Song of the Wheat: The History of Bread, Grains, and Leavenings from Pre-history to Today
Join us on June 8th for “Song of the Wheat: The History of Bread, Grains, and Leavenings from Pre-history to Today” with William Rubel!
Evidence suggests that bread was made in the Fertile Crescent ten thousand years before the invention of agriculture. For thousands of years it was a food, but not the food. Agriculture made bread an agent of change. Bread built the first Fertile Crescent cities and the civilizations of which we are heir. William Rubel will offer a general history of bread with an emphasis on actual breads that people touched, smelled, chewed, and had opinions about. He will attempt to show how bread history can help answer questions that are pertinent today, such as, why is wheat the world’s biggest crop by acreage? Why are today’s American artisan bakers so attracted to sourdough leavening? Why do each of us define “good bread” the way we do?
Nothing about the bread we eat is accidental. The choice of flour, its level of refinement, the bread’s size, shape, fermentation, qualities of crust and crumb, type of leavening, flavor and more are under the baker’s control. As with most of our material objects, bread carries social markers. The almost unlimited range of nuances possible when making bread makes it an usually rich carrier of cultural messages. What kinds of messages were historically encoded in loaves, and how do we get at those messages considering the fact that the bread is ephemeral and there are virtually no records of historic breads?
Recently Rubel’s research has been focused on uncovering the English vocabulary of bread from 1500 to 1900. He will share some recently discovered craft terms that describe breads and what the elites thought of them. This vocabulary offers insights into the breads that are not found in our cookbooks and bakery shelves.
Rubel will describe breads that fed the gods, breads that stink, breads that were fed to fighting cocks to help them win, breads that were served to humiliate and torture prisoners, breads eaten by landless field hands, and breads of the good life.
Bread reflects culture. As our culture changes so (again) will our breads. The definition of “good bread” is not universal. Hopefully you will leave this talk with a sense of where bread comes from and where it might go in the future.
A book signing and reception with themed refreshments will follow the talk at approximately 11:30.
Mark Taper Auditorium at the Central Library
Free and open to the public.