How To Make Bronze Age Bread Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

How To Make Bronze Age Bread

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A comic-book Bronze-aged man dramatically slices a loaf of bread with his axe

Although this entry purports to give genuine Bronze Age-style recipes, it must begin with a qualifier. We have no firm evidence that Bronze Age people ever even made bread and so any attempt to recreate a recipe is flawed from the start. However, from the pollen record1, from the remains of food found in the stomachs of peat-preserved individuals and from ecological changes that began at the time, we can have an educated guess. We know roughly what food sources were available and what methods there were of preparing them. All we can say is that, if Bronze Age people made bread, this is the closest approximation we have of recreating it.

Please note, also, that descriptions of lifestyles are based on Britain in the Bronze Age, generally accepted as being around 2000BC; a full 6,000 years after domestication of livestock began in the Near East, 2,000 years after the Yang-shao's began rice farming in China and only 300 years before Hammurabi began Babylon’s second golden age. In terms of technology, Britain was a long, long way behind.

The Ingredients

These ingredients would have been available in the Bronze Age, and it is well worth experimenting with them to come up with your own recipes.


Crops began to be cultivated in the early Bronze Age, when large amounts of deforestation took place to make way for agriculture. (Incidentally, these actions produced the first swathes of heathland, where poor soil meant the only species available to replace the forests were the likes of heather and, later, gorse species.) The old hunter-gatherer ways were supplemented by the growth of wheat and barley near new, permanent settlements. Although the produce could simply have been drops into soups and stews, the existence of 'quernstones2' suggests that much of the harvest would be converted into flour. Crushing crop seeds into flour in this way is likely to have give rise to the expression 'the daily grind.'

For cooking these recipes, you can just use plain flour (which is ground from wheat) from any supermarket, but it is possible to be a little more authentic. Health food shops sell the other essential flour, barley flour, but varieties of wheat flour can be found therein that date from at least Roman times. Although these only go back halfway to the Bronze Age, it is quite possible that the strains themselves are far older, and the wheat that the Romans used in Britain may have dated right back to the earliest cultivations. The difference in taste from a modern wheat flour is arguably negligible, but the increased feeling of authenticity makes it worth seeking out.

Other seeds and nuts

Among the edible seeds native to Britain are hazelnuts, sweet chestnuts, beech, acorns and walnuts3. Prepare as follows and experiment in your recipes:

  • Hazelnuts, walnuts and sweet chestnuts simply need to be removed from their shell, chopped roughly and added to the mix.
  • Acorns should be dried and removed from their shells. They can also be ground up into flour; note that to become edible acorns must be boiled until the tannin is removed4.
  • Beech nuts should be heated gently until they open, usually after just a few minutes, then the three nuts removed and taken out of the brown casing before being ready to eat.


Anyone who has spent a day or so in the wilderness on a 'forest diet' will testify that the thing you tend to crave the most is something sweet. Honey, at least in Britain, was the first sweet-tasting substance found in quantity, and its appeal endures. It is almost certain that Bronze Age people would have used it as part of their diet.


Interestingly, the biggest debate concerning beer in prehistoric times is not whether it was available or not, but why it was produced in the first place. Indeed, there has been speculation based on research in Scotland that suggests that barley beer was brewed as a safer alternative to water, the alcohol killing off a proportion of parasites! Whether this theory becomes more than idle dinner party conversation remains to be seen, but the fact is that beer is likely to have been around in the Bronze Age, beginning a reputation that stays with the nation four millennia later.

You can buy barley-based beers for an authentic flavour, or brew your own if you have those skills too, but any full-bodied bitter will suffice for the recipes below.


Bronze Age bread would have been unlikely to contain yeast. The only source would have been as a by-product of beer5, and in any case the cooking methods would not have suited it. Most food would have been cooked over the fire, or on a hot stone, and bread would have been cooked in the latter way in flat patties. The addition of yeast would be pointless.

However, unleavened bread6 is not to everyone's taste. It can be heavy, chewable and deeply unsatisfying, and much effort can end up in the bin if you are not a fan. The recipes below do contain a little yeast to enliven the finished product, and it is suggested the bread is cooked in the oven. If you prefer the tooth-aching, genuinely 4,000 year old deal, just leave out the yeast, make your patties flat and cook them on a pre-dusted7 griddle (or hot stone if so inclined).

Suggested Recipes

These recipes should make about a dozen fist-sized rolls each. Simply increase the quantities if you require more. Note that unleavened bread will not last as long as yeasted bread (it will become unpalatable after a few days), and if you wish to make it last you will need to make it in smaller batches!

Baking times will vary every time you make this bread, for unfathomable reasons, but depending on the size of the rolls you make 45-60 minutes at 180 degrees C should be about right. Keep an eye on them, just in case8. The rolls, when cooked, will look a bronzed brown (appropriately enough) and should sound hollow if flicked on the bottom.

Sweet Hazelnut Bread

You will need:

  • 700g wheat flour
  • 50-100g hazelnuts9 depending on taste, roughly chopped
  • 200-300g honey to mix
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 7g yeast (if required, and prepared according to manufacturer's instructions)

Mix the flour, hazelnuts, yeast and salt together and shape into a corona. Slowly add the honey into the centre and mix into the inside of the circle with fingers until all the flour is mixed and the resulting mass has a firm but malleable texture. Knead well, and leave for 20 minutes to develop if yeast has been added.

Shape into fist-sized patties and lay on a baking tray; bake as above.

Barley and Beer Bread

You will need:

  • 500g barley flour
  • 500g wheat flour
  • Approx 1 pint beer mix
  • 200g butter
  • 7g yeast (if required, and prepared according to manufacturer's instructions)
  • Large pinch of salt

Mix flours and salt together and rub in the butter. Mix in the yeast and make into a corona shape. Slowly add the beer and 'bring in' the inside of the circle with fingers until all the flour is mixed in; the result should be firm but malleable. Knead well, and leave for 20 minutes to develop if yeast has been added.

Shape into fist-sized patties and lay on a baking tray; bake as above.

You will find this bread is quite light and crumbly - even a little dry - but very tasty. To enjoy it even more, you could make some simple cheese to an ancient recipe as below:

Take a pint of milk that is just beginning to turn10, add a pinch of salt and boil it until it begins to separate (if it doesn't separate on its own, it may not be sour enough; add a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice to increase acidity and speed up the process. Then simply strain through a sieve and leave the resulting rubbery mess between two pieces of kitchen paper, weighted down with a heavy plate, in the fridge overnight to squeeze out remaining moisture. Or leave hanging in muslin overnight. This is really fast and easy cheese, a little like Indian paneer. The beauty of this cheese, in a traditional sense, is that it requires no complicated procedures, time to mature or indeed ingredients other than milk (it can be made without the salt but tastes very bland).

These are just a couple of recipes for bread. You can also experiment with other native plants and herbs for different flavours; try using wild (hedge) garlic, burdock roots, ramsons (wild onions), young nettles or berries to add to the basic recipes suggested above. After all, it's not an exact science!

1Carbon-dateable pollen found from flowering species2Grinding stones that would have developed a saddle-shape in use.3Walnuts were once very common in Britain.4And to eat them, it hardly seems worth the effort.5Home-brewers of barley beer, if there are any, could use this as an 'authentic' source of yeast.6Without yeast.7With flour.8The author has found the unleavened version to be even more variable, having burnt them after 30 minutes but on other occasions taking over an hour and-a-half to be ready.9Beech nuts are also highly recommended in this recipe, but will need to be foraged rather than bought.10It should smell a little sour without being overbearing.

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