Bread is baked from the crushed (or ground) seeds of grain. Around 10,000 years ago people cooked porridge or gruel and at least 3000 years ago leavened the dough of bread. In Europe, north of the Alps, it was only from the 16th century that the consumption of bread (and porridge) spread widely. Urban population concentrations grew, while yields fell due to the climatic deterioration. Greater areas of land were ploughed for grain cultivation and, independently of the quality of flour improved as a result of technical innovations in milling. The main factors for the dominance of grain were given. In regions where little was produced due to the natural endowments, such as the Mediterranean, bread grain was imported from Antiquity (Panem et circenses!). In mediaeval Europe nutrition was still characterised by the consumption of meat and vegetables (mainly cabbage). The balance tilted in the towns where the predominance of cereals can be observed. North-western Europe imported grain from the Baltic region. Up to the 18th century Eastern Central Europe exported beef cattle to the towns of Central Europe. As the demand for grain grew grazing land was ploughed and in the 19th century the country exported grain. Cereal consumption took the forms mainly of porridge, griddle-cakes, and later bread, dumplings and various kinds of boiled noodles. At the same time the role of soups (hot pots) in the daily diet increased. Bread and soup marked a new era in the history of menus. The people of Eastern Europe are still porridge-eaters. Almost from the start brewing has been one of the technologies for cereal consumption. Beer, with an increasing alcohol content, was at first the drink of urban dwellers, but later after the Middle Ages the peasantry also drank increasing quantities of ever stronger beer. Together with this latter process, grain spirits (whisky, gin, vodka, etc.) were also drunk on a growing scale. Distillation was an Arab invention and spread in the monasteries from the Middle Ages. At first Aqua vitae was a medicine but later shifted to the profane sphere in almost all respects.
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Acta Ethnographica Hungarica
2020 Volume 65
Magyar Tudományos Akadémia
H-1051 Budapest, Hungary, Széchenyi István tér 9.
H-1117 Budapest, Hungary 1516 Budapest, PO Box 245.