Baklava from Scratch

Baklava is another one of those Mediterranean foods that every country touching the sea claims to have invented in some form or another. While the sweet nut and filo pastry in its exact form is a more modern creation, the basic ingredients go back much further, to the ancient days of those same lands.

I thought it would be fun to make a more “primitive”baklava, forgoing all the fussing around with store-bought filo, using nuts indigenous to the ancient near east, and just honey for sweetening.  Sugar doesn’t amount to more than a rare luxury good for many thousands of years.

 

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No Knead Sourdough (in terracotta molds)

The Egyptians were known to bake their breads into all kinds of shapes, from triangles to the more elaborate.     We’re gonna keep it simple today, and use a clean Terracotta flower pot to bake bread.

Did I mention today’s recipe is no knead?  No, you don’t need to knead if you have a lot of time to spare. 24 hours in fact. This bread “rises” for a whole day, developing gluten content and a great, sour flavor in a heavily fermented dough.

With a recipe like this, you can understand why the rise of fermented bread goes hand in hand with large scale breweries.  To make this loaf, you’re basically making a beer mash, and then baking it instead of brewing it.  Beer and bread go hand and hand, and nobody knew that better than the Ancient Egyptians.

Thanks to Kathy Caufman’s “Cooking in Ancient Civilizations” for the terracotta method and the idea of using wheat and semolina flour to make a coarse, kind of imitation ancient flour.

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Fertile Crescent Multi-grain Bread

When times were tough in the ancient world, those dependent on their primitive farms might have come up short on their preferred grains for bread and would have been forced to add other flours to the mix.  For the vast swath of commoners across ancient Mesopotamia, from modern Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Mediterranean coast, this hearty multi-grain bread was actually healthier, though nobody knew it at the time.

This bread is made from grains that could be found all over the middle east in 5000 BC. The cultivated wheat and barley, with lentils and chickpeas from the garden, and spelt and rye foraged in the wilderness around the village.

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Like NATUFIAN BARLEY BREAD and MODERN ASH BREAD this is another experiment that allows us to really appreciate the miracle of leavened bread. We’re gonna make this two ways, a leavened sourdough loaf with the knowledge of modern cooking technique, and a cracker like version that’s probably more accurate for what an average peasant had to make do with from time to time. Continue reading “Fertile Crescent Multi-grain Bread”

HOF Episode 2: Gardeners of the Neolithic

The second episode of our History of Food concerns the greatest turning point in human history since the taming of fire. The New Stone Age, when farming was invented and our species forever changed.  What were our lives like, what were we eating, and how those two questions are interconnected.

 

Theme music by the incredible Michael Levy of Ancient Lyre. This rendition of the Hurian Hymn, the oldest known piece of sheet music, and the whole album “An Ancient Lyre” and much more is available from all major digital music stores and streaming sites.

AVAILABLE ON SOUNDCLOUD AND ITUNES.
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HOMEMADE BUTTER (the primitive way)

-1 pint heavy cream
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-Quart sized sealable jar

Pour cream into jar, not more than halfway full, and seal.  Shake vigorously for 10-15 minutes (or whip in a stand mixer) until the fat separates and butter is former. Remove butter, pressing out excess buttermilk and rinsing with ice water. Fold in salt, form into shape, and serve immediately (or later if you can stand the wait)

 

Next week, Episode 2 of the Anthrochef podcast, Gardeners of the Neolithic, will be released.  To learn more about the first villagers and settlers who planted the seeds of modern civilization, you will have to tune in on October 9.

But what I can tell you for now is that this is the era where we see the birth of domestic farm animals, and the beginning of human’s love affair with dairy.  Lactose tolerance is one of very few ways we are NOT identical to ancient humans.  Like most animals, humans used to drink breast milk as babies, then lost the ability to digest dairy as they get older.

But as people began putting pens around wild goats and cattle, and the first herding societies took off around 10,000 years ago, that all began to change.  Genes mutated, human evolution continued, and soon enough, many Neolithic people could drink milk into adulthood, and things would never be the same.

Soon enough, we will be taking on fermented milk (yogurt) and cheese, but today we’re going to keep things more basic, with a simple recipe for milk-fat, aka butter!

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Butter is just the solid fat of milk separated out.  It was very useful to ancient people because it could be stored long term, a great way to extend the life of very perishable milk. All you need to make it is a jar with a lid, ten minutes, and some muscles.

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NATUFIAN BARLEY BREAD

Sometimes eating authentically is not eating deliciously. At least not to our spoiled modern palates.

While still using modern milled flours, this recipe attempts to recreate something like ancient foragers in the Near East might have eaten.  The Natufians were the first society we know of to switch from foraging to intense cultivation, and it changed the world forever. They were still dependent on hunting and gathering, but also began guarding and storing plots of wheat and barley, and it changed them dramatically.

This was the beginning of civilization as we know it today… it’s also unleavened and not exactly palatable…

But to the Natufians  it was everything. Their new permanent villages had giant querns and grinding stones just for milling and shaping this hard to process cereal crop, and ritual houses for the necessary magic to make it work.  Here’s a recipe that might be something like what they threw in the ashes of their fires.

FAIR WARNING: This bread is dense and chewy!! Good for croutons or toast but… not much else.

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MODERN ASH BREAD

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300g all purpose flour (about 2.5 cups)
200g whole wheat flour (about 1.5 cups)
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp dry active yeast
1 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. olive oil
350ml warm beer or water (scant 1.5 cups)

This recipe takes the ancient cooking technique, and gives to it modern ingredients, making a stretchier dough with a lighter texture that’s more enjoyable to modern palates. All the smoky flavor of the ashes without the  unleavened chewiness of the more authentic recipe.  This is a great flatbread recipe even for a regular oven, but nothing tastes quite like the ash.

Activate the yeast in the water. After five minutes, whisk in the honey, olive oil, and salt.  Add to flour and stir until a rough dough forms.

 

 

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