Baking the ancient way

The trick is to get bread patties to stick to the sides without burning your hand.

The next time a piece of warm, new bread has your taste buds dancing, spare a thought for those who had to find a safe way to bake it thousands of years ago. It’s a thought that has long stuck with the Rev Dr Tim Frank.

Tim is the new curate – or assistant priest – at St Andrew’s Anglican Church.  He is also a newly-minted doctor, having recently completed a Doctorate in Theology at Switzerland’s University of Bern in the speciality “Cultural Environment of the Old Testament”. Tim’s bachelor’s degree is in Theology (Biblical Studies), and his master’s is in Anthropology (Near Eastern Archaeology) – all of which goes some way to explaining why he was busy baking bread the other day in a replica clay oven akin to the type used by the ancient Hebrews.

Tim and Fr Malcolm French sample the results, watched by Tim’s daughter, Tikva.

Watched keenly by St Andrew’s vicar Fr Malcolm French and a gathering of friends, Tim set about the task with gusto.  The oven he crafted – using a mixture of clay, soil and hay – had been fashioned beforehand and has been used by his family twice before.  Mounted on a concrete slab, it was made by adding layers of clay for height, allowing drying time in between.

Tim fuelled his oven with wood and pine cones, saying the ancients would have used whatever was at hand, including animal dung. When the walls were hot enough he took pieces of both leavened and unleavened dough and deftly slapped them onto the upper sides of the oven – sometimes dodging the flames, sometimes not.  Once browned, the bread patties were plucked off the oven walls and offered up to his audience, with everyone declaring the exercise a success.

Tim says the oven was similar to those used across the eastern Mediterranean between 1000BC -600BC. It would have been used to cook a variety of foods.

“They were made in different sizes, and are still used in some regions, including Syria and Cyprus.”

Tim’s fascination for everyday life in ancient Israel has been with him for years; he has worked on archaeological evacuations in both Israel and across the Middle East.

He and his family came to Cambridge in January.

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