste, is a modern development over coarser, whole-grain “peasant” breads. However, white bread has been around in one form or another for atleast 2,000 years. The Romans, whose empire covered much of the known world during the biblical era, had a preference for white bread, as noted by Pliny (A.D. 70), “The wheat fo Cyprus is swarthy, and makes a bread that is dark. For this reason it is often mixed with the white wheat of Alexandria.”
1 pkg. dry yeast
1 c. lukewarm water, plus 1/3 c.
3 to 3 1/2 c. flour
2 t. salt
1 T. butter, melted
1 T. sesame seeds
Sprinkle yeast in 1/3 c. water. Stir lightly and set aside for several minutes. Sift together half the flour and the salt, then add to yeast mixture. Work together, adding more four until you have a dough that is workable, but still slightly sticky.
Place dough in greased bowl, turning once to coat all sides. Let rise for 15 minutes. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface for 15 minutes until smooth and elastic. Add a little more flour if necessary, so that the dough is no longer sticky. Return the dough to greased bowl, cover, and set in a warm spot and let it triple in size. Be patient - this will take several hours.
Punch the dough down and divide into 4 balls. Grease a glass baking pan and sprinkle sesame seeds on the surface of the pan before placing each ball of dough in the pan. Flatten slightly to form a classic round bread shape and mark with a cross, if desired. Brush with melted butter and bake at 400* F. for 30 minutes. Bread is done when it is a lovely golden color, and a “tap test” sounds hollow. Serve with a hit spiced butter.