Bread, according to Eberhard and Bock

One of the chapters in Meister Eberhard’s dietetic section concerns bread:

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<<U68>> Hienach volgt ein capitell von dem prot.

Hereafter follows a chapter about bread.

Rhazes says that among all grains, wheat is best. Therefore the bread you eat shall be made from wheat and be fine and well baked, slightly salted and well leavened (gedeßmet) and at least one or two days old. But know that good bread with a little bran in it causes bowel movement. Avicenna says that you should never eat warm bread because it hovers high in the stomach and can not be digested. Any bread that is boiled in water and does not have leavening (? tesem) in it causes stones and pain in the body and the liver. Also, bread that is baked in the pan like pancakes (kuchlein) causes pain in the body and can not be digested well. All bread that is old causes great illness. Rye bread is the best after the white and causes bowel movements. Other kinds of bread are neither healthy nor good because they do not nourish well.

Compared to the lengthy treatment some dietetic writers give it, this is a short treatment for such a staple food. It is also interesting with regard to how classic texts of dietetics from the Mediterranean are adapted to the region. The mention of rye bread is especially striking since rye was an uncommon bread grain south of the Alps and practically unknown in the Islamic world of the time.

As to what constituted ‘good bread’ by the lights of the era, Hieronymus Bock provides some interesting insights in his Teutsche Speißkammer. He depends on the same classics for his theoretical underpinning, but delierately tries to describe the German reality of the mid-sixteenth century:

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How to recognise well-baked bread and what its effect is

Any kind of well-tasting bread that is properly and sufficiently baked is suitable for all persons, whatever their complexions may be, because it is warm by nature and quickly receives all manner of smell and flavour according what you have affect it and baked into it. This may be spices or seeds such as Lebkuchen with honey and spices, caraway bread against bloating (auffblaeen), or popyseed in the bread for those who cannot sleep, and much more of this kind.

A common test to recognise good bread that is leavened

If you place a bread loaf into cold water and the same quickly sinks to the bottom, this is a sign that it is unleavened. But if it stays afloat on top of the water, too much sourdough or yeast (sawrteig oder heffel) has been added. If it floats in the middle of the water, the bread is properly leavened and well baked.

The best lordly bread (Herren brot)

Is baked from the tenderest of white flour known in Latin as Pollis and does not serve for the woodsmen and coalburners in the Westerwald. After the wheaten, fine rye flour known as flos is best. The masters (i.e. bakers) bake good, healthy, well-tasting bread from this as is described above. Along with this, all manner of other lordly breads are baked and we commend them to those who pay for them.

Yes, that is classist, but it is interesting to note that almost all modern bread would be considered excessively leavened by these lights. Bock provides a lengths description of breads found throughout Germany, noting the primary bread grain and its qualities. Wheat was actually quite uncommon, with most areas making everyday bread with either rye or spelt (but very rarely maslin, the wheat-rye mix that was common in medieval Britain). The dig at the Westerwald may actually be a reference to the dark rye bread of the region that is today considered a coveted specialty.

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