x0x The one essential food "Bread"
- x0x The one essential food "Bread"
By Arif Can Güngör
There is one food without which no meal is complete, in Turkey at any
rate. That is bread, a food we know so well yet never tire of. Bread is
delicious all by itself when it comes steaming hot and crusty from the
oven, and comes in innumerable varieties. We all have our favourites.
Bread is the symbol of all food, as demonstrated by the saying to earn
ones daily bread, and held sacred as a source of life and gift of God. We
thank God for our daily bread, but also say in Turkish that bread is in
the lions mouth meaning that to earn a living involves a struggle. Oaths
can be sworn over bread and wasting it or letting it be trodden underfoot
is a sin.
Over most of the world bread is a staple food, its shape, method of
preparation, and the cereal grains it contains varying widely from country
to country and region to region. In many parts of the Middle East, Asia,
and Africa flat leavened bread of very ancient provenance is still made,
like the pide of Turkey. Small and even flatter unleavened breads are made
in India of millet and in Central and South America of maize flour. In
Brazil tiny flat breads made of manioc - flour ground from the cassia root
- are eaten with the exotic local cuisine, which is a combination of
African, indigenous Amerindian and Portuguese cookery. Even in the Far
East, bread shares first place with rice as the main food. In Germany,
Scandinavia and Russia black rye bread is popular.
Cereal consumption in Turkey is enormous compared to, say, Germany at 230
kg and 74 kg per capita respectively, and most of this high total is
accounted for by wheat breads of various kinds. Wheat is the only cereal
containing sufficient gluten to rise significantly and give a spongy
consistency. To a much lesser extent rye has the ability to form a
leavened bread, but other grains like maize, barley, and millet can only
be used to form flat cakes rather than bread proper unless mixed with a
high proportion of wheat flour.
Wheat bread made with wheat flour, yeast and water contains 35% water, 53%
starch, 8% protein, and 1.4% fat, and each 100 g contains 240 calories. In
addition bread contains significant quantities of B and B2 vitamins,
niacin and iron. In all bread is a valuable foodstuff in its own right.
Kneading is an important part of bread making since it ensures that the
yeast is evenly distributed. The dough is then left in a warm place to
rise, a process by which the yeast liberates carbon dioxide gas. The
bubbles of gas are prevented from escaping by the elastic gluten in the
flour. Rising may take anything up to 4 hours. The dough is then divided
and shaped into loaves and left to rise for a second time. Just before
going into the oven cuts are made with a knife in the top, and it is baked
at temperatures of 230-280 degrees Centigrade. Bread made by this
classical kneading method has more flavour.
Agriculture, and primarily the cultivation of cereal crops, began in
Mesopotamia and spread first to the hot regions of Asia and southern
Europe. An important factor in this pattern is thought to be that meat
obtained by hunting did not keep well in hot climates, so providing
motivation for developing alternative foodstuffs. In Turkey, whose
southeastern regions correspond to northern Mesopotamia, Assyrian, Hittite
and Sumerian carvings show figures engaged in farming. It is thought that
bread was first made twelve thousand years ago by mixing coarsely ground
grain with water and baking it on hot stones in hot ashes. Yeast, which is
a microscopic fungus, was discovered after dough was affected by the
fungus by accident, and its favourable effect on the bread observed.
Although most Turkish bread is made of wheat flour, some regions also use
barley, rye, or in the Black Sea region maize flour. Roughly speaking
Turkish breads fall into three categories: very thin rolled sheets known
as yufka, flat leavened breads such as pide, and loaves known as somun.
Yufka, the most usual type of bread among nomadic communities, is cooked
on a griddle and then dried, in which state it will keep for a long time.
Pide is cooked in an oven. Shaped into flat circles or ovals it may be
sprinkled with sesame seeds or black cumin, and brushed with beaten egg.
In the month of Ramazan the evening meal is not complete without pide, and
queues form outside the bakeries as the hour of breaking fast approaches.
The round loaves known as somun used to be made of flour with a high bran
content, usually by public bakeries. Their equivalent in most Turkish
cities today is known as francala, and made of highly refined white flour.
In 17th-century Istanbul, according to the Turkish writer Evliya Çelebi,
there were 999 bakeries employing ten thousand bakers. He tells us that
the guild of bakers regarded Adam as their patron saint in the belief that
he had ground wheat into flour at the command of the Angel Gabriel, and
their second patron saint was Amr bin Umran, a contemporary of Muhammed.
In Ottoman times bread was sold at the bakeries and local markets, and
also by street sellers from carts and baskets. Whatever the changes in
bread making and bread types over the centuries, this Turkish proverb has
not lost its significance: The root of the tree is the earth, and the root
of men is bread.
* Arif Can Güngör is a journalist.