We’ve done it. We’ve finally crossed into the realm of written records and recorded history. Join me on an odyssey going back 6,000 years ago, when the Sumerians of what is today southern Iraq, took a mega-surplus of grain and transformed it directly into wealth and power. In the process, they managed to invent cities, urbanism, and all the trappings modern civilization. (Not to mention the first written recipes and cookbooks)
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.
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.
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.
Just what it sounds like. Today I made bread in the ashes of the fire.
This has become known as kind of an Australian food. But that’s because European colonists copied the Aboriginal peoples who had been doing it for thousands of years.
Many modern people with nomadic traditions, such as the Berbers of North Africa, still cook bread this way, but the roots go deep back into prehistory. Evidence for this practice can be found in ancient cultures all over the world from the Americas, to aboriginal Australia, and most famously in the middle east.