Since the first discovery of bread within early Neolithic artefacts in Europe, it has been assumed that bread would have been an important staple of the prehistoric diet, as it has been throughout history. Neolithic farmers introduced a range of new crop plants, and they were the first people to really intensively cultivate the land around them.
The most widespread crop emmer wheat, although some small amounts of einkorn and barley was also grown at this time. In modern times, we now grow what which has better qualities for baking, these cereals still essentially form a major part of our modern diet too. Free threshing forms of bread wheat have been found dating from the end of the Bronze Age, which, when ground into flour, would have been baked into unleavened bread.
Until the discovery of a loaf of yeasted bread, which was made from barley and wheat flours, in the Neolithic level at Lake Bienne in Switzerland, it was generally assumed that the people of prehistoric times did not have yeasted bread. However, this was not the case. In ancient Egypt, the soaked loaves of half baked bread in a mixture of both water and date juice, then added it to flour to make fresh bread. This is similar to the modern tenchiques used in the production of sourdough bread.
Yeast has typically been linked to both beer and wine brewing throughout the past; the relationship between grain, yeast, bread and brewing can be observed extensively across different time periods. Some fruit, like grapes and elderberries, have natural yeasts on their skins. Because of this, fermenting beer or wine can be added in the bread making process resulting in leavened bread. Using fermenting grain to produce alcohol dates back to the first cultivation of grain, and may have been a result of the way that grain was stored in pits at this time. The damp earth started germination in the grain on the edge of the pit, which in turn used up all of the oxygen in the storage pit. When all of the oxygen was gone, this killed the germinating grain, creating a seal around the outside of the pit. This seal meant that the remaining grain would keep for much longer, sometimes being used over several years. When the grain was used, and left behind would begin germinating again, and by baking these germinating grains, malt was created. This malt can then be used in the brewing process.
Although modern bread is very different to this prehistoric bread, the taste is very similar and recognisable as bread. In order to bake bread, prehistoric people had to grind grain up using saddle querns to get their flour. This recipe uses stone ground flour, but if you can find them, the recipe should also work with emmer, einkorn or spelt wheat flours.
Prehistoric sweet bread with hazelnuts and plums
1.5kg stone ground flour
1 cup shelled chopped hazelnuts (I bashed mine with a rolling pin in a bag which worked fine)
5 plums, stoned and chopped into small chunks
1 tsp sea salt warm water to mix
- Mix all of the ingredients together. Make sure to use a big bowl as there are a lot of ingredients! Mixing will take a while, and be sure to add your water slowly in small amounts at a time so that your mix does not end up too sticky! I found that kneading the dough once it had started to come together helped the mixing process.
- Leave covered in a warm place for three hours. I put mine in my conservatory in the sunshine, but it would also go in an airing cupboard, or an oven on a very low heat (less than 50⁰C).
- Knead the dough on a well floured surface. I spent about half an hour doing this, until the dough became more elastic.
- Then shape into small rolls. I cut my dough using a dough scraper, and just kept halving the dough until I had the size rolls that I wanted.
- Place your shaped rolls onto a baking tray lined with baking paper so they don’t stick, and then cover and leave them for a further two hours.
- Bake your prehistoric sweet breads in a moderate oven. Mine took about 50 minutes at 100⁰C in a fan oven, although this may vary between ovens and depends on the size of bread rolls you have made.
They can be eaten once cooked, however they can also be served in warm honey. An ancient Irish text talks about the Feast of Bricrin, and notes that part of the menu consisted of ‘100 wheaten loaves baked in honey’. To try this, warm your honey in a small pan or a microwave, and pour it into a shallow dish or deep plate. Place your prehistoric sweet bread rolls into the warm honey whilst they are still warm, and spoon some of the honey over the top of them. This will result in a very sticky sweet treat! Be careful as the honey may be very hot and may need to cool before you eat your prehistoric sweet bread.
Now enjoy your prehistoric sweet bread and share it with all your friends, it was a hit at the Elmet office!
Black, M. 1993. A Taste of History: 10,000 years of food in Britain. The British Museum Press: London
Dilley, J. 2015. Ancient Craft: Stone Age Food [Online] Available from: http://www.ancientcraft.co.uk/Archaeology/stone-age/stoneage_food.html [Last accessed 08.06.2015]
Wood, J. 2003. Prehistoric Cooking. Tempus Publishing: Stroud