What Pliny Says About Grains

What does Pliny the Elder say about grain? Quite a bit. In Naturalis Historia, his Book XVIII is “The Natural History of Grain”. In addition to the various types of grain, he goes into details about growing grain, soil fertility, ploughing, grain diseases, grain prices, corn wreaths, other writers who wrote about grain, etc. As I said, he had a lot to say about grain but I’ll try to be give some brief excerpts that apply to my experimentation/recipe.

“There are numerous kinds of wheat which have received their names from the countries where they were first produced. For my part, however, I can compare no kind of wheat to that of Italy either for whiteness or weight, qualities for which it is more particularly distinguished…”

Pliny continues on to specifically extol the virtues of winter wheat for its nutritional and bread baking qualities:

“There is no grain that displays a greater avidity than wheat, and none that absorbs a greater quantity of nutriment. With all propriety I may justly call winter wheat the very choicest of all the varieties of wheat. It is white, destitute of all flavour, and not oppressive to the stomach…. Winter wheat furnishes bread of the very finest quality and the most esteemed delicacies of the bakers…. Wheat yields a fine flour of the very highest quality.”

Pliny also discusses the use of spelt, another kind of cereal grain. A note that the term “corn” is not the corn plant we normally refer to in the U.S. but as a general word for grain. For reference, a modius (plural modii) is a unit of measure (capacity) equal to 8.62 metric litres or 2.32 U.S gallons or roughly a modern peck.

“The most hardy kind, however, of all the grains is spelt, and the best to stand the severity of the weather; it will grow in the very coldest places, as also in localities that are but half tilled, or soils that are extremely hot, and destitute of water. This was the earliest food of the ancient inhabitants of Latium…”

“Spelt is much heavier than barley, and wheat heavier than spelt…. The Gauls have also a kind of spelt peculiar to that country: they give it the name of “brace,” while to us it is known as “sanldala:” it has a grain of remarkable whiteness. Another difference, again, is the fact that it yields nearly four pounds more of bread to the modius than any other kind of spelt. Verrius states that for three hundred years the Romans made use of no other meal than that of corn”

So, we have now taking a brief glimpse at what Pliny had to say about grain and leavening, we’re almost to the bread baking part! It’s Friday (I get to work from home today) so I’ll babysit my starter and make sure it’s ready for it’s big day tomorrow! I have a few pictures of the starter but then I started slacking off as a yeast starter parent and I haven’t taken additional pictures the last couple days. But honestly, it looks like a lump of gently bubbling dough.

Sourdough Starter – Day 3
Sourdough Starter – Day 3 (this shows how much it has expanded in the large mason jar)
Sourdough Starter – Day 4
The starter had risen even further up the mason jar, it filled about 3/4 of the jar.
(No pictures of Day 5 & 6 but pretty much the same: bubbly dough)

Translations from Naturalis Historia from http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/.

The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855.

“Weights and Measures.” Vindolanda Tablets Online. Oxford University, http://vindolanda.csad.ox.ac.uk/reference/measures.shtml. Accessed 27Mar2020.

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