Is it possible to accurately recreate a loaf of medieval bread?
Lecture by Richard Fitch
Given at the 9th Experimental Archaeology Conference (EAC) hosted by the UCD School of Archaeology at University College Dublin, 16-18 January 2015
For over 20 years now Historic Royal Palaces have been at the forefront of historic food reconstruction with their historic cookery events at Hampton Court Palace. As with many similar projects and re-enactments across the country, recipes from the past are reconstructed in front of the public, to learn about historical cooking techniques, ingredients and processes as well as to gain a better understanding of how food shaped the lives of people and places in the past.
What happens though when a written recipe doesn’t exist? In the world of historic food reconstruction, the written recipe is king; followed, investigated and used as the primary, and too often the only evidence from which to work. We have no surviving English recipe for bread that dates to the medieval period, the closest comes from the mid sixteenth century, yet we know that bread was baked, sold and consumed; what was it like and would having an actual recipe help or hinder us to understand it more?
I propose that the experimental process is the best way to gain a better understanding of what bread was like for our medieval forebears and how it compared to the bread that we eat today? This paper documents some of the initial work into this subject, looking at the principles and methodology required to produce a loaf of bread that would be as recognisable to a medieval Londoner as a loaf of sliced white is to a modern one.