Following on from the previous article on how the cultivation of grain changed the course of humanity, we’re now looking at how the grain was used.
The term ‘grain’ covers a broad range of edible seeds, including wheat, sorghum, barley, spelt, corn, maize, rice and legumes and many more. They are an integral part of our carb-based diets. Our ancestors cooked them into a stew, stuffing for fish or meats, to accompany a meal, or brewed into a high-carb beer.
But here at Pizza Alfresco, wheat flour is what we love because it’s what makes our famous dough!
When the seed was crushed between two stones, it turned into the fine powder we know so well – a much easily digestible product than the seed itself. One of the tools used to crush the grains is called a quern stone.
Originally, the flour was mixed with a small amount of water, then kneaded until a crude dough formed. The dough was shaped then baked, either on hot rocks beside the fire or in a stone oven beside the hearth. These simple breads accompanied meals for thousands of years, and were used to dip into a stew, or the meal was served on an edible bread ‘bowl’. Or when the flour was mixed with wild honey, it made a sweet treat.
Over the centuries, flour making became more refined. The Romans were the first to mechanise the process by linking two large, carved rocks together and having either animals or slaves turning the mill as early as 300BC in Pompeii.
The technology of grain cultivation and flour production spread right across the globe, and each group of people developed different ways to make flour with their local grains. Animal power was harnessed to thresh the grains, and later water-powered or wind-powered mills popped up in developing nations. Bakers experimented with doughs, adding different ingredients like salt and leavening agents so the dough would rise. There were few households across Africa, Europe and Asia who did not use grains and flour in their everyday diet.
Today, flour is still as important as it ever was, even if the production has become industrialised for much of the world. And it’s this rich, varied history which brings us to the next article – the most important use of flour, of course – pizza dough!