The Middle Ages (500AD-1500AD)
The Middle Ages were a time of great fluctuation in grain availability, production and consumption. Nomadic Barbarians, whose diets consisted mostly of meat, along with famine, bad weather and disease were some of hallmarks of this period which led to a decline in the availability and demand for bread. By the end of this era, growing urbanization, the creation of baker's guilds and technological advances in ovens contributed to the greater demand for bread.
Agriculture was reintroduced by the Catholic Church around 1000 AD. Bread was needed for the important sacrament of communion and Catholic clergy were learning from agricultural texts written by their Greco-Roman ancestors.
By 1100 demand for bread was rapidly on the rise. A distinction was made between bakers (fornarii) and doughmakers (pistores) and laws were introduced to moderate disruptive behavior that occasionally erupted between the two groups. The Fornarii and Pistores had to pay taxes and were required to submit to regular inspections to ensure honest weights were being used.
The first bakers guild formed in France around 1200AD. It was called the Tameliers, which means flour sifters. To become a member of the Tameliers, one had to go through a four year apprenticeship, pass a number of tests and be granted the right to bake from the king. Baking was viewed as an honorable profession.
Bakers in guilds enjoyed many benefits. For example, bakers who supplied bread to hospitals were, in return, given free medical care. Bread in the 13th century mostly contained wheat and the richer you were, the whiter your bread. Poor people ate whole wheat bread containing lots of bran and wheat germ. Its interesting to note that it has been scientifically proven that whole grain bread containing bran and the germ is better for you than white bread made solely from the starchy white endosperm of the wheat berry.
With the production of bread well established, bakers began to explore specialty items. Sweet breads, braids and pastries quickly became popular all over Europe. Bakers began to enrich doughs with eggs, dairy, honey and sometimes sugar brought back from the Crusades.
By the end of the Middle Ages, laws concerning the production of bread were being written by royalty and guilds were clearly developed, respected organizations. The following video is a neat little re-creation of Middle Ages bread making.