Friday Bread Basket 6/2/23
Welcome to the Wordloaf Friday Bread Basket, a weekly roundup of links and items relating to bread, baking, and grain. I’m working up a ballpark soft pretzel recipe today and considering doing a German/ballpark pretzel Zoom workshop in late June/early July if people are into it (are people into it?) The German ones (created with help from my friend Heike Meyer) are excellent, and the recipe won’t be available until it drops on Serious Eats later this year, so the class will be a chance to get in on it early.
Baking goes a long way back in my family
As Smithsonian reports, archeologists recently determined that one set of ruins in a dig site in Metsamor, Armenia were likely those of an ancient bakery. They did so by identifying a powdery substance originally thought to be ash as wheat flour:
Last fall, when researchers unearthed the remains of a 3,000-year-old structure in the western Armenian town of Metsamor, they faced two mysteries: First, they didn’t know what purpose the structure had served. Beyond that, a strange powdery substance covering the area left them stumped.
“We knew it was something organic and collected about four to five sacks worth of the material,” Krzysztof Jakubiak, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw who led the excavation, tells Live Science’s Jennifer Nalewicki.
The team assumed, at first, the material was simply ash. After all, charred remnants of the building’s reed roof and wooden beams indicated it had met its end in a fire.
But upon closer examination, the substance was “decoded and recognized as remains of wheat flour,” says Jakubiak to Artnet’s Vittoria Benzine. “The samples were examined by an archaeobotanist expert, who confirmed this preliminary supposition.”
These findings solved both of the team’s mysteries at once. The powder wasn’t ash, but wheat flour. They had unearthed an ancient bakery.
The bakery is considered the oldest-known building of its kind in the Caucasus, and it was made possible only because the structure's roof collapsed during a fire, shielding everything from being incinerated.
I recently fell in love with the Instagram feed of Rosie Grant (a.k.a. @ghostly.archive), who is documenting the world of gravestones with recipes engraved upon them. Aliza Abarbanel recently interviewed Grant about the project for Cake Zine:
1. Why do you think so many graveyard recipes are sweet?
I think these are dishes the person was known for making at family gatherings. When it came time to pick something for their gravestone, it was a recipe for a dish they enjoyed in life and wanted others to keep enjoying. I can’t help but wonder if a lot of cookies and cake recipes don’t need as much instruction as other dishes—I think a lot of these are more forgiving and taste great even if you don’t have detailed instructions.
2. Have you noticed any other trends?
It’s mostly women, and mostly based in North America. A lot of their obituaries talk about having big families, loving to cook for and host loved ones while alive.
3. What's your favorite gravestone recipe you've ever made?
I’ve liked them all. I'm very partial to Naomi Odessa Miller Dawson’s spritz cookie in Brooklyn, since it was the first one I tried. It’s just a great recipe.
I reached out to Grant to ask whether she’d found any gravestone bread recipes in her travels, but so far, she says, none have turned up, presumably because they’d be challenging to fit (particularly if they were one of mine haha). I’m now amending my will to insist that my grave includes one.
When flour gets in your eyes
The Azorean photographer Paulo Montiero recently shared images from a project on the “Flour Battle” of Santa Cruz das Ribeiras, a strange annual ritual, on the photography website 35mmc:
Santa Cruz das Ribeiras is located in Pico Island, archipelago of the Azores. Every year, during Shrove Monday afternoon, a group of inhabitants, mainly young people, get together to fight a peculiar battle: they throw flour to each other while they go through the main streets of the village. Almost every one protects their eyes with glasses, because the flour is thrown with considerable force and without any warning. I had to protect myself with swimming goggles. Despite that, some flour got into my eyes. I also protected my camera, to avoid considerable damage.
The participants are received in the homes of the inhabitants, who serve them food and drink. I tried to find out why they throw flour, but nobody could answer me. Apparently, over the years, people have forgotten why they do it. It is known, however, that in the old days boys used the occasion to propose to girls.
I love that last detail—maybe the whole thing was invented as an excuse for boys to propose to their crushes.
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That’s it for this week’s bread basket. I hope you all have a peaceful weekend, see you all on Monday.