Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bread in the Middle ages

Bread.--The Gauls, who principally inhabited deep and thick forests, fed on herbs and fruits, and particularly on acorns. It is even possible that the veneration in which they held the oak had no other origin. This primitive food continued in use, at least in times of famine, up to the eighth century, and we find in the regulations of St. Chrodegand that if, in consequence of a bad year, the acorn or beech-nut became scarce, it was the bishop's duty to provide something to make up for it. Eight centuries later, when René du Bellay, Bishop of Mans, came to report to Francis I. the fearful poverty of his diocese, he informed the king that the inhabitants in many places were reduced to subsisting on acorn bread.

In the earliest times bread was cooked under the embers. The use of ovens was introduced into Europe by the Romans, who had found them in Egypt. But, notwithstanding this importation, the old system of cooking was long after employed, for in the tenth century Raimbold, abbot of the monastery of St. Thierry, near Rheims, ordered in his will that on the day of his death bread cooked under the embers--panes subcinericios--should be given to his monks. By feudal law the lord was bound to bake the bread of his vassals, for which they were taxed, but the latter often preferred to cook their flour at home in the embers of their own hearths, rather than to carry it to the public oven.