Egkrides, plakountes, 8 white and 8 black breads. Manufacture and use of dough in Classical Athens.

In Plato’s (c. 400 B.C.) ideal state men would lived on a healthy diet eating wholemeal barley or wheat bread and galettes. Socrates, however, suggested that this meant the whole population would be living on pig-food. The truth is that  in those days, Athenians  featured barley cakes (maza) and barley bread in their diet but they liked their bread white- the favourite bread of the rich too.

To many modern people it may seem surprising that Athenians  enjoyed about 66 kinds of bread and cakes, with more or less interesting names as regards ways of baking, shape of bread, ingredients and origin. A variety of breads were made for some religious festivity and to be offered to some particural divinity as well.

The average Athenian ate about 800 gr bread daily but bread was also figured in the diet of the very wealthy.

Athenians could grow wheat and barley but Athens had not the ability to produce all wheat it needed on its own soil without resorting to trade. The city-state imported wheat from other countries:  Black Sea Region, Sicily and Egypt.

The diet of Athenians was very simple, why, then, 66 kinds of bread and cakes? Fine athenian bakery developed because there were advances in technology,  economic conditions, political conditions, cultural influences, trade, abundance of ingredients at least among the upper classes, public bakeries’ establishment, evolving taste and fashion…

There were bakeries, yes, but of all household tasks the most serious was  breadmaking.

Pestles for pounding the grains, saddle querns and rotary hand querns for grinding the flour need muscle power. In classical Athens home grinding was done by woman’s muscle power… On a daily basis, farmers, poor women and women slaves spent about 5 ½ hours to make flour for a family of 3 adults and 3 children.

Heavy, heavy task .

 image014l

Gorgeous sixth-century B.C. black-figure lekythos from Boeotia. It depicts the entire process, from crushing the grains with a mortar to kneading dough and shaping loaves

 

After all grains had been grinded, the women  pushed the flour through a sieve to remove brans,  kneaded and  baked.

 There were ash baked breads  and lovely crusty loaves mixed with cheese and honey.
What did they taste like?

All these were the subject of ” Egkrides,* plakountes,** 8 white and 8 black breads. Manufacture and use of dough in Classical Athens”,  the talk  I gave  at the invitation of Historical Folklore and Archaeological Society of Crete (ILAEK). I spoke in front of an audience that was curious about ancient breads and cakes, in the beautiful environment of Kipos, the open air cinema in the municipal Garden of Hania.  

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mariana

 

 

To get a taste of ancient Athenian breads and cakes, I made 4 kinds of bread and 2 kinds  of cake that reflected both ancient Greek ingredients and baking techniques.

ancientbreads

Vlomiaios: rectangular bread. Streptikios artos:  made with pepper, a little milk and a small amount of olive oil. Voletinos: a bread flavored with poppy seeds. I used emmer  flour (triticum dicoccum)  for cheese bread and vlomiaios and triticum compactum for voletinos and streptikios. The honey- cheese plakous and the sesame-honey-milk plakous (no photos included) were made with semidalis (durum wheat flour), the finest wheat flour. I substituted grape must for sourdough in voletinos… it gave excellent baking results.

 

Yes, after the talk there was bread-tasting and we had fun doing it!

 

*Egkrides: pieces of dough fried in olive oil.

**Plakountes (pl., plakous~ sing.): a large variety of cakes. There was no really difference between plakous and bread…  although, fine flour, cheeese, honey,spices, seeds and herbs were more appreciated in plakountes.   (The latin placenta comes from an. Gr.plakounta)

 

ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ

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6 thoughts on “Egkrides, plakountes, 8 white and 8 black breads. Manufacture and use of dough in Classical Athens.

  1. This is so fascinating! How did you bake the bread – in a modern oven or something less mechanized? Your note about how poor farmers, women & slaves spent over 5 hour per day grinding flour reminds me of Rachel Laudan’s post (on her site) about the presentation she gave at a conference in Mexico regarding maize and how, similarly, the women there spent hours at the metate on their knees grinding the kernels into a flour. And this on a daily basis!

  2. Tracey, I baked the breads in a sort of “clivanos” (ancient Greek portable domed clay oven which was used for baking foods ranging from bread to fish and meat). I used an earthenware vessel-in the place of clivanos- to cover the breads, around which I placed hot ashes.

    Rachel is right: grinding is exhausting and time consuming. Until c.1960,lots of Greek female farmers grinded grain to flour to make bread. But this was done once a week. Breads were baked in a weekly basis as well. Female peasants had a very hard life (dairying, cheesemaking, house keeping, they were often deeply involved in cultivating land etc.) and no time to grind or bake in a daily basis.

  3. Μπράβο Μαριάνα για το όλο εγχείρημα!
    Νομίζω χρειάζεται κι άλλο post με το ίδιο θέμα: λεπτομέρειες από την όλη προσπάθεια παρασκευής, καθώς και φωτος που να προκαλούν σιελόρροια…Θα ήθελα, ας πούμε, να δω σε φωτο όλα τα παρασκευάσματα κομμένα, ώστε να φαίνεται η εσωτερική υφή τους (κόρα, ψίχα), αλλά και να μάθω τις γευστικές εντυπώσεις των συμμετεχόντων. Τα “κρυφά” παρεπόμενα της προσπάθειας νομίζω ότι έχουν εξίσου ενδιαφέρον. Ήδη το προηγούμενο σχόλιο περί ψησίματος δίνει το σχετικό ερέθισμα. Άσε, λοιπόν, τα επόμενα σχόλια να καθορίσουν το περιεχόμενο της συνέχειας στα “αθηναϊκά αρτίδια”!
    ΣΥΓΧΑΡΗΤΗΡΙΑ!!!

    ΥΓ: Στο δε Σύνταγμα οι ουρές στο γνωστό γαλλικό ψωμάδικο δεν σταματούν…του νεοέλληνα ο ουρανίσκος μόνο από γαλλικά κατέχει!

  4. Ah, Mariana, great post. So interesting. For my senior thesis at university I focused on food preservation in ancient Greece and even made barley cakes! This has inspired me to look back on my notes and attempt baking some actual loaves… Thank you.

    And, yes, hand grinding in exhausting. I was in Lalibela, Ethiopia for Coptic Easter… The women spent weeks hand grinding the wheat for the required ceremonial bread that got blessed. The additional work of preparing an actual loaf of bread,for they normally eat flat breads, was so labor intensive and required hours of grinding per day. At the end of it, they had a magnificent loaf that weighed about 3 kilos which they gave to all the children… And was it tasty! There is something so satisfying about bread with toothsome grains…

  5. Γιώργο, σύντομα θα γράψω κάτι ακόμα για τα αρχαία ψωμιά με περισσότερες φωτογραφίες. Όσοι πρόλαβαν να δοκιμάσουν- γιατί προκλήθηκε ένα αδιαχώρητο όπου δοκίμασαν κάποιοι 2-3 φορές ενώ άλλοι δεν πρόλαβαν ούτε ψυχίο- ενθουσιάστηκαν κυρίως από τους πλακούντες. Οι μεγαλύτερες γενιές θέλουν να αφήσουν πίσω τους την ανάμνηση των αδρών αλεύρων. Πάντως γίνονται εντυπωσιακά ψωμιά με τις παλιές ποικιλίες σιτηρών.

  6. Sonia, I can’t wait to hear from you about your bread baking attempt.
    Btw, do you know what type of wheat is used in Ethiopian ceremonial bread?

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