The Food History Meeting in Feb 2019 was at Breaking Bread Bakery in San Luis Obispo on South Higuera. Glenna and Mark Evans gave a talk and tour, including baking and tastings to compare bread made from different heritage grains grown and milled in California.
As we learned in the Wine History Project’s Food History event in February, bread in a variety of forms has been a main food staple since the beginning of civilization. “Breaking bread” is a phrase we all can relate to. Whether it is a religious ritual, a family meal, or symbolic gesture, bread has been a part of civilized life for at least 8000 years.
The Romans developed stone milling at the time of Christ. By using fabric to sift the milled flour, it could be put through the mill again to create smaller particles and a finer product. Fast forward 1700 years where little had changed in technique, two new types of milling were established. ‘Low grinding’ was unsifted flour from a single path through the millstone. This contained 100% of the original grain and created a healthy, heartier bread. ‘High grinding’ was flour that had been ground numerous times and sifted to remove the bran. Consequently, it was more costly and less nutritious.
In 1787, an automated, continuous production flour mill was invented by Oliver Evans. Only two men were needed to operate this new technology, a huge improvement over the stone mill. Hungary was the home of the first roller mill in 1865. Europeans were known for their bread and the Hungarian wheat, which grew exceptionally well, was hard, and very high in protein. This new process of steel rollers rotating close together at different speeds to crack the grain rather than crush it. At first this was a very labor intensive process but with the invention of the ‘purifier’ the process was accelerated by using airstreams to clean the grain and then remove the bran.
By 1875, these developments all came together to create the perfect environment for the wheat market to soar in America, specifically the Midwest. The favorable growing conditions of the open plains along with the convenient transport on the Mississippi River created giant milling companies that still dominate that area of the country. The hard wheat that grew in this region was high in protein and stayed fresh when milled. This was especially important as flour was a mainstay for those traveling west.
The benefits of these new roller mills were: higher efficiency, less rancidity/longer lasting, better baking, ability to produce different types of flour, less manual labor, ie. sifting and dressing millstones. The disadvantages included more expensive machinery and lower nutritional value.
By the early 1900’s there was pushback from the medical community and the FDA that the roller process removed much of the nutritional value of the flour. Sadly, efficiency overruled nutrition and today 99% of the world’s flour is still ground with roller mills. The last fifteen years has brought a new awareness of the nutritional value of stone milled grains as well a locally sourced grains. At this time there are small growers of various grains along the Central Coast but they are not large enough to warrant the costly equipment of mills. These grains are sent out to be processed or are processed in small batches using a ‘countertop mills’. While this is a way to utilize local grains harvested, it is not practical in a commercial setting.
Consumers now realize the importance and nutritional value of whole grain and stone-ground bread. Artisan bakeries like “Breaking Bread Bakery” in San Luis Obispo provide delicious and healthy bread. Owner/baker Mark Evans has an assortment of breads, croissants, cookies, granola, etc. (all delicious). Check out their website http://www.breaking-bread-bakery.com or drop by their bakery at 3536 S. Higuera and smell the goodness within.
Special thanks to Mark Evans for his guided tour of the bakery, informative talk and research material regarding the history of bread, and especially, samples of delicious fresh baked breads made from heritage grains.