Bread is as old as our civilization, but still most of the time the books and resources we read and study are those written and published in the past few years — or decades, at best. Nothing wrong with that (after all, it’s good to get the latest and most up to date information), but I find great joy in seeing and touching bread history and realizing that I am a part of a long, continuing tradition.
There is beauty in knowing that someone in the 16th century mixed his or her dough the same way I do today.
When doing research for an article for the Summer 2014 issue of BREAD, I found a PDF copy of Professor Raymond Calvel’s original article L’influence de l’autolyse naturelle des pâtes en panification, the article in which he first presented the idea of adding an autolyse step to bread making.
I was thrilled, immediately printed out the article, and just had to share it with everyone I knew on Instagram. It was a great find, but not something that you come across every day: while it’s possible to find interesting scanned articles like this when randomly growing the web, there is also a easier way to get a dose of bread history.
Bakers, meet Google.
Google is on a stated mission to archive and store every piece of information ever written and published. You can see this as an evil plan for world domination or a noble cause (I think the truth is somewhere in between), but either way, for us in search of old bread making resources, it’s just what we need.
In Google’s Play book store, you will find a good selection of old bread making books collected from the world’s libraries and scanned for the rest of us. And to get you started, I have picked a couple of links to begin your explorations from.
The books are free to download, but you’ll need to create a Google Play account to get your copies.**
Books In English
A Treatise on the Art of Baking by John White, 1828
A thorough book explaining the craft of bread making as understood in the 19th century Britain. In the words of the author in his preface:
Topics covered in the book go from bread around the world to baking, with many chapters on farming and milling in between — without forgetting the business side of bread making.
A Treatise on Bread, and Bread-Making by Sylvester Graham, 1837
Another thorough treatise (though shorter than the one above) on bread and the craft of making it, this time from the United States. Browsing this book, it’s fun to notice how there is nothing new under the sun: the same, modern questions about eating real, good food are already present in Graham’s writing.
Topics covered in the book: bread history, fermentation, bread making technique, ideas on who should be making bread.
A Treatise on the Art of Bread-Making by Abrahamn Edlin, 1805
Edlin wrote this book as an exploration to bread making designed to teach his intended audience consisting of housewives as well as sailors and soldiers to understand bread making and to learn to make good bread themselves.
As it seemed the style at the time, this book, just like the two above goes to great lengths in describing the steps leading to great bread, including farming and milling — and not forgetting the finer details of the bread making process:
Yeast and Quick Bread Recipes for the School Lunch by the United States Department of Agriculture, 1949
This booklet may not give you much new knowledge about bread making, but it’s still an interesting piece of bread history: bread recipes meant for school lunch from the 1950s.
Books In French
French is one of the “original” languages of bread making, so it’s not surprising that many of these historical bread making books are written in that language.
Traité pratique de boulangerie by A. Boland, 1860
This book, written by baking innovator and the creator of the Boland mixing device A. Boland, describes the craft of a baker in Paris, going to great lengths about the organization of a bakery, the regulations as well as the prices of the bread as well as its ingredients.
Boland also plunges right into the science of bread making: the book describes gluten, the qualities of different wheat flours as well as fermentation and baking.
Du pain: Des différents modes & systèmes pour sa fabrication by le Major Gratry, 1872
This short book was written as an attempt to make sure good bread was always available to soldiers. One of its most interesting elements is the attention to clarity in describing the steps of bread making in working the dough as well as the rest of the process.
While these books already make up for a wealth of bread history to take in and read, it’s just the beginning. I am sure there is still a lot more to be found — and I too have just begun my exploration.
If you find more great books from the history, leave a comment and let us know. And have fun!