IMPORTANCE OF BREAD AS FOOD
1. BREAD is sometimes defined as any form of baked flour, but as the word is commonly understood it means only those forms of baked flour which contain some leavening substance that produces fermentation. The making of bread has come down through the ages from the simplest methods practiced by the most primitive peoples to the more elaborate processes of the present day. In truth, to study the history of bread making would amount to studying the accounts of the progress that has been made by the human race. Still, in order that the production of bread from suitable ingredients may be fully understood, it will be well to note the advancement that has been made.
2. In the earliest times, what was used as bread was made in much the same way as it is today by many uncivilized and semicivilized people. The grain was ground between stones, usually by hand, and then mixed with water to form a dough; then this dough was formed into flat, compact cakes and baked in hot ashes, the result being a food very difficult to digest. Later on, some one discovered that by allowing the dough to stand until fermentation took place and then mixing it with new dough, the whole mass would rise, and also that by subjecting this mass to the action of heat, that is, baking it, the mass would be held in place and become a loaf of raised bread that was lighter and, of course, more digestible. It was this discovery that led up to the modern bread-making processes, in which substances known as leavening agents, or ferments, are used to make bread light, or porous. Chief among the substances is yeast, a microscopic plant that produces fermentation under favorable conditions.
Indeed, so important is this ferment that, in the United States, whenever the term bread is used alone it means yeast, or leavened, bread, whereas, when other leavening agents are used, the bread is referred to as hot bread, or quick bread, as is fully explained in another Section. It will be well to note this fact, for in all cases throughout these cookery lessons yeast, or leavened, bread is always meant when the term bread is used alone.
3. References in the history of the ancient Hebrews show that bread made light by means of fermentation was known thousands of years ago, but it was not until after the accidental discovery of the action of yeast that the making of wholesome and digestible bread became possible. Through this important advance in the making of bread came a demand for better grains and more improved methods of making flour. Indeed, so much attention has been given to these matters that at present the three important processes relating to bread-making--the raising of wheat, the milling of flour, and the manufacture of yeast--are carefully and scientifically performed. These industries, together with the commercial manufacture of bread, occupy an important place in the business of practically all civilized nations.
4. Among people who are not highly civilized, bread forms the chief article of food and often almost the entire diet, even at the present time; but as man progresses in civilization he seems to require a greater variety of food, and he accordingly devises means of getting it. Since bread is only one of the many foods he finds at his disposal, it does not assume a place of so much importance in present-day meals as it formerly did. However, it still makes up a sufficient proportion of the food of every family to warrant such careful and extensive study, as well as such mastery of the processes involved, that the housewife may present to her family only the best quality of this food.
Although it does not have such extensive use as it had in the past, bread of some description, whether in the form of loaves, biscuits, or rolls, forms a part of each meal in every household. This fact proves that, with the exception of milk, it is more frequently eaten than any other food. A food so constantly used contributes very largely to the family's health if it is properly made. However, there is possibly nothing in the whole range of domestic life that so disturbs the welfare of the entire family as an inferior quality of this food, which, besides proving detrimental to the digestion, adds materially to the household expense.
5. Of course, in many bakeries, bread of an excellent quality is made in a perfectly hygienic manner, and to be able to procure such bread is a wonderful help to the busy housewife or to the woman who finds it inconvenient to make her own bread. Still, practically every person enjoys "home-made" bread so much more than what is made commercially that the housewife will do well to make a careful study of this branch of cookery. If it is properly understood, it will not be found difficult; but the woman who takes it up must manifest her interest to master a few essential principles and to follow them explicitly. After she has obtained the knowledge that she must possess, experience and practice will give her the skill necessary to prevent poor results and a consequent waste of material.