Rocks: the world’s first kitchen gadgets

How is it that flat breads came before loaf breads? Simply because hot rocks came before ovens — and flat breads bake up beautifully on them. The first foods prepared on these sorts of proto-griddles were simple grain-and-water gruels, the predecessors of today’s pancakes. Leave a nice wet grain gruel sitting out a little too long, though, and it ferments. And fermentation produces rise, and a raised wheat paste or gruel is, by definition, bread.

How did the whole hot rock system work? At least originally, by starting a fire on a flat rock surface, then pushing the embers aside and laying your batter/dough down. Bake on one side, flip and do the other. Wam, bam, thank you, caveman. Over time, some cultures discovered that placing a hot earthenware pot over the bread baked it more evenly. These were the world’s first “hearth” breads.

I remember the first and only time I saw the hot rock method demonstrated. It was only for a second, I believe on an episode of the Anthony Bourdain show, A Cook’s Tour. As I recall, he was somewhere in the Arabian Desert enjoying an outdoor feast of roasted goat. For a split second the camera flashed to a bedouin in a turban sitting crossed legged on the ground, moving wood embers around the edge of a round flat object. The scene suddenly switched to I can’t remember what, but after a second it struck me: that guy was baking! They never came back to the bedouin baker, nor showed the bread again. But I’ll tell you right now, if I was editing that episode, they would have. Goat shmoat! That’s bread history in action!

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