Making bread is a labour intensive process, and your average travelling barbarian or quest obsessed elves and dwarves have other things on their minds. Today we are in the same mindset, for buying a loaf of bread ignores the efforts involved in tilling and fertilising a field as well as protecting it from pillaging soldiers. Not to mention the work your ancestors put in selecting, evolving and planting a suitable grain for your climate. Then there is harvesting, threshing, winnowing and storage. But the rewards were great – bread, scones, pancakes, then cakes, pies, donuts… the list of carb based tastiness never ends.That’s why we stopped being hunter gatherers and settled down in villages.  Dreaming of donuts, we descended from the trees to the savannah grasses.

Aside from stealing or buying bread, chewing on a crust as they gaze moodily off into the distance, your barbarian has a few choices. They can use sour dough, carrying the starter fermenting yeast with them. This is obviously more likely in the caravan or family travelling scenario, where the starter mixture is used to make the next batch rise due to natural yeast action.

However, carrying flour is more likely, and here our hero could take some time to make soda bread if baking soda is available. With a few hot rocks, some unleavened dough could be cooked. If a cookpot is handy then our fantasy characters can get creative and make dumplings. Using flour, water, a bit of fat and salt, and some herbs plucked in passing, our worthy adventurers would sleep well on a full stomach of stew and dumplings. A porridge of grains is another standby, although whole grains would need soaking overnight, and a long boiling time, necessitating wood for a fire and time to cook it.

One famous fantasy bread is lembas, the honey flavoured bread of Tolkien’s elves. It travels wells, tastes like heaven, and will sustain you through Mordor. The other end of the spectrum is Terry Pratchett’s dwarf bread, which has its own museum in Ankh Morpork. He describes it as something you always have with you, and no matter how hungry you are, the extremely inedible appearance will take away your appetite. Nanny Ogg makes a batch, with the main ingredient being the cat litter tray. It is also famous for being hard enough to use as a weapon, which makes it a handy thing to have in the warrior’s sporran.

In real life, hardtack or ships biscuit were used. Both of these are basically flour, salt and water, rolled and hard baked. These would keep for a long journey, although weevil infestation was common. CS Forester gives Hornblower the automatic habit of tapping the biscuit on the table to encourage the weevils to leave before eating. Otherwise it could be used as a soup thickener or porridge like gruel with some flavouring such as salt pork. The Australian standby of damper, which is flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and water was an another quick loaf to bake while the rest of the meal was cooking.

For something of the history of hardtack:

Or a recipe to get you through a zombie apocalypse:
Prepared Survivalist

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Barbarian Carbs
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2 thoughts on “Barbarian Carbs

  • February 7, 2017 at 14:35

    I make my own bread and have contemplated getting a mill for grinding my own wheat. It is very expensive to buy the good whole grain flour compared to the white. I am going to try Robert’s recipe for real sourdough if I can ever remember to start it in the morning for baking the next morning. I always seem to think of it in the late evening and wouldn’t want to be baking that late 24 hours later after the starter has fermented.

    It is really amazing to those of us who can just buy bread at the store that such a simple food figures so prominently in so many books. In Great Expectations a thick slice of toasted bread with some grease on it was a whole meal. In Heidi, getting the soft white roles for grandmother was of paramount importance to a little girl far from home.

    Bread is also embedded in our very culture as humans. People have killed and been killed for it. People celebrate their faith with it. And even people who don’t eat it at all, still love the smell of baking bread.

    Thank for this post Cindy. I enjoyed reading it.

    • February 7, 2017 at 16:11

      Thanks Ducky. Yes, bread has a long history as the staff of life, and part of accepting hospitality with bread and salt. It is perhaps sorely cheapened to become white sliced and in a plastic wrap. Good luck with the recipe, I need to look it up again and have a go as well. Cindy

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