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Bread Lecture at the LA Central Library

Not an LABB event, but thought some of you would be interested in this free lecture at the LA Central Library. Here's the info:

The Culinary Historians of Southern California
invite you to a presentation by
William Rubel
Song of the Wheat: The History of Bread, Grains,
and Leavenings from Pre-history to Today

Please join us on Saturday, June 8 at 10:30am in the Mark Taper Auditorium of the Los Angeles Central Library, 630 West Fifth Street, Los Angeles 90071.

William Rubel is a writer living in Santa Cruz. He is the author of The Magic of Fire: Hearth Cooking: One Hundred Recipes for Fireplace and Campfire and Bread, a Global History. He is now writing a history of bread for UC Press. William writes on traditional food ways and for Mother Earth News. His most recent article was on distilling alcohol at home. A longtime mushroom collector, William’s article in Economic Botany on the historic esculent uses of Amanita muscaria (it is the iconic red mushroom with white dots so favored by children's book illustrators) has inspired a reappraisal of that mushroom's edibility. William is the founder and co-editor of Stone Soup, the magazine by children.

Bread from the Upper Paleolithic to Today
Archeobotanical evidence suggests that bread was made in the Fertile Crescent ten thousand years before the invention of agriculture. For thousands of years it was a food, but not the food. Agriculture made bread an agent of change. Bread built the first Fertile Crescent cities and the civilizations of which we are heir. Mr. Rubel will offer a general history of bread with an emphasis on actual breads that people touched, smelled, chewed, and had opinions about. He will attempt to show how bread history can help answer questions that are pertinent today such as, why is wheat the world’s biggest crop by acreage? Why are today’s American artisan bakers so attracted to sourdough leavening? Why do each of us define a “good bread” the way we do?

Mr. Rubel will describe breads that fed the gods, breads that stink, breads that were fed to fighting cocks to help them win their fights, breads that were served to humiliate and torture prisoners, breads eaten by landless field hands, and breads of the good life.

Bread is a manufactured product, not an agricultural crop. Nothing about the bread we eat is accidental. The choice of flour, its level of refinement, the bread’s size, shape, and ornamentation, qualities of crust and crumb, type of leavening and the flavor it imparts, and more are under the baker’s control. As with most of our material objects, bread carries social markers. The almost unlimited range of nuances possible when making bread make it an unusually rich carrier of cultural messages. What kinds of messages were historically encoded in loaves and how do we get at those messages considering the fact that bread is ephemeral and there are virtually no records of historic breads?

The last few months Mr. Rubel's research has been focused on uncovering the English vocabulary of bread from 1500 through to 1900. He will share with you some of the craft terms he has recently found, precise definitions of measures that will be helpful redacting early recipes, and what is most exciting to him, a lost vocabulary that describes poverty breads and what the elites thought of them. Taken together, this delving deeply into vocabulary offers insights into the breads that are and are not found in our cookbooks and bakery shelves.

Bread reflects culture. As our culture changes so will (again) our breads. The definition of “good bread” is not written in the stars.We hope that Mr. Rubel's presentation will leave you with a sense of where bread comes from and where it might go in next decades and centuries.

For more information on our programs and membership, please visit our website at All of our lectures are free to the public.

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  • Ken S.

    I had a good time and met some nice people. The speaker was not bad but seemed a little disorganized.

    June 8, 2013

  • Samantha 1

    Any idea how long this will run? I'm attending a herbal event at 2:00 in LA. Would like to do both if possible.

    June 6, 2013

    • Erik K.

      I'm sure you could do both. The library does not say how long the event is, but it is probably an hour or an hour and a half.

      June 6, 2013

  • Victoria B.

    I wish...I'll be out of town that weekend. ;-(

    May 29, 2013

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