This 'staff of life' is now essential to our existence; yet, while we enjoy it, we are naturally led to consider the substitutes once employed, when it was not known. Man, we have said, is not wholly a carnivorous animal: he requires a proportion of vegetable nutriment; and this, in seasons not adapted for vegetation, or in climates when the short summers will not admit of corn ripening, must be supplied by various other vegetable substances. All the farinaceous plants have been used as corn. The palms, the bread fruit tree, the arum, the fern root, and the sweet acorn, have in turn supplied different nations with the necessary vegetable aliment. Besides these, various nations have employed the seeds of the spergula arvensis Lin. Sp. Pi. p. 630, of the agiostemma githago (624), and the lychnis segetum of Caspar Bauhine; the nuts of the hip-pocastanum, the chestnut; the faecula of the cassada (jatropha manihot Lin. 1429), Stachy's palustris (811), and lichen islandicus (1611); the bark of the pinus syl-vestris (1418); the roots of the solanum tuberosum (265), white bryony (1438), spiraea filipendula (702), col-chicum autumnale (485), fumaria bulbosa (983, β and
γ), gramen repens (128), and scirpus maritimus (74). Many other substances, apparently farinaceous, are mentioned by Dr. Willich and Dr. Darwin. But, by general consent, in civilized countries, where the seasons, by the most artful management, can ripen the different cerealia, these have been preferred. Even in the short northern summers, where the sun can barely bring forward the ears, they are ripened not imperfectly by frost. When vegetation can no longer supply corn, even dried fish are powdered, and produce a substance not liable to rancidity; and at least approaching farina. In some countries, particularly in Upper Lusatia, a white earth is employed for this purpose.
The importance of corn was so strongly felt, that the inventive Greeks appropriated its first introduction to a goddess. They chose for its patroness the mother of the gods; but, by an inconsiderate anachronism, associated with her a person of a much later era, Triptole-mus. The fable, in fact, meant that the discovery was a very early one, but that it was only communicated to the Grecians at a later period. Naturalists have, on their side, anxiously investigated the native country of wheat, but with little success. The fairest claim is offered by Sicily, as the Grecian fable would suggest; but, after every inquiry, it appears that native wheat is a comparatively small corn, containing an inconsiderable proportion of farina; and that the present seed is produced from a plant greatly meliorated by culture. When we speak of the native country of corn, we of course mean that country from whence it was anciently derived. We have now discovered it in other regions, with which the ancients were unacquainted.
Under the article of corn we shall mention the different seeds employed to make bread, and distinguish their peculiar properties. We shall now notice only the general properties of the farina used for aliment, with the changes produced in the process of making bread. Meal separated from the bran, or at least separated in a considerable degree, contains a mucilaginous and a saccharine matter, though in a small proportion. The greatest quantity is a faecula, styled starch, which combines with cold water into a jelly, possessing all the properties of gelatine; to which we must add gluten, the animal portion contained in the husk, from which the finest flour is not wholly free, but which in the coarser kind is copious. The gelatine, therefore, gives bread its most striking characteristics, and we find them in the ship biscuit, which consists of flour and water only, and is a tough, hard, insoluble substance. These inconveniences are avoided by yeast or leaven, which, in the common bread, gives a lightness, as well as a greater degree of solubility to the mass. The changes produced by the leaven have been variously explained. They have been attributed to fermentation; but this has been denied, because in no part of the process do we find an ardent spirit. We may take, however, this opportunity of remarking, that our not discovering either of the products of fermentation is no proof against its existence. We scarcely, in any instance, see an ardent spirit produced in the process of digestion; yet in this, fermentation certainly takes place, with its usual attendant, assimilation. In ricks of hay we find no ardent spirit at any period, but it certainly has existed; since, when too damp, ricks will inflame, and when hay is in its best state, we find an evident smell of acetous aether, which shows that a spirit has been formed. The ancient leaven proves, that this process was not very different from fermentation: it was the remains of former bread in a sour state. The modern leaven, the yeast or barm, is a farinaceous solution in a fermenting state, abounding with carbonic acid gas, copiously evolving, in fact, the vegetable acid in the form of air, with an excess of oxygen, which must have a similar effect. It is, however, more rapid in its operation, produces the change much sooner, and, as it is also more quickly checked by the heat of the oven, does not, like leaven, occasion the sour taste in the bread. The use of leaven is of considerable antiquity, for it was known beyond the era of our most ancient and sacred records. The substitution of yeast is of a comparatively late date. The art of making bread was brought to Rome from Macedonia about the year 580, from the building of the city. Before that time the corn was mixed with boiling water, probably like the oatmeal in the neighbouring kingdom of Scotland. Such at least is Pliny's account. The other component parts of flour vary in some measure the properties of the bread. Thus, from the mucilaginous and saccharine portion, it is liable to become sour, and from the gluten, musty. The former is the more common fault of the finer bread, and the latter of the coarser. The latter also is more difficult of digestion, and fit only for the stronger stomachs, which are better able to resist the putrefac-tive tendency. The use of salt in bread is not easily explained. It may be supposed to act as a condiment were it in a larger proportion, but it is generally said to promote union of the meal and water..
From this view of the subject, we shall be able to understand the difference between the household bread and the ship biscuit. The latter is not leavened, and consequently not so readily acescent; but it is harder of digestion, and, alone, not adapted to weak stomachs. For these it must be comminuted so as to form a pulp, and warmed by some carminative seeds, or united with animal food; when its undigestible nature contributes to retard the aliment, and render its assimilation more perfect. This doctrine will be elucidated under the article of Condiments.
Various are the forms of bread, and numerous the additions to adapt it to the taste of the luxurious. Every saccharine substance renders it more acescent, every farinaceous nut more difficult of digestion. The carminative seeds, of which the principal is the carui, or, on some occasions, as in the gingerbread, the aniseseed, lessen the inconvenience, but render it less suitable for a common aliment. The drier the bread, the less ready is it to become acescent: hence, new bread is often inconvenient in the stomach; and rusks, which consist of bread sliced and again baked, are scarcely less useful than sea biscuits.
Various adulterations of bread may be mentioned. Among the rest, bone ashes and bean flour are the principal, and chiefly used to whiten bread which has an over proportion of bran. Alum, too, has been employed, but its operation we do not well understand. It is said to coagulate the gelatine; and perhaps may be useful when it contains too large a proportion of humidity, or, in the language of bakers, when the corn is melted. Potatoe bread, or at least the method of making bread with a proportion of these roots, is an art sufficiently known. Bread of this kind is white, light, and wholesome: it keeps without injury for many days.
Turnip bread is made from the expressed mash of boiled turnips with an equal weight of meal; while the farina-of potatoes may be made into bread with any proportion of meal, or even alone. The turnip bread has at first a slight taste of the root, which goes off in a few days, and it is then said to be even superior to that made with flour.
In a medical view, bread has been tortured to obtain its nutritious qualities in a liquid form. The chief form of this kind is the bread jelly, viz. bread boiled till the water has extracted a sufficient portion of the gelatine to become a jelly when cold. Bread also is often boiled with broth, when the patient can swallow nothing solid. In each form it is apparently useful. A brown toast infused in water gives it no unpleasant flavour, and it sits more easily on the stomach than water alone. When fresh, and sipped only in small quantities, it often relieves vomiting; and as a common drink in fevers, is peculiarly grateful and advantageous. Bread distilled produces an highly acrimonious empyreumatic oil, mixed with an acid. Yet, in Germany, a simple water distilled from it, previously adding the juice of Cray fish, rose water, nutmegs, and saffron, is used as a restorative nutriment. From nutmegs, cinnamon, bread, and rhenish, a spirituous water is produced, supposed to be useful in diseases of the stomach. Hoffman recommends a spirit from bread distilled in the dry way. When the oil is separated, he thinks it a good sudorific.