This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Bread is such an essential food in all countries that it may well be called the "Staff of Life." "Quando deest panis tunc est cibus omnis inanis:"- "If Bread one needs in vain one feeds".
Our Bread was evolved from the Old Eastern flat-cake, which was first leavened by the Egyptians, who probably taught the Greeks how to make it. From these latter the Romans acquired the knowledge, which in due course they passed on to the conquered Britons. It is named from the verbal root "bre owan," to brew, in allusion to the working of the yeast as leaven, thereby setting up alcoholic fermentation, with the production of some alcohol, and carbonic acid gas, the former of which slowly evaporates. The common household loaf of our daily Bread holds its 1/2 per cent of alcohol. Yeast, "levain" (Saccharomyces cerevisice), consists of fungi growing rapidly in fermenting wort, and setting up a similar fermentation in beers, bread, and other starchy matters into which they are introduced. Yeast consists of aggregations of minute cells, each cell constituting a distinct plant. It is employed for inducing fermentation in the making of malt liquors, and of distilled spirits, being also the agent in setting up the panary fermentation of Bread, whereby the Bread-substance is rendered light, porous, and spongy by its aeration throughout. Beer yeast may be employed as an antiseptic stimulant.
German yeast is the ordinary yeast, collected, drained, and pressed until nearly dry, in which condition it can be kept good for several months. Patent yeast is gathered from a wort of malt and hops, and treated in a similar way to German yeast. Leaven is called in Greek Zymee, a yeast, or ferment; and hence the term "zymotic"has come to express, and signify a class of diseases due to injurious ferments. There is now made a product, Levurine, as derived from the yeast of beer, possessing remarkable powers of destroying the microorganisms which underlie boils, carbuncles, and abscesses. It is a coarse, brown powder, with a characteristic yeasty odour, and is given in doses of from one to three teaspoonfuls, in water, or milk, or in cachets. Likewise a yeast poultice is antiseptic, and a spoonful of fresh yeast is a good remedy for "furun-culosis,"or an outbreak of boils. These are immediately due to penetration of the skin from without by the staphylococcus pyogenes, and other allied micro-organisms; so that external germicides are called for; but, probably, also, there is a predisposing condition of the whole system at the time (the urine being alkaline); therefore such medicinal remedies as fresh lemon-juice, and orange-juice, will be likewise helpfully alterative.
There are certain objections to be made against using yeast for leavening Bread, because of chemical changes which follow, so that some of the flour's nourishing constituents are lost thereby. English baking powders are made exclusively of tartaric acid, with carbonate of soda, because this acid is cheaper than the superior cream of tartar (an article very commonly adulterated), which works more slowly in the baking, and leads to lighter bread; also arrowroot is mixed with the baking powder for keeping it dry, otherwise a premature chemical combination takes place between the acid and the alkali (particularly if at all meeting with damp) before the powder comes into use for baking purposes. The products of such. combination in the dough are carbonic acid gas (which lightens the Bread,) and some tartrate of soda (which is slightly laxative).
Bread laws date back in England certainly to the time of King John, from whose reign until that of Edward I. (1280) a seal had to be affixed to every loaf in order that none save those of the prescribed size should be sold. Each baker had his own trade-mark, which he was called on to duly register, so that in any case of dispute it was quite easy to trace a loaf to its maker. There were several qualities of loaves always made, the pure white, or Simnel Bread, being then, as now, that of the "Quality-folk"; a Bread somewhat less luxurious was Wastel; next came "Puffe,"and "Croquet"; then Trete (or brown Bread); and finally the black Bread of rye called "all sorts."In olden days Bread was never sold on the baker's premises: it had to be taken to the regular Bread market in paniers; and the usual way of obtaining it was through the regatresses, who purchased thirteen loaves at the market for the price of twelve, and then hawked them from door to door, their profit being the sale of the odd loaf in each "baker s dozen".