The COVID-19 pandemic has led to, among many things, a rising cultural interest in bread baking, specifically sourdough bread. In a new book from award-winning environmental science professor Eric Pallant, the history and science of sourdough bread baking is examined, from its discovery more than six thousand years ago to its worldwide popularity today.
In Sourdough Culture: A History of Bread Making from Ancient to Modern Bakers, Pallant shows that throughout history, sourdough bread baking has always been about survival. Sourdough bread fueled the labor that built the Egyptian pyramids, it was distributed by the Roman Empire to its citizens to maintain political stability and recently has become a global phenomenon as people quarantined looked to distract from fear and uncertainty.
Throughout our global history, sourdough bread has fed many significant figures, such as Plato, Pliny the Elder, Louis Pasteur, Marie Antoinette, Martin Luther and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. It also sustained many groups important to history, including ancient Roman bakers, medieval housewives and Gold Rush miners.
Each chapter of Sourdough Culture is accompanied by a selection from Pallant’s own favorite recipes from across distance and time, and highlight different approaches, traditions and methods to sourdough bread baking.
“After baking with the same starter for twenty years, I began to wonder how old it really was,” Pallant says. “It was certainly older than my phone, my washing machine, practically anything else in my household. It was older than my teenage children. I wanted to find my sourdough starter’s creator. Then came the big questions. Who had the very first sourdough starter? Who invented bread? It took a book to answer all those questions.”
Sourdough Culture: A History of Bread Making from Ancient to Modern Bakers will be available Tuesday, September 14.