Finding the World's 'Oldest Bread' Recipe in Australia

 The discovery of wheat by the ancient inhabitants of Australia is considered a major breakthrough as an important and sustainable source of food in the future. But the discovery and repurposing of this ancient grain may prove to be more important than just making a sandwich tastier.


Mastering the art of making yeast bread dough will be remembered as one of the major food trends during Covid-19.

But while home cooks around the world were busy whipping up bread to post on Instagram, researchers in Australia were exploring the possibility of re-cultivating ancient grains to end food shortages.

``See these seeds?'' said Delta K, a woman from the Arakwal Bundjaling group, carefully tending to a 'Lamandra longifolia' plant growing near the beach, slowly sprouting a seed bud.

'The Bundjaling people ground the flour into hot ashes to bake flat biscuits and the long, strong leaves were dried and used to make baskets.'

This knowledge dates back thousands of years, which Delta Kay shared with me on a guided tour of a local Aboriginal region in Byron Bay, northern New South Wales.

However, it was not known until recently that how these ancient people, who used these blessings of nature for generations, lived their lives and prepared their dishes before the colonization of this continent. will

Bruce Pascoe's 2014 book, Dark Emu, disproves settler perceptions of modern-day primitives with documented evidence that these ancient Australians lived a foraging and hunting lifestyle. .

Pascoe showed me his farms in the Yuen region near Malacoota in eastern Victoria, telling me that the ancient Australians were the world's first agricultural society. Furthermore, in the 1990s, millstone pots dating back at least 30,000 years were discovered at Cuddy Springs in northwestern New South Wales.

Then in 2015 grinding stones were discovered in northern Arnhem Land, dating back 65,000 years, definitively proving that ancient Australians were the world's first bakers.

"Evidence indicates that these grinding stones were used to make flour, and it was the first time in the world that grass seeds were being turned into flour thousands of years ago," Pascoe said. '

Pascoe said that even before the discovery of Arnhem Land, 'the discovery of grinding millstone pots at Cuddy Springs showed that Engimba women (the local ancestral tribe) had been making bread from seeds 18,000 years before the Egyptians. .'

Australian regions, particularly arid regions, once grew native crops and were once managed very easily by indigenous Australians using techniques such as limited burning (a technique now common in Australian forests). being used to control the fire).

But other crops, including grasses, whose seeds were used to make flour, were destroyed when ancient people were driven from their homelands and replaced by other livestock.

"Colonial rulers who went on adventures in these areas wrote about grass taller than their horses' saddles, but many of these places no longer have that grass," Pascoe said.

Although Australia's ancient cuisine has grown in popularity in recent years, native grasses and other crops that can be used to make flour are still considered herbs by many non-Indigenous Australians. But with the help of modern science, this ancient dish is now again becoming an adornment of people's food.

At that time, agricultural scientist Angela Pattison began to analyze whether tough grasses had the potential to become a sustainable food source.

"I read Bruce Pascoe's book and thought it wouldn't be good to see if we could find a way to operate a farm-to-production system in a modern context," Pattison said.

Work began on the project in collaboration with Pascoe.

A year of research led by Pattison with the traditional owners of the Gamelaroi (ancient Australian population) and local farmers showed that millet, or pankem (a millet-like genus), had great potential to be grown commercially.

'Indigenous millet was the easiest grain to grow, cultivate and turn into flour, and it is far more nutritious than wheat,' Yateson said. It has fiber and is also gluten free. And it tastes good. It had many advantages and met many good criteria.

The researchers also found that native grasses have many environmental benefits. As perennial plants, they sequester carbon from the atmosphere, protect endangered species and help maintain biodiversity.

This was not exactly new news for the descendants of Australia's ancient farmers. For whom the restoration of native grains and the potential economic benefits were more important developments than the improvement of the environment.

As part of this research, Pascoe conducted a series of 'Johnny Cake Day' celebrations among traditional owners of Pattison and Gamilaroy to find out whether or not ancient flour was present in indigenous plain bread baked on a hot flame. .

For Rhonda Ashby, a woman from the Gamilarao tribe known for her traditional work of helping colonized people through language and culture, it was not just a chance to eat bread with her loved ones but This grain also heals them.

Ashby said 'We have lost a lot of our knowledge by becoming a colony. So bringing back that traditional practice, which enables us to cook with our traditional ingredients, is really important for our improvement.''

He said that the native grass is not the only source of traditional food for the people of Gamilarao. It also holds deep cultural significance, especially for women.

Ashby says that 'the people of western New South Wales are known as the river and grass people, and these native grasses depict the social life of the people to the tune of folk songs (which, according to story and song, are passed down from generation to generation). generations have been humming) like the Seven Sisters songline, which is an Australian folk song that was the greatest song for early women.'

It is rich in fiber and gluten free

Different words are used in indigenous languages ​​for bread. (Over 250 indigenous languages ​​were spoken in Australia at the time of colonisation), but in English, country-style bread is usually called 'damper'.

The word derives from the brick-making technique used by a man who arrived in Australia on the First Fleet in 1788, William Bond, who made bread in his Sydney bakery by 'dampening' fire. And then the flour was pressed into the ashes.

Later, this method became very popular because of the simple ingredients (white flour and no salt) that could easily be carried on a long and difficult journey.

Like colonial-era vernacular poet Banjo Patterson, the term 'damper' was immortalized in popular culture.

Unfortunately, this was also a British version. Until the early 19th century, the official ration for Indigenous Australians was one pound of flour, two ounces of sugar and half an ounce of tea a day.

Highly processed, low-nutrition food destroyed the health of the local population. Today, Torres Strait Islander populations are four and a half times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-Indigenous and Aboriginal Australian populations.

Despite the many benefits associated with the resurgence in popularity of indigenous grains, researchers acknowledge that there are already many hurdles to overcome before indigenous flour becomes a popular staple.

"For one thing, the yields of ancient native grains are low compared to the new introduced crops, and you'd need to introduce them on a large scale to make it worthwhile to produce any kind of grain," Pattison said. .'

Pascoe, who along with Pattison supported the local promotion of the development of a grain industry, said that access to land required an ongoing struggle for Indigenous Australians, whose traditional land management practices Historically, its significance has also not been properly understood.

Pascoe said: 'Whole tracts of land in Australia are no longer arable because of the damage caused by sheep.' So don't let the ancient Australians get ripped off. We have to incorporate social justice and positive economic sense into this industry.

Meanwhile, indigenous Australian bread and bread-making traditions can be experienced at the level of indigenous culture tourism across the country. Different plants, techniques and tools are traditionally used to extract flour from one region to another. There should always be something new to learn.

Before heading out into the mangroves of the North Queensland Outback to try my hand at mud crabs with a walking cultural adventure or tour, I hand-pick company owner Joan Walker's mother, Louise. Enjoyed the bread.

'They regularly use flour, but traditionally the Koko Yelangi tribe used many indigenous seeds and grains, such as black beans, black acacia seeds and caraway seeds,' explained Walker. Some women still use it (in plants) to remove the poisonous effects.'

On a 'North Safaris' tour along Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, my guide pointed out signs of the use of several hundred-year-old millstones in the rocks that may have been used to grind grass in ancient times.

And in his latest book, 'Living Country', an excellent travel guide to Aboriginal Australians, I have Pascoe meet people in various places, including the Brewerina region (this near Cuddy Springs), it features the baking traditions of ancient Australians, famous for its ancient fishing nets.

Chefs around Australia are also reviving local bread-making traditions. Chief among them is New Zealand-born celebrity chef Ben Shorey, a voice for the development of indigenous cuisine and indigenous food production, who has incorporated a variety of indigenous grain ingredients into the menu at his iconic Melbourne restaurant Attica. Introduced.

'They are incredibly diverse,' said Shorey. Take acacia seed pulses for example. Not only are they used to make bread, but they taste amazing when cooked like barley or soaked rice.'

Arbust, in eastern Victoria, also distills indigenous grain alcohol, which you'll find near the lake along the way, made with native Pascoe grass seeds and brewed locally. Made in a bakery. The so-called 'darko emo' is mentioned in Pascoe's famous book.

Like many non-Indigenous Australians, I've seen cooking dumpers being made over an open fire on many a camping trip, until recently I was unaware that the tradition goes back much further than banjo rhymes. .

So the next time I eat a freshly baked damper drenched in warm, tangy wild honey, I'll pay my respects to the ancient Australians who invented it.

And forget the yeast dough. If this Australian native flour hits supermarket shelves, I'll be seeing recipes made from the world's oldest bread recipe.

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