The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Ancient Baking

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Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Ancient Baking

"How did the ancient Egyptians feed thousands of workers at Giza?"

This question is posed and somewhat answered in this rather fascinating article.

Jeff

http://www.aeraweb.org/lost-city-project/feeding-pyramid-workers/

RonRay's picture
RonRay

Yerffej, thanks for pointing out the article. I found it very interesting and even found a copy of Ed Wood's book to buy.

Thanks

Ron

caraway's picture
caraway

A big thank you for sharing the URL with us.

Sue

 

BettyR's picture
BettyR

This is truly fascinating!!! Thanks for sharing.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I am amazed at some of the similarities to modern techniques.Seems like we use many of the same techniques today. It sounds like the pots were pre-heated and used as a kind of cloche/dutch oven.

I do wonder why the cone shape? The cone shape is certainly an efficient shape for baking a dense dough loaf all the way thru but it is definitely more technically difficult and less efficient than a flat bread. Could this be influenced by the choice of flour available? If the dough was more liquid/batter-like (with less gluten), would that make the cone shape easier to produce than flat bread and easier to transport a distance to the worker?  I think flat bread needs a certain amount of gluten or it would crumble transporting it to the worksite. 

Very interesting.It raises a lot of practical questions.  The older I get and the more I learn, the humbler I get because I also learn that a lot of what is new to me is actually "old". It renews my child-like wonder at the world and that is a good thing

jcking's picture
jcking

It may be possible the ancients used some form of baking soda/powder (ash) in addition to beer and or wild yeast leavens. Quite interesting!

Jim

wassisname's picture
wassisname

"...kneading the dough with their feet..."

If someone tries this (and I just know someone is out there considering it right now...) there had better be photos!

Marcus

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I'm thinking a full vat of dough and stomping as not an efficient way to mix dough.  I get foot cramps just thinking about it.  Cracks in the bottom of the vats would not hold much water for large batch mixing.  What if the flour was first added to the vats filling almost to the top using the container as both storage and mixing station.  A depression is made and water is added, enough to mix an amount that could be carried, say not more than around 50 lbs (so 25lbs of water is added or about 2.5 standard buckets) along with some biga or old dough from the day before.   This is mixed in the fashion like southern biscuits, trench style, with flour on the outside and dough in the middle.  As gluten is low, long or fancy mixing is not a must.  

When the dough reaches the correct consistency, it is removed using a bowl or basket and divided into the warmed clay pots.  (Pots which remind me of my early days of using a potter's wheel, an easy shape to form upside down with rim being the base, easy to produce without much skill.)  The next batch begins by adding a couple of buckets of water into the hollow and mixing again.  A day's work period could be judged by using up the vat of flour.   If the vats were wide and deep, and a person could fit into them,  I see the mixer more as squatting and mixing (as opposed to standing) working down to the bottom batch by batch, standing when lifting the dough out of the vat.

Water might already have been inoculated just as it stands there overnight waiting to be used.  I can imagine that the workers used the water supply to wet and wash their hands while working with the dough, thus continually inoculating it adding bits of dough and flour.   Were water storage vats discovered?  Perhaps filled at the end of the working day.  

The accumulation of ash may at first seem surprising but think about it, it makes sense.  Coals keep their heat a long time and even a day later, a campfire pit or hearth will be warm and can have enough hot coals to start up another fire.  Unless water is poured into the hot ashes and stirred, allowing the ashes to cool dead may take several days.  The constant heat radiating from the ash and coals would be like a constantly burning oven, even as an open pit.  I think once the production of bread got started, stopping it for several days to clear out the ash was just too time consuming.  What ain't broke don't need fix'n.  I'm sure that the ash pile was more efficient and used less wood than a hearth style oven.  It was also conveyor belt style.  Loaves could be added at anytime and removed without a drop in temperature.  The ash left over each day from burning would be scant at the most and it is a good insulator.  

Mini

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Then flipped into the already warm pots sitting in the coals.  The tomb drawing is interesting.  The four lines in the middle on each side with the standing figure at center, look like recipes.   I get this impression by comparing the shelf symbols behind and above the figures and the number of figures (time? steps in method?) their actions vary.  The top right scene appears to be milling grain to flour.  This same symbol (could mean flour) repeats below but other symbols are added and vary from line to line.  

Another figure of 3 bell shaped pots leads me to wonder if one pot serves as a proofing pot while the other two are for baking (rim to rim.)   I can understand that once the baked bread is tipped out to cool, and more bread is to be baked, the pot would be placed back in the coals.  Why let it cool if wood was expensive?  The top pot would be reheated and the waiting rising loaf (if allowed to rise) would be tipped from one bell pot to the hot bell pot and covered with a freshly heated bell top.  I think they let the dough rise, simply because the top pots are bell shaped and if all conditions are "right" it could rise up and fill the bell.  (I don't think the ancient bakers hit a liquidation sale or that the potter could only make one style of pot.)  They expected the dough to rise otherwise using a flat tile to cover would be just as easy.  

Did you notice the various pots used in the experiment?   I would love to be there for a remake.