It is a known fact that already in the most distant epochs of history humans engaged in grain cultivation to fill their belly. The two oldest grain crops are wheat and barley which were grown about 9000 years ago in Western Asia (in the territories of Mesopotamia, Syria, Turkey and Japan).
Grain should form ca 15% of the daily food intake which covers ca 1/3 of the amount of necessary food energy (i.e. ca 50% of carbohydrate energy which in turn constitutes 52-60% of the entire amount of food energy). 200 g of grain products cover the daily energy demand.
The history of bread baking dates back to 5000 B.C. The sometime bread would suffer by a comparison with its present counterparts for once all the above-ground parts of the grain plant were used - in addition to grain also awns, chaff and bits of straw. Bread also contained sand which was added to the grain to speed up grinding.
However, the “method of bread-baking” came into existence by accident. Among its forerunners was the invention of porridge-making: flour left outside mixed with rainwater and “gruel” was born. The discovery of the secret of fire making led to porridge making. As a result of the porridge pot boiling over, stale cakes formed on hot stones. These cakes tasted good when warm, but when cooled down, they turned as hard as stone.
Proper bread-making was established when it was learnt how to leaven dough which makes bread lighter and guarantees that it is soft even when not warm. The second landmark in the history of bread-baking was the invention of the bread oven.
Lots of different nations have their own special types of bread, yet all of them are linked by the fact that bread is always made of grain. This also explains the major role grain played in the days of antiquity. Likewise, flour has not lost its position in the diet of European nations to the present day. In regions where bread is more widely eaten, the share of bread in the daily food intake has at times risen even to 30-50%.
Bread and other grain products are an essential part of a heart-friendly diet for they help to lower the cholesterol level in the blood. Bread contains a considerable amount of minerals such as phosphorus, iron, magnesium and zinc. It is wholegrain bread that is especially rich in various B vitamins.
At the present day most bakeries operating in Estonia are small-scale enterprises. There are around a score of somewhat larger companies whereat the lion’s share of the market, upwards of 90%, is in the hands of the first ten.
It is virtually impossible to overestimate the importance of bread in our lives for Estonians have kept bread in high esteem throughout history. At this point let us recall some traditions and customs related to bread.
- Bread was looked upon as sacred. The following Estonian proverb gives witness of that: “Revere bread for it is older than us.” Therefore it was not allowed to toss bread around or step on a piece of bread.
- In case a piece of bread was dropped, it had to be picked up and given a kiss.
- When the lady of the house baked bread, she imprinted a cross on each loaf as protection against the evil eye.
- A loaf of bread was not placed on the table the cut end toward the door for that way bread could have left the house.
- A new loaf of bread was not cut up in the evening for “evening bread wanes, but morning bread waxes.”
- When giving a loaf to a stranger, the lady of the house cut the end of the loaf off in order not to give away her bread luck.
- When only the family sat around the table to eat, the crusty end was given to a daughter for her breasts to grow lovely.
- A slice of bread was not to be broken with only one hand nor a loaf placed on the table upside down for the lady of the house would die then.
- A slice of bread oftentimes replaced a plate onto which meat, meat jelly, turnip, cabbage and other food was put.
- It as considered to be bad luck when a loaf of bread had cracked or remained hollow when baking - the family was to crumble then.
- A loaf was not to be placed on the table upside crust down for it brought quarrelling into the household.
- He who cut yet warm bread with a knife destroyed the bread luck.
Like a good child has got many names, bread also was called by different names: the very master, a clumsy (badly baked bread), a bead (small oval loaf), a botch (poorly leavened bread), a daub (made of sprouting rye grains), putty bread (poorly leavened), a bitch’s bread (poorly baked).
Source: Eesti Rukki Raamat - Ilo Kirjastus, 2005