Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ancient Bread Reproduced ~ Part 2

 Well, I can't believe the week has flown by and we're into the weekend. My company is coming today and will leave very early in the morning.

But today I'll continue with the story of Ed Wood, the man who wrote World Sourdoughs From Antiquity. Before he and National Geographic magazine could make the trip to Egypt, they had to convince the Egyptian government to allow them to come.

One way to convince the Egyptian government that he was serious about reproducing an ancient bread was to use an ancient flour. In fact, the ancient bread couldn't be made without it. But there had to be gluten in the flour--the flatbreads of earlier times had been replaced by wheat flour in order to get the rise in the bread--so all Ed had to do was find an unrefined ancient flour to use, and plenty of it. He found an ancient grain called "emmer" in Turkey, and bought 50 pounds of it. Then he bought a backup flour called "Kamut" in case the emmer didn't cooperate. Getting ready for the trip and making sure everything was properly done took a while. Unfortunately the first trip was cancelled. But the group finally made it to Egypt and began working on the project.

Ed's first priority was to capture some of Giza's wild yeasts, and he began immediately. His hotel room was close to the pyramids and a group of date trees, so he sat a mixture of flour and water outside to capture spores from the air. The culture was active and bubbling by the third day. However, the replica of the ancient bakery wasn't even begun. After finding an acceptable site, work began on one unit which replicated the original multiple outdoor units capable of producing enough bread to feed an estimated 30,000 people per day. While the original units were enormous, Ed's replica was about 20 feet square, with low stone walls 30 inches high. Inside was about 10 feet of working space. 

A bigger challenge was reproducing the original bread molds, since they were huge. Shaped like a "monstrous football," the molds were two cone-shaped clay pieces that when put together were 30 inches in length and 18 inches in diameter at the middle where the halves connected. A nearby potter agreed to make the molds. While they were waiting for the molds, Ed went with a group to see the tomb of Teti, which had wall drawings of Egyptians kneading bread, pouring dough into pots, removing bread, and stacking pots over a bed of charcoal. The scene with stacked pots was puzzling, but later gave an important clue to the art of making ancient bread.

As you can imagine, the story of purchasing all the supplies needed for the baking process is a saga that Ed managed to keep interesting while getting it all in. I'm going to skip the details. After some experimenting with mixed results, Ed learned enough to make a real test run. Success came at that point and beautiful loaves just like the loaves baked for slaves building the pyramids came out of the conically shaped clay pots. Each pot made two loaves. And each pot had a lid that created an oven for the bread. Without the top--the clue in the wall drawing--the bread would not bake!

The article in National Geographic magazine was titled: "After 4500 Years Rediscovering Egypt's Bread Baking Technology." So Ed Wood kneaded and baked sourdough bread in an oven next to the pyramids, the same way it had been done in ancient Egypt 4500 years earlier. Ed's evaluation of the finished product was that it had "great flavor and nice crumb!"

What Ed went through to bring that ancient process back to life can't really be compared to our having accessibility to everything we need to make a delicious sourdough bread. Maybe it will help you think about taking up the fulfilling art of making sourdough bread.

Enjoy the weekend!

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