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Bread


THE TRADITION

According to Greek mythology there was Demeter, goddess of the crops - Cerere for the Romans - who gave to man cereals, in particular wheat of which is taken out the flour for making into bread. Bread has always had a sacredness which in the Greek world first and then Roman, was tied to the fertility of the earth, so much so that Demeter was celebrated during the rites of the Eleusinian mysteries and was offered this bread by Thargelos who prepared the first flour after the reaping during the rural feast that in ancient Greece happened in between the middle of May and the middle of June, period of the harvesting of the grain. In the Christian culture and religion bread assumes a centrality tied to the metaphor for the body of Chirst «this is my body» and with the identification of the Host-body of Christ there is concluded a process of sublimation of the bread that from food becomes a means of communication able to transmit deep meanings. «Give us this day our daily bread» recites the prayer at the base of the Christian-Catholic religion; where bread is synonymous of food, because in the heart of the Mediterranean, where that religion developed, the bread culture had its origins and spread. So this food is a recurrent theme in Christian symbology. As an example enough to think of Adam - kicked out of Paradise - and it was said «You will earn your bread by the sweat of your brow». During the centuries in the period of Christianity the ecumenical bread were very large and in the form of a doughnut. After the XI century it became smaller due to the adherence to the real history (the Hebrews used unleavened bread). Only from the middle of the XIII century the Eucharistical bread became the Host made from very fine flour of grain cooked on special grills, before work of the same priests, afterwards the preparation of the Host was entrusted to the monks in the monasteries. Still today bread has preserved a symbolic value tied to religious feasts; enough to think of the special breads made for the feast of Saint Nicholas (6th December), Saint Lucia (13th December) and many others that vary from region to region; for the rest there is the Christmas “panettone” which is present throughout the world, which is none other than a sweet bread? And so it is for our Easter Dove cake.

A LITTLE HISTORY

Bread is one of the most ancient of foods of humanity; made through the centuries with various grains; the first cereals used are recorded as millet and acorns. The grain were first shattered and then roasted on a very hot stone. They were obtained by the young cocks that figured still between the ritual food in some cultures. The stone was afterwards covered by an terracotta vase and so becoming the first rudimentary oven. The period of the discovery of the wheat, is not certain, there have been been found traces in a cavern in Merkenstein in Austria - it is said to be dating back to the Palaeolithic period; above the Neolithic age (6,000 years before Christ). For the place of origin it is suggested to give faith to - between many hypothesis - the historical Diodoro Siculo (1st century B.C.) that vindicated the claim by Sicily (Trinacria) as the legitimate homeland of wheat because here there grow, spontaneously, the Tricutum villosum that
through cultivation is transformed into Tricutum sativum, used for the making of bread. It is certain that the wheat used today in the preparation of bread is the result of various intersections and therefore is very different from that of ancient times. We may affirm however that bread realized in various ways and with various elements has been present throughout the history of mankind. In the age of the Romans, already in the period of the Emperor Augustus, in the city of Rome there were three hundred ovens. The public mills were placed near to them to facilitate the cycle of bread making. In respect to other antique populations, the Romans began belatedly (about the millde of the II century B.C.) to make bread. According to Pliny it was some Macedonian prisoners who taught the Romans the art of bread making that very soon became a very profitably work and highly considered, socially, so much so that there was spontaneously created the Guild of Pistores. For the institutionalisation of this baking trade, it appeared in Italy in the period of the Councils and of the Lords; precisely in the XIV century, when there began a true and proper art of Italian cooking. There was created everywhere, the corporation that was composed of Bakers and Pistori with Statutes that regulated, in a vigorous way, the access and the exercise of this trade, that became slowly developed into a varied production of quality and typology. Some curiosities to be mentioned: in 1300 there was made white bread called «da bocca» used in the place of tablenapkins. The bread “of the executioner” - that the bakers were obliged by law to make - was consigned upside-down in a sign of disrespect. Even today it is an unwelcome upside-down bread when it is presented and when placed on the table, assumed to have, in the belief of the population, a negative significance that brings misfortune that is transformed into a gift of etiquette During the memorable culinary events of the Renaissance (those Florentine were very famous especially those of the of Medici) the numerous courses were always accompanied by bread which also appeared with more frugal meals and was consumed in the workshops of Leonardo da Vinci and of Michelangelo that when they worked - so goes the story - they ate only bread. It was however in the 1800’s, the century in which studies were conducted on the composition and energetic value of this food and in which was spread the cultivation of wheat selected to obtain flour always better for the bread making and always more refined. There progressed, consequently, an improvement in the macination process that was realised with a millstone with two cylinders, slowly perfecting the elemination of any impurities. There was constructed the first kneeding machine, improving the ovens, and releasing the art of breadmaking from the power of the government to give the competition the means that improved the product and contained the price of the food throughout Italy. In 1875 the famous Inchiesta Agraria of Stefano Jacini proved that bread was a base food for the workers, whereas the consumption of meat was still very low. In our century bread on one side has been improved through the use of a mixture of flours with the goal of enriching its nutritional power; on the other side it has submitted to the process of industrialisation, that certainly assures the hygiene, but howver it certainly flattens the flavour in a levelling method that cries out for the old fragrances, only in part compensated by the special manufacture.


THE BASE INGREDIENTS

The base ingredients are always the same: flour, water, yeast with a little salt added. For us the principle cereal used to made the flour is wheat, but worldwide there can be counted at least a hundred other plants that are used to make flour for the bread (from acorns to chestnuts, from rice to rye etc., etc.). The wheat is distinguished by that which has produced soft wheat (Tricutum aestivum from which flour is obtained) and durum wheat (Tricutum durum) from which is obtained the superfine; but there are many that surround these two species; varities that permit the cultivation of grain in every country of the world, so much so that in every month of the year in some part of the world there is harvested or seeded, grain. This gives us, in a nutritional camp, a fundamental function assuring us of over 50% of the protein necessary for growth, 40% of calories and 40% of iron. Unfortunately mineral salts are lost during the transformation of the grain into flour as they are found in the integumental part of the seed, in that part which covers the seed. The variety of flour depends on the variety of grain from which also depends on the variety of bread and whose quality obviously is influenzed also by the water used that may be more or less pure, more or less hard, more or less genuine. Other than salt, the other base element is yeast, formed by microorganisms (enzymes) that are nourished by sugar and that is a waste product gives off carbon dioxide. This gas inflates the dough making it thin and soft; but it is necessary during the leavening that the temperature is warm and constant because the yeast becomes inhibited with a drop in temperature whereas it favours an elevated temperature. The yeast may be industrial (sold in small pats) which are produced using the molasses (a liquid that remains after the manufacture of cane sugar, sugar beet etc.) or natural which is obtained through the different passages of the dough of water and flour maintaining a room temperature of 25°C. Practically you may use as an yeast, a piece of the risen dough from that previously made. The time of rising needed for industrial yeast is very much less in respect to that needed for natural yeast but which, however, ensures that the bread has more flavour, is of longer life and easier to digest.

THE PRODUCTION OF BREAD

Today in Italy working day after day, before dawn, there are over 35,000 bakers who kneed, leaven, form and take out of the oven, bread and rolls. There exists over 200 types of bread - for its variety of form and name - mutiplies up to 1,500. Tuscany is famous for the production of bread without salt which still today is widely used: a simple bread, of an antique flavour, of a traditional form: the principle are the round forms called “bozza”, longer called “filone” and flat bread of the “ciabatta”. The aspect is always rustic with a crunchy crust and the soft part very alveolate that asks for a long rising and an attentive and therefore long cooking. Tuscan bread requires - because of the essentiality of the ingredients that propose to exalt the most genuine taste - the cooking in a wood burning oven which is becoming always rarer to find these days, even if there still exists some throughout Italy bakeries that take out the fragrant and high perfumed bread cooked in a wood burning stove. Bread called “Tuscan” is without salt due to centuries old tradition which has its roots in poverty and that it was the custom throughout the centuries to eat highly flavoured dishes here (enough to think of Tuscan ham!) which is accompanied well by aa “insipid” bread. Typical Tuscan bread - if well cooked - can be kept for up to a week, even in the houses in the cities where it is often bought on the Saturday. This use is tied to the farming culture that comes from the bread making in wood burning ovens, of which nearly all houses had, every 2/3 months these were preserved in a kitchen cupboard wrapped in cloths. Naturally also in Tuscany other than traditional bread there is found a great variety of bread in part tied to the multi-racial culture which has developed everywhere (enough to think of the spread of “arabo” bread, to give an example). The base recipe for bread has found ways of being enriched over the years with an infinite variety. In Italy the use of different ingredients of those already spoken about, by law have to be indicated; the ingredients permitted are: butter, olive oil, lard, milk, grape must, currents, raisans, figs, olives, nuts, almonds, rosemary, aniseed, wild marjoram, cumin, sesame, malt, saccharose or dextrose, pumkin, honey, linseed. The use of enriching bread began after the great crisis that bread endured during the Sixties when, in full economic boom, the daily tables of the industrialised counties were suddenly abundant and bread was accused of being a “fat” food, traditional bread was nearly abandoned and was substituted with a small quantity of bread manufactured with the ingredients above mentioned and in a large part with crackers, grissini and crispbreads Serious studies then demonstrated that - in the right amounts - bread may be used in whatever diet especially that traditional bread as it was without any condiments. Today the consumption of bread has renewed itself throughout Italy along with the re-evaluation of the “mediterranean diet” which is based, for a large part, on cereal.

BREAD IN THE PRODUCTION OF ART AND LITERATURE

Bread is a constant presence in paintings: its story for examply is described on the walls of tombs, of temples and in Egyptian papyrus. In the Middle Ages, bread was in paintings, on frescoes, on religious iconography as a symbol, each time, of charity, pleasure, abandon and wealth. In the 1600’s when the richness of the banquets inspired the most beautiful still life also in Tuscany, bread appeared in many pictures accompanied by other foods, from pheasants to fruit and vegetables. But also in the art of our century bread is a protagonist: enough to think of René Magritte who in the work “La leggenda” immortalized the golden baguettes in an surreal representation of spaceships. And what to say about the American artist, Man Ray, who realised the artistic event “Painted Bread” (exhibited in the Gallery of Art in Sidney) painting two pieces of bread, blue? Also in literature bread has its own position: limiting ourselves to cite Manzoni of the “Promessi Sposi” with two referrals: the «bread of pardon» which the father, Cristoforo, asks of the brother of the man he killed and «the bread of providence» present on many pages. But we must not forget the fairy tales that have always a position in our immaginations: Little Red Riding Hood took to her grandmother a basket full of flat bread and Tom Thumb demonstrated the road with breadcrumbs. In the cinema bread has been used in many titles (Bread, Love and Fantasy; Bread, Love and Jealousy; Bread and Chocolate etc.,) and as a significant element in love and peace (ex. Kisses robbed from Truffaut).


THE SACREDNESS OF BREAD IN DAILY USE

The presence of this food in our culture throughout the ages and in all countries has conferred a certain sacredness that brings a daily involvement, from its conservation (from the kitchen cupboard to the freezer) and for the use of “old” bread (hard or stale). It is for this aspect that the farming culture teaches us many uses and the impossibility of throwing out any bread which, when really can no longer be eaten may be eaten or used for other foods, it may be used to feed domestic animals, for example. Tuscany is the place for lasting bread and of famousand flavoursome recipes, which have as a base element, bread; from bread soup, to the Father “al pomadoro”, from the “ribollita” to the “panzanella”, to mention only the most famous. But with bread there may be realized a complete meal: from the starters of crostini, to the sweet dishes (cakes and soufflé); our fantasies may be whims as bread (like oil) cannot be left out in any house; it is a reassuring presence that merits the most profound respect; everyone of us may agree with the great French agronomist, forerunner on the science of food, in the 1600’s: «Bread is a generous gift from nature, an irreplaceable food.....It may be taken in every hour of the day, for every age of life, and for every person. It is so adapted for man that it nourishes us, and we may say, from birth until death we do not tire of it».

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