The Secret History of French Bread
Ah, bread: could there be a more boring item on your grocery list? Today we think of bread as the thing we stuff our faces with out of boredom as we wait for the real food to arrive. Or as a sort of edible plate for tastier ingredients like meats, veggies and cheese (our favorite of course). The truth is, bread used to play a crucial role in our diets.
For much of human history across most of the world, bread was the single most important item on almost every person’s menu. It was eaten by every class of society, and its price and availability has brought down dictators and democracies alike. Having it could mean peace and prosperity. Not having it meant calamity and ruin.
In France during the late 18th century, it was the ever-rising cost of bread that became a crucial cause of the French Revolution. Like much of French society at the time, the bread itself was socially stratified. The wealthy and nobility got first choice of the finest, most expensive loaves, while the peasants had to make due with stale, sometimes moldy bread packed with cheap starches. Sure it would fill you up, but it wouldn’t be much fun to eat.
Then came the Revolution, and with it: the baguette. With enlightenment ideals in full swing, France’s new revolutionary government decreed that there would no longer be bread for the rich and poor, there would just be bread for all the people. Prices would be fixed, and unscrupulous bakers would get a stern talking to from Madame Guillotine.
This delicious, if bizarrely elongated bread is of course a staple of French cuisine, but at the time of its invention it was certainly peculiar. Some stories of the early types of baguettes recounted peasant women carrying loaves of bread taller than the women themselves, stacked precariously under arms like huge sticks. Like any good food origin story, no one quite knows where exactly the baguette was invented, or why, but there are some interesting ideas.
One theory is that during the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon wanted a bread his soldiers would carry with them on the march during campaign season, so the army wouldn’t have to wait on bakers to cook it constantly. Supposedly the common soldier’s pants had a pocket long enough to slide the whole loaf down the side of the leg. One hopes the army got the chance to change pants regularly. The other theory is simply that the baguette was not nearly as labor intensive as older styles of French bread, and could be cooked in a quarter of the time.
Whatever the true story of its invention, one thing it clear: French bread is amazing. The crisp yet soft dough, buttery flakey goodness, and a perfect edible plate for your sandwich. But it’s also the bread of the people. For hundreds of years families and friends worldwide have sat around a table and torn through a loaf of French bread with carnivorous gusto.
Here at Local Deli we make our bread fresh daily, using locally sourced ingredients. We want you to feel like a part of our family when you bite into your favorite sandwich. And maybe, just maybe, you won’t be so bored at the grocery store when shopping for your next loaf. So come in, take a load off and break bread with us.