As more people are faced with endless hours at home due to self-quarantine and social distancing, there’s been a surge in home bread baking show-and-tell on the internet over the past few days. But it’s safe to say that no one has been baking bread quite like Seamus Blackley, who finally has achieved his goal to re-create ancient Egyptian bread using yeast cultivated from samples that were over 4,000 years old and traditional tools and techniques dating back to that time period.
Today I achieved* something that I’ve been trying to do for a year. The slice of bread here was made with leavening cultures sampled from ancient Egyptian baking vessels, using ancient Emmer wheat, with an ancient Egyptian recipe, using ancient Egyptian baking tools, and NO OVEN. pic.twitter.com/msZpvlyK0F— Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) March 30, 2020
The thread is actually a culmination of Blackley’s year-long efforts to bake bread using yeast cultivated by samples obtained from ancient pottery since their porous structures helped preserve some of the original microorganisms. (Blackley, when not trying to re-create ancient breads, is better known as one of the creators of the original Xbox and the man behind the infamous “Duke” controller.)
As Blackley explains on Twitter, the most recent development in the project saw the team build a custom, conical clay pot called a “bedja” to bake the bread outside in a series of fire pits, resulting in what’s likely the most authentic ancient Egyptian bread baked in thousands of years. An additional thread from Serena Love, the Egyptologist working with Blackley on the project, explains why the experiment is so significant and how archeologists have even figured out how ancient Egyptians baked in the first place.
The entire journey is worth a read, starting with Blackley’s original thread from last July In it, he describes the process in which he, Love, and Richard Bowman (the microbiologist who also worked on the project) worked together to sample the yeast and revive it to a live culture. A subsequent thread in August details when Blackley baked with it for the first time.
Just now, the dormant yeast I collected this week from Ancient Egyptian artifacts (with help from @drserenalove and @rbowman1234) is being fed grain for the first time in four and a half thousand years. Here is the story: #AncientBaking @ClubYeast pic.twitter.com/dSpWFSPCCf— Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) July 28, 2019
Two weeks ago, with the help of Egyptologist @drserenalove and Microbiologist @rbowman1234, I went to Boston’s MFA and @Harvard’s @peabodymuseum to attempt collecting 4,500 year old yeast from Ancient Egyptian pottery. Today, I baked with some of it... pic.twitter.com/143aKe6M3b— Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) August 5, 2019