One of the many hobbies I practice, as opposed to ones such as chess that I only wish I practiced, is baking. The smell of bread first rising and then baking is a wonderful aroma, and since there are a number of breaks in the process I can actually accomplish a number of tasks while baking bread. Well I theoretically could.
I have baked a wide range of bread types and styles and have more than a dozen types of flour and flour substitutes in my pantry ranging from almond, rice and potato to just about every variation of wheat. When I see a new or interesting variation of an old recipe I almost always save it and then try and bake it- only about 50 loaves behind, so better than my reading list.
So with that said I found this foodies journey on Atlas Obscura about baking a unique loaf of bread to be very interesting. Farrell Monaco, who has a blog that covers her research in ancient food called Tavola Mediterranae, decided to take on an interesting challenge from the ancient world, she is recreating bread as it is believed to have come from the bakeries of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.
Over the years many have gone on to duplicate recipes from ancient times with Marcus Gavius Apicius, an ancient gourmand who reputedly wrote De Re Coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking) being a good place to start. To see some of his recipes converted to modern food go to PBS. If you are interested in ancient Chinese cuisine, at least from one region, you might try and find Dongjing Meng Hua Lu (Dreaming of Splendor of the Eastern Capitol) by Meng Yuanlao, from around A.D. 1187.
A bit of background on Pompeii. It was a Roman city, on the side of Mt. Etna, near modern Naples. In AD 79 the volcano erupted covering the city of approximately 11,000, along with neighboring Herculaneum, under up to 20 feet of ash and pumice.
Back to the bread. Monaco got a job with the Pompeii Food and Drink project, which covered a great deal more than just baking such as restaurants and what animals were sacrificed to the gods. She has been developing recipes based on ancient writings for some time but admits that this seems to have a special place in her heart.
She is going to recreate bread called Panis Quadratus, which has no recorded recipe, although we know what it looks like from examples from Pompeii. If you are interested in how it turns out, and what other ancient foods might look and taste, she along with Ken Albala, a professor of history at the University of the Pacific, will be having demonstrations and lectures on this topic in Italy this summer.
All of this has inspired me to bake some this weekend, although of a slightly more modern take. I plan to create Multigrain Dakota Bread from a Cooks Country, although I am substituting Bob’s 10-grain hot cereal mix for the 8-grain, which I could not find.