A Sordid History of Seeds Part II: The Soil Association

I’m pleased to announce that I have been commissioned to write about seeds, how they are legislated, and their history for the Soil Association; you can read my piece here. This post was inspired by, and partly based on, some writing that I did last month.

I am very glad that these articles have resonated so well with the growing community, and would love to hear people’s experiences elsewhere in the world, particularly from growers who save seed.

If you care about food, then you should care about seeds: who owns them, who controls them, and how it affects our lives and our environment.

I will be delving into this subject more deeply in the near future: how seed hegemony keeps developing countries in poverty cycles, how the number of leaves on a head of lettuce can be patented, how small groups of innovative growers have been circumventing these laws and keeping stronger, indigenous varieties alive, and ensuring we have good food stock for the future.

Incidentally, if you are based in or near South London and you are interested in saving seed, then visit Glengall Wharf Garden, a community garden that has pledged to become a safe haven for open pollinated, non hybridised GMO free seeds. They will be holding a seed swap at the end of the month — March 22nd — they are very friendly, and you will learn an awful lot, so do go along!

A Brief History of Sourdough Bread, and a Simple Recipe to Make Your Own

sourdough loaf boule preserved lemon rosemary homemade baking bake bakery baker loaves bread realbread
It is possible to make beautiful sourdough loaves cheaply at home. Here is a rosemary and preserved lemon sourdough loaf I made recently.

There is an unfortunate tendency in marketing to make bread-making sound like a dark art. Sourdough in particular is touted as a luxury product for the few, when, in reality, it is something that we can all have a go at making at home. The commercial baker will always have the advantage of specialized equipment – particularly ovens – but you can achieve some wonderful results with a regular oven. Teething troubles aside, take heart, as you’ll be working with far more sophisticated kit than your ancestors (who probably invented their bread by mistake anyway).

Whilst the craft of the professional baker is humbling to behold – and certainly is to be admired – there is nothing to stop you making perfectly good loaves at home with your own wild yeast; we’ve been doing it for thousands of years.

Though sources differ (bread-making leaves behind little evidence), the Sumerians – people from the southernmost part of Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) – are credited with the invention of sourdough-leavened bread in around 6000 B.C.[1], though some sources date this at around 4000 B.C.[2]. The method of mixing sourdough with unleavened dough was transferred to the Egyptians in around 3000 B.C.[3]. From here, the Egyptians invented bread moulds and ovens[4], but it is not clear how prominently sourdough-leavened bread featured in their cuisine, as bread made from emmer wheat has such a dense crumb, rendering the visual examination of samples difficult[5]. The oldest leavened bread identified in Europe dates between 3560-3530 B.C. and was discovered on the Swiss side of the Jura, near Lac de Bienne; it has a lovely round shape, which you can take a look at here[6]*.

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