A Brief History
On November 17, 2019, we celebrate another one of those made up holidays (actually, ALL holidays are made up holidays), National Homemade Bread Day. Obviously, the fact that we have to have a day to celebrate homemade bread means Americans have gotten away from baking bread at home and almost exclusively buy bread from stores and bakeries. The subject of bread brings up certain questions, which we will try to answer!
What Was the Greatest Thing Before Sliced Bread?
A topic so important, we have previously addressed this question in its own article. A partial retelling here:
“On July 7, 1928, bread that was presliced, wrapped in paper or cellophane, and sold like that to the consumer in bakeries and grocery stores first made its debut. The bread slicer was invented by Iowan Otto Rohwedder, and the race to sell sliced bread was on. The Chillocothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri claims to have sold the first such bread under its “Kleen Maid Sliced Bread” brand. Battle Creek, Michigan, also claims to be the first place the bread was sold, but without as much documentation. When Wonder Bread began selling sliced bread nationwide in 1930, the whole country got to experience “The greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” That commercial claim led to the American saying, “The greatest thing since sliced bread,” a phrase used to describe the latest and greatest thing that comes down the pike.”
Unfortunately, we do NOT know the answer! We leave it to you, our valued readers with much higher intellect than our own, to tell US what was the greatest thing before sliced bread.
What is “leavened” and “unleavened” bread?
People have made bread from grain ground up and baked for tens of thousands of years, perhaps as long ago as 30,000 years! By 10,000 years ago people were heavily relying on grains for a major part of their diet, with those grains usually turned into bread as an eatable form. Sometimes airborne yeast spores would contaminate dough left outside and the dough would be naturally “leavened,” allowing the yeast to create bubbles in the bread, resulting in lighter, airier bread with the familiar sponge-like texture we know. Yeasts, an organism from the fungus family, was the original form of “leavening” and remains popular. Bread makers that used beer to moisten flour to make dough to produce bread found the results were the leavened bread typical of what we have (mostly) today. Leaven, or a leavening agent, is a substance that when added to the ingredients of bread creates all sorts of little bubbles in the finished product, leaving a nice light and fluffy bread. Along with yeast, other natural leavening agents include fermented beverages (such as beer) or lactobacilli that gives sourdough bread its character. Another bacterium that can be used to leaven bread is Clostridium perfringens, commonly used in salt rising bread. Chemical leavening may also be used, typically baking soda or baking powder (forms of bicarbonate). Mechanical leavening is yet another technique to get bubbles in bread, using machines to whip up air into the dough before baking. Unleavened bread is dough baked without a leavening agent that results in a heavier bread product without the little air bubbles we seem to love so much. Examples of unleavened bread include most “flat bread” types, including Matzo, Lavash, Tortilla, Naan, and Bannock. (Note: Although a flatbread, Pita is leavened.)
Bread is life.
Bread of all types is so important to human beings that the very name of the stuff is synonymous with survival. “Our daily bread” means our sustenance, and Wheat is often called “The Staff of Life.” We refer to money as “bread” since we use money to buy our bread. Likewise, we also call money “dough,” because if we have dough, we can have bread. (Deductive logic, you know.) We refer to the person that makes the most money in a household as the “bread winner,” the person that puts bread on the table. Incredibly, about 1/3 of all bread in the US each year is thrown away! (It may be left on plates in a restaurant or chucked because of getting stale or moldy.) Americans consume more grain products than any other food group, just edging out oils and fats. The lion’s share of the grain products are some form of bread or pastry.
So make bread at home…
Americans can find a bewildering array of different bread products at the grocery store or local bakery, and many of those products are really, really tasty. Still, treating yourself to bread fresh made from your own oven is a wonderful way to say “I love me!” Whether you buy pre-mixed dough or rolls already made and ready to pop in the oven or you get the flour, eggs, milk, yeast, salt and sugar (or whatever ingredients) and make yours from scratch, there is a great satisfaction to be found in making your own bread. Enjoy your homemade bread on a sandwich, as toast, dipped in soup or gravy or feed it to the pigeons, any way you like it will be fine! You can find frozen and refrigerated pre-made dough and you can also find automatic bread making machines that are really nifty for making bread at home. You just throw the ingredients in and the machine does the mixing and baking.
Why do bakers sell bread?
Because they knead the dough!
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite type of bread? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Elby, Zara. Keto Bread Machine Cookbook: Quick, Easy, Delicious, and Perfect Ketogenic Recipes for Baking Homemade Bread in a Bread Maker! Independently published, 2019.
O’Hara, Bonnie. Bread Baking for Beginners: The Essential Guide to Baking Kneaded Breads, No-Knead Breads, and Enriched Breads. Rockridge Press, 2018.
Prior, Jenny. Everyday Bread Baking: From Simple Sandwich Loaves to Celebratory Holiday Breads. Rockridge Press, 2019.