Ancient Loaves, Cherokee Bean Bread and Long-Lost Bowie Tunes

Recent evidence indicates that humans ate wild cereal grains as far back as 23,000 years ago, in the Upper Palaeolithic period. Now there’s some exciting new insight into our long relationship with bread. One of the biggest bread-led news stories of the past couple of weeks is the remarkable tale of the world’s oldest bread, a find that has smashed the previous record held by a chunk of 9000 year old bread found in Turkey.

The latest record-breaker was discovered at a prehistoric site in north east Jordan, a few burned remains dated at 14,500 years old. Why all the fuss? Because the find proves that people started making bread around 4000 years before they discovered farming, much earlier than anyone thought.

The bread was found in a stone fireplace in the remote Black Desert, made from the seeds of several different wild cereal plants, including barley and oats, plus various tubers. It was made by the Natufian people, at a time when their lives were changing from nomadic hunter-gathering to settled agricultural living.

The discovery has been called ‘exceptional’, and it’s making the experts wonder whether there was a strong  relationship between bread production and the start of agriculture, where people’s desire for bread was the driver that stopped them travelling and saw them settling in one place.

The team has begun reproducing the prehistoric bread, and so far it looks like it wasn’t very tasty. The verdict is  gritty, a bit salty, and slightly sweet.

Where did Britain’s love of bread come from?

According to the BBC, a new piece of research by a team at the University of Manchester reveals Brits have more than twenty different words for the humble bread roll, including bap, blaa, batch, barm, teacake, muffin, bun, cob, stottie, oven bottom, scuffler and breadcake.

How come we have so many words to describe a roll? Some say it’s all down to the Romans. Apparently the art of baking flourished in the Roman Empire from about 300 BC onwards. In 168 BC they set up the world’s first Bakers Guild, and 150 years later Rome boasted more than 300 specialist pastry chefs. No doubt they brought their bread making skills to Britain with them, in the same way they brought their wines, their snails, all sorts of other exotic foodstuffs.

The same goes for the invading Vikings, whose rye grain bread was famously dense and hard. And the invading Normans, who also made dark, heavy bread from barley and rye. Every time we were invaded, the invaders brought their own bread-making skills and recipes with them.

Native American Cherokee bread

Isn’t it fascinating how bread spread across every continent, every civilisation? There’s something fundamentally good about bread, something universal that humans love. The native Americans are no different, and their breads are unique. Take Cherokee bread. With a texture more like a dumpling than bread, it’s made primarily from corn and beans. And it’s a tricky recipe to pull off.

First, you soak corn kernels in lye-rich hickory ash and water, lye being a powerful alkaline. Once you’ve removed the grains’ tough shells you grind and sift the cornmeal, adding cooked beans and water. The resulting moist dumpling-like lump has to be wrapped in soaked hickory leaves or corn husks, then tied into a neat package using river grass. Then you pop the package into a kettle of hot water and boil it for an hour. The resulting bread is wonderfully soft and moist.

David Bowie’s bread basket treasure

What kind of thing do you expect to find in an old bread basket? Take ten guesses, take a hundred, and it’s still unlikely you’ll come up with the right answer: David Bowie’s first ever demo track. According to The Guardian the music was discovered in old bread basket and dates back to a time when 16 year-old Bowie, who at the time was determined to become a saxophonist, agreed to sing lead vocals on a demo track in a south London studio. The song was called ‘I Never Dreamed’, the band was called The Konrads, and the rediscovered recording is predicted to clock up at least ten grand at auction.

David Hadfield, the Konrads’ drummer and manager, made the find when moving house, stashed in his granddad’s old bread basket in a loft above the garage. The Konrads never did get the audition they wanted so desperately with Decca. Bowie soon left the band anyway, citing creative differences. And the recording is all that’s left of that long-ago session, an event that helped to kick off a legendary musical career.