A Blast from the Past

7th February 2013

When you make bread, you’re joining in with an activity that has been going on for thousands of years. Bread has sustained human beings for such a long time. It has huge cultural significance for us; it’s part of our lives.

I’m spending a bit of time looking into the history of bread making and, in particular, the history of bread making in Cumbria. It’s a fascinating area to look into. When William Wordsworth sat down to breakfast, I wonder what sort of bread was put upon his plate?

Although some wheat seems to have been available around here in Roman times, it appears that the cereal crops that have most been used in Cumberland for the last 2000 years are barley, oats and rye. Certainly up until 1750, wheat was a rare commodity. Barley was also used for pastry. We have accounts from the mid nineteenth century that the famous Cumberland Christmas Pies not only had goose in them but that they also had a crust made of barley. More on barley bread another time.

One of the breads that we’re currently making is Beacon Brown bread from an old Whitehaven recipe. Back in the day when Whitehaven was a major seaport, all manner of goodies would land on the quayside from exotic places like the Caribbean. This included molasses and treacle which somehow ended up in the homes of the locals and were included in bread to make it a little more special. We’ve taken a little liberty with our Beacon Brown bread by not only adding treacle but by adding a shot of espresso to the mix as well. It produces a darker bread with lovely sweet overtones.

These older recipes are certainly very different from the white sliced loaf that is the nation’s mainstay. Time for us to move on to bread that has flavour, that has more substance and that, ultimately, is better for you. How about that as a New Year’s Resolution?

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