It is often said that everything old is new again, and nowhere is this more true than in the modern ‘artisan’ bread movement, as I hope to show you over the next couple of days.
The first great medieval encyclopaedia was written in France in about 1240, by an English Franciscan monk known as Bartholomaeus Anglicus. It was written in Latin, of course, as were all such manuscripts of the time, and it was called De Proprietatibus Rerum (On the Nature of Things.) The first English translation was completed in 1397. The manuscript remained an important reference for centuries, and it still of great interest. There are some fascinating snippets amongst the astrology, theology and natural history, including the following piece on sourdough from the translation by Stephan Batman in 1582.
Of Fermento. cap. 68.
Sowre dough is called Fermentum, for it maketh paast feruent, & maketh it also arise, as Isidore sayth, libro. 20. cap. 1. Sowre dough is compounded of diuerse vertues, and hath substaunce and vertue lyke, therefore it hath vertue to heaue paast and bread, and to change and amende the sauour thereof, and to turne into his lykenesse all matter that it is meddeled with, and hath vertue to drawe soone euill humours out of the bodie, as Dioscorides sayth, and to ripe and to open Postumes and Botches, if it be meddeled with Salt: and openeth the pores of the body by his subtilty, and dissolueth & tempereth humours, & is called Fermentum in Latine, & Zima in Gréek. And so paast made onely of meale and of water is called Asima, as it were Sima, without sowre dough, and Sima, sowre dough reareth paast and bread that is meddeled therewith, and chaungeth the sauour, and thirleth & distributeth partes thereof, as it is sayde super Epistolam. 1. Cor. 5.
So, sourdough was considered important enough to be included in this thirteenth century ‘explanation of everything.’ How interesting is that?
I want to give you a little more on old-new bread ideas tomorrow, but to finish today, here is a thoroughly modern seventy-something year old recipe for a nice sourdough ferment.
Take 3 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons sugar, and mix to paste with ½ cup lukewarm water. Seal mixture in air-tight jar, allow to stand in warm place until fermented (about 48 hours). Then mix 2 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon sugar to a paste with ¾ cup lukewarm water, and add to the above mixture. Allow to stand again for 48 hours. The yeast is now ready for use. To keep this yeast working, feed it every other night with 2 tablespoons flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and ¾ cup lukewarm water.
‘Truth’ and ‘Daily Mirror’ Cookery Book, (Brisbane, Australia, c.1943) by Ruth Cilento.