If you’re here then I guess there’s a good chance you’ve been listening to the first episode of ‘Our Daily Bread’ on Radio 4. Welcome.
If you want to complain let me direct you to the customer services department at Amazon. They’re absolutely nothing to do with the radio series but they’re very practiced at ignoring people and making their woes disappear into a black hole somewhere outside Doncaster, whereas I always want to try to put things right – and as the series is already done and dusted I’ll just end up feeling rather helpless. Sorry.
Now, assuming you liked the programme, let me tell you a little more. You found it a little silly? Well I did weight up the options but with less than 14 minutes to rattle through the subject of bread and what it tells us about key points in the social development of humanity it seemed essential to avoid hubris. (I confess I used to think that hubris was something akin to potting compost, as in ‘you want to make sure there’s a good handful of hubris around its little roots’, but thanks to the internet I was able to look up and learn another one of those words that clever people use on the Today programme when they want to signal that they’re a clever person on the Today programme).
The trouble with bread as a subject is that it touches on so many aspects of our lives, it’s such a universal, that all one can do is signal that there’s much, much more to discover. So yes, this was a headlong dash through the subject. However if you’d like to hear more I did actually record additional chats with two of the participants.
Martin Jones is a Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. Specifically his interest is in the archaeology of food. As you’ll have heard from the programme the development of the earliest breads allowed humans to range far further than the other great apes. However there’s rather more to it than that as you can hear.
I also recorded an extra interview with my second contributor William Rubel. William has just written a book; Bread: A Global History. If I remember correctly he gets most excited about the bread of the C16th and C17th. So rather than expand on the discussion we had about early grain-based agriculture as a driver of/being driven by the expansion of the earliest settlements into large towns and cities, I asked him what loaves from history he’d most like to try.
Something I should stress is that when I say, in this series, that I’m somewhere then I am actually at that somewhere (do I need to explain that when I say I’m several thousand years in the past that I’m really not?). So when I recorded Mary Ann Ochota talking about euergetism (sometimes rendered evergetism) we really were at Calleva Atrabatum.
My mate John Letts and I really were in the middle of a field of mediaeval wheat varieties. The wonderful Steven Kaplan (more of John and Steve later this week) was standing at the foot of the vestiges of the Bastille in Paris (as vestiges go they’re rather less impressive than, say, the London Wall or… I’m struggling here, they’re simply not that impressive. Clearly the revolutionaries really didn’t like the place and it was comprehensively demolished) and Stan Cauvain and I were actually at the site of the old Flour Milling and Baking Research Association at Chorleywood, now a retirement home. (That’s why Hannah Hunt and I didn’t say we were in the Hagia Sophia and William Rubel and I didn’t claim to be in Jericho).
Stan, it should be said, aside from the fact that he is a proper gentleman and gamely struggled through every recording hoop I set up for him until I was happy, is now a rather august personage in the baking industry being honorary president of the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology. Back in 1973 he was a rather more junior food scientist, albeit one destined for great things.
Lastly I rounded things off with Dan Schickentanz of de Gustibus. Dan plays a key role in the series. You’ll hear him again on Wednesday and Thursday, but more than that he was the starting point for the whole project. He’s a good man is Dan. he makes some of the finest bread you can buy in Britain, arguably the finest – the FT and The Economist both rate him. However the thing that intrigues me about Dan isn’t so much that he makes such good bread, but that he cares so very deeply about it that he wouldn’t be content making anything else.
For anyone interested in the music, the pastiche of the theme music from A History of the World in 100 Objects was courtesy an old mate, the marvellous Mark Revell. He sent me three versions labelled ‘normal’, ‘silly’ and ‘sillier’. I’ll leave you to guess.
The music running underneath Stan Cauvain was by another old friend, Trevor Jones, in his days with Jonesy. The track is ‘Can You Get That Together?’ The album is ‘Growing’, released in 1973 and subsequently awarded the Diamond Award for the best album of the year at the Montreaux Festival. Trev not only taught me to play guitar (well, mainly he talked a lot about life on the road supporting acts like Black Sabbath and Mungo Jerry… and about getting into lots of apparently very enjoyable fights in Tasmania…) but he taught me even more about audio production which is why part of me thinks that, stylistically, radio should be a collision between journalism and prog rock… And of course there could only be one presenter to introduce that piece of music – thank you very much to the legendary and very kind Whispering Bob Harris for the cameo.
Lastly the closing music, which will be used throughout, is John Martyn’s The Easy Blues from Solid Air.
Tomorrow’s episode picks up on two of the loaves from today’s programme, together with a third, and looks at bread in relation to our health. Catch you then.