Beer's a byproduct of bread

Origins of old recipes

Do you know the saying, “there’s no such thing as an original idea?”

Some folks say the same is true of recipes. Their argument is that all we do is adapt what someone somewhere already created.

My defence to that is all art is an evolution, building on what came before it and expressing the times of its creation.

But the question remains, where did we start?

I was not surprised to discover the first recipe recorded was for bread. It is the oldest man-made food; remnants from flatbread baked in a stone fireplace in Jordan have been dated back over 10,000 years.

The same recipe — more or less — is still in use today.

Other types of dough developed throughout the world in ancient times — tamales in Mesoamerican civilizations go back to around 6,000 B, and pancakes were enjoyed by the ancient Greeks (with curdled milk and honey).

Another recorded ancient recipe comes thousands of years later, for beer. Wouldn’t you know, beer was a byproduct of bread making 4,000 years ago?

The ancient Sumerians preserved their grain by making bread and when this bread got wet, it fermented. The result was a strong beer, which they eventually flavoured with honey and spices.

Beer was a coveted recipe, for the product not only offered nourishment; it was considered as a method of payment for work done in many ancient civilizations.

There were laws governing it, and many different kinds were made using different grains and flavourings.

You might be thinking there is a comfort food theme here, and another old recipe will fuel that theory. Meat pies have been around since at least 1700 BC. They might well have been consumed with the beer, as the recipe comes from the same part of the world.

The ancient Mesopotamians documented much of their cooking, and they are admired for their interest in food preparation — multiple spices and herbs used in one dish, garnishes and presentation mentioned in some recipes, various cooking techniques (such as using bread crumbs to thicken a stew), and recipes shared from neighbouring regions.

Unfortunately, there is also evidence that much of this cooking was reserved for the more well-off part of society.

Food rations for the less fortunate (part of their pay, remember) were meagre at best, with no room for frivolous additions like numerous spices or herbs.

Even the recording of recipes was something that could only be done by the educated, who were the “upper crust” of society.

If you’re more of a fan of sweet dishes, I wonder if you knew that the Linzer Torte is said to be the oldest recorded dessert on record.

Apparently, the original recipe bears little resemblance in its filling to today’s version with jam and a lattice top, but one of Austria’s favourite pastries has been around since 1653.

You can see how intrinsic many of these dishes are to the societies in which they occurred. In many cases, the continuation of the recipes and their evolution over time is due largely to word of mouth.

It is interesting that in today’s world we have gone back to recording so many recipes, allowing for even wider sharing of the information. Of course, globalization is a big factor, too.

Regardless of the flavours you enjoy and the type of cuisine you cook, where do you get your recipes? Do you Google “best mac and cheese” when you want to try making it in your own kitchen? Or do you have an old family recipe with dog-eared corners that is a coveted jewel in the family crown?

I hope you find a way to save your favourites. I would like to think you pass along to friends any recipes they enjoy.

Who knows, maybe some day an anthropologist will find your dog-eared pages or Google bookmarks and feature them for future generations.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories