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Bread, we are told, is the staff of life ; it should not, therefore, be a waste of our time to try to learn what is known of it, and of the wheat and flour which are to make it. And yet, although we all live more or less by bread, there is hardly any subject upon which the ordinary public are more profoundly ignorant.

According to the returns of the Board of Trade, bread and flour constitute nearly half of the labouring man’s solid food, and it is therefore most important, from a national point of view, that each of these commodities should be produced, and that the public should know and ensure that they are produced, in as pure and nutritious a form as possible. It was with this aim that the Assize of Bread was instituted at an early age, and in the year 1202 a proclamation was made for regulating the quality and price of bread. Four “discreet” men were appointed to carry out the provisions of this law, and the pillory and tumbril were the punishments awarded to those who broke or evaded it. It is to be feared that, were the Assize of Bread still in force, the modern system of flour-milling would to some extent infringe the enactments, and render some of our millers liable to its penalties.

Let us first briefly consider the growth and production of the cereal wheat, and notice some of the peculiarities attaching to it.

It is a tender annual requiring constant attention, and if left uncared for, and uncultivated, dies out. For instance, let a field be sown with wheat and then let it be neglected; the wheat plant will grow up and shed its grain, and this may possibly survive a mild winter, but in the course of two or three years there will be no trace left of the crop, nor of the plant. Very different is this from the herbage for cattle, which grows everywhere unasked, and which covers very quickly any waste ground. Again, it is not only a tender annual, but it is remarkable for the very wide range of latitude in which it will grow. It is cultivated in the hot plains of India; it grows in the cold of Siberia, and even within two hundred and fifty miles of Klondike. It is believed there is no other plant which is adapted to such great changes.

Wheat requires the ground to be prepared for it, thus involving an enormous amount of labour. To till even one acre with furrows twelve inches apart compels the ploughman with his plough and team to travel eight miles and a half; if the field be fifty acres in area, it entails a journey of four hundred and twenty-five miles. The grain has then to be drilled into the soil, and the field has to be rolled and harrowed. When the time of harvest arrives it has to be reaped, gathered and stored, threshed, and ground into flour. Finally it has to be baked and made into bread to gladden the heart of man. We are told that “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” and this is strictly and literally true.

It is noticeable that the value of a crop of wheat depends, not only upon the quality and quantity of the grain, but also to some extent upon the crisp, bright, glassy character of the straw. The straw-hat trade of Luton and Dunstable, and other places in the neighbourhood, depends upon the fact that the straw used for plaiting is grown on adjacent chalk land. The plant has great affinity for the silica in the chalk and flints, and uses it for coating the outside of the stalk with that beautiful glass-pipe covering. And it is due to this fact that America, although she grows such enormous quantities of wheat upon her alluvial lands (having no chalk land), has to send to England for straw, through which her people consume their iced drinks, the straw being stiff and air-tight, and therefore more suitable for the purpose than their own.

The question of handling large quantities of grain in America and elsewhere is an extremely interesting one, and an effort is now being made on a large scale to introduce into other countries the system which is in operation in the United States and Canada. The subject, however, is of too technical a character to be more than very briefly referred to here.

In the United States are certain Government officials known as graders, whose business it is to value, or grade, all wheat, according to its quality, under certain numbers. A farmer bringing his grain to a railway station in the Far West obtains a certificate for so many bushels, say of No. 1 or No. 2, and this enables him, without waiting for the transportation of his own particular wheat to New York and elsewhere, a journey occupying days and even weeks, to claim an equivalent quantity of grain of equivalent quality at a moment’s notice in New York, Chicago, and other ports. By this means he is able immediately to realise the value of his crop.

The wheat is transmitted in due course and is warehoused ready for shipment in grain-elevators, which are large rectangular buildings of great height, consisting of vertical bins, some of which are a hundred feet in depth. Large steamers come alongside and can be loaded with grain in bulk to the extent of three to four thousand tons in twelve hours. Endless horizontal belts of india-rubber, twenty-four to thirty-six inches in width, travelling at high speed, convey the grain from bin to ship at the rate of four hundred and fifty tons an hour on a single belt; and Jacob’s ladders, which are endless vertical belts fitted with buckets, lift the grain from the basement, or from railway trucks, to the top of the granary, whence it is distributed in any direction desired, No. i quality going into its proper bin and other qualities into theirs.

Let us next consider the constituents of a single grain of wheat,—the seed of the wheat plant—the principal and all important ingredient in every loaf of bread. If a grain of wheat be cut in half and examined under a microscope, it will be found that beneath the outer covering which constitutes the bran and “sharps” there are two divisions. The larger one of these contains the white substance or flour, and the smaller, the germ or embryo of the future plant. It is the germ that provides in great measure the colour, the flavour, and the nourishment of the wheat. It is rich in proteid, or fat, and its presence or absence in the flour makes all the difference between bread which is palatable and nutritious and that which is tasteless and indigestible.

From the earliest ages until comparatively modern times, our ancestors had the wisdom so to grind the grain that the resulting flour contained the white substance as well as the nutritious elements of the germ. To this end they employed horizontal running stones,—the upper and nether mill-stones of the Bible. From these issued a flour, wholesome and full of nutriment, but in colour, owing to the golden tinge of the seed-germ contained in it, not a dead white. This was the flour which for centuries went to make the good old fashioned home-made bread which our ancestors used, and which went to make our ancestors what they were.

Many of us can remember the introduction about thirty years ago of “Pure White Hungarian Flour,” and how it originated the demand, first of our housekeepers and cooks, and afterwards of our working-classes, for white bread. To enable the baker to supply this very white bread to the public, it became necessary for the miller to supply the baker with white flour. This could not be achieved by the use of the old-fashioned horizontal grindstones, which by disintegrating the germ tinted the flour. It became obvious to the miller that, to produce the white flour demanded, the colouring germ must be eliminated from it, and this he has succeeded in doing most effectually. The old upper and nether stones are put on one side, and for the production of white flour steel roller-mills are substituted. These steel rollers do not crush or disintegrate the germ; their mission is to roll it out into little discs, which do not go to make the flour at all, but are sifted out from the flour by sieves of silk. The result is that the public have achieved the white or anaemic loaf, but, in doing so, they have lost the best of the nutritive element of bread. The little discs of nutriment are used for various purposes, being bought, in some cases, by certain patent bread companies, but the bulk going to feed pigs and cattle, while our children are being regaled upon the non-nutritious white loaf. The moral we can draw from it is,—“Give up the Staff of Life and eat the bacon of the pigs which have been fed upon the germ discs.”

Formerly we were perfectly satisfied with our old fashioned home-made bread, but now we have scores of different names for various breads, none of which are one whit better, and most of them many degrees worse, than the bread of old.

The following letter appeared in The Times of August 5th, 1904

Sir,—As I observe that the report of the Royal Commission on Physical Deterioration has been issued, allow me to call attention to another cause which is operating in a serious manner upon the people.

I was informed a few weeks ago by a gentleman who owns large flour mills, which produce 50,000 tons of flour annually, that the craze for white bread is being carried to such extremes that at the present moment many of the millers are putting up expensive machinery for the purpose of actually bleaching the flour. This is being done by ozone and nitrous acid ; the object being to make an artificially white bread, and to enable grain to be used which would otherwise give a darker colour to the flour. The development of the grinding process during the last few years has been such that the old-fashioned stones have been replaced by steel rollers actuated under great pressure. The result of this is that the germ and other most nutritive constituents of the wheat are to a great extent abstracted, and the valuable character of the bread greatly reduced.

It is the opinion of many who can speak with authority on the subject that bread, instead of being as formerly the “staff of life,” has become to a great degree an indigestible non-nutritive food, and that it is responsible amongst other causes for the want of bone and for the dental troubles in the children of the present generation. Some go so far as to connect it with appendicitis, and to express an opinion that the stamina of the nation is threatened.

It is doubtless true that the variety of food now obtainable in a measure compensates, in the case of those who can afford it, for this abstraction of phosphates; but I think I am justified in stating that every medical man, if asked, will give it as his opinion that very white bread should be avoided and that "seconds” flour, now almost unprocurable, should alone be used either for bread or pastry. If the public will demand from their bakers this description of flour only, the millers will see that it is to their true interest to supply the more wholesome, the more nutritive, and by far the best flavoured material.

This letter was written after consultation with several of the leading physicians, surgeons, and chemists of London, also with dentists, millers, and bakers carrying on large businesses.

The writer recently visited some flour-mills in which one part was still using the old-fashioned stones, the other portion of the establishment being devoted to roller-grinding. The official in charge of the former said that he considered that roller-grinding and abstraction of the germ ought to be prohibited by Act of Parliament. On visiting the roller-mill, the foreman of that department, being asked what advantages accrued from roller-grinding, replied, “It makes such superior flour.” To the question what he meant by superior flour, he answered, “It is much whiter.” He was next asked which was the more nutritious. “That!’ said he, “is quite another matter.” The discussion was finally clinched by the question upon which flour he fed his family, and his reply was an eloquent testimony as to the pernicious character of the entire system, for he said, “I feed them upon stone-ground flour.”

Bread made from flour which contains the germ is far more palatable and pleasant and will remain fresh for days. Such a loaf, after being kept for a fortnight, was found to be perfectly suitable for eating, for although dry on the outside, it was moist inside even after that length of time; Roller-ground flour, on the contrary, makes bread which crumbles like sawdust within a few hours, is absolutely tasteless, produces indigestion, and gives but little satisfaction in any way.

The importance of feeding the army and navy upon the most nutritious flour is a matter of national importance, and the Government should thoroughly investigate the subject, especially as the cost of the better material is no greater, and probably less, than the inferior.

It is, or rather was (for it is hoped the public are beginning to insist upon having stone-ground flour), difficult to obtain the right description of bread, and it was therefore thought possible to protect one’s self and family from the evil effects by consuming brown bread ; but it was discovered that brown bread, as a rule, is merely made by adding bran to the white flour.

Readers of this article should obtain a small quantity of the wheat-germ from a miller, and taste a few of the grains. No further argument will be necessary to convince them of the heinousness of the offence of abstracting this from the food of our population. It will at once bring back sweet memories of our youth, when walking through the cornfields we rubbed the ears of wheat in the palm of our hand, and enjoyed the delightful flavour of the grain. The objection has been raised that the germ renders flour rancid if kept for long; on the other hand, leading millers not only deny this, but say that flour, with the germ, will keep longer than without it.

And now on the top of all this spoiling of our bread comes this latest craze of actually bleaching the flour with chemicals and electricity in order, if possible, to get it whiter than ever. But there is another object in so doing, which is to enable inferior wheat and inferior flour, by means of a trick, to appear to the eye as of the best quality.

A most remarkable bakery exists in London which is well worthy of a visit, as it is an entirely new departure in the science of bread-making, and attention was called to it in The Times on the 26th of last August. Wheat is brought in at one end of the building, and, after being cleaned, is ground into flour, the bran only being abstracted. The flour passes on into other machinery and is made into dough, which is then formed into various shapes and baked into bread. The loaves are elevated by an endless belt and delivered on to the counter of the baker’s shop. According to the aforesaid letter, the yield of bread-making material by this particular process is fifteen per cent, greater than by the roller system, or an increase of twenty-one loaves of four pounds each in the quantity of bread made from a quarter of wheat. In addition to this, English wheat is used in preference to foreign ; the germ is retained, and the price of the bread is lower than ordinary bread. During the whole of this process it is hardly touched by hand, and the result is as stated above, that it can be sold at a lower price than the tasteless white bread of the ordinary baker, which, in consequence of the numerous siftings and fining down of the flour, is necessarily more expensive.

In conclusion, let us sum up the results of our investigation in this simple decision, that each one of us will do all in our power to combat the deterioration of our bread, and bring it back to what it was intended to be,—the Staff of Life.

Let us all, especially the working-classes, the domestic servants, the shop-keepers, and the workers in our factories, refuse to purchase this white bread ; and, before purchasing at all, obtain the assurance that the bread and flour do really contain the germ, the nourishing and the most palatable portion of the wheat.

The old-fashioned flour, sometimes known as households or seconds, can still be obtained from certain mills, and, in consequence of public attention having been called to the subject, the demand is increasing. The flour-mills at Kingston-on-Thames, Dorking, Ewell, Wrexham, and some other places are still producing the proper stuff.

Finally let us recall to mind what Charles Wagner says in his interesting book The Simple Life concerning bread and wheat-fields:

By the bread that Christ broke one evening in sign of redeeming sacrifice and everlasting communion, we can say that wheat entered into its apotheosis. Nothing that concerns it is indifferent to us. What poetry in its sowing! in the black furrows, to which laborious hands are confiding the bread of the morrow . . . From the day that it comes out of the earth to the last rays of the October sun, throughout the long sleep of winter, the awakening in the spring, to the harvest in August, our anxious attention follows the evolution of the tender green blade, destined to become the nourishment of men. In time it is a swelling sea of green, constellated with poppies and the blue cornflower. ... In July the fields look like gold, and when the wind blows the stalks together we seem already to hear the grain running in the bushel measures. The bread sings in it in fine weather; but if the horizon darkens a shiver runs through the stalks, as in the heart of the peasant. ... At last is the harvest, the barn, the threshers, then comes the grinding in the mill, and the kneading by bakers or housewives. The bread is on the table. Before eating it, think that it is the fruit of the labour of men, and of the Son of God. Take it in gratitude and fraternal love. Do not suffer a crumb of it to be lost Break it willingly with those who have none. As the wind blows, as the fountain flows, as the morning brightens, so wheat grows, for all.

Much of this pretty picture unfortunately does not apply to our own land. Go through France in August, and every field and every plot of ground has its bright patch of golden corn, and the whole population are busy, men, women, and children, from early morn into the darkness of evening, gathering in the sheaves. Even at night, when the harvest moon is up, the horses and wagons can be seen, outlined against a deep indigo sky, still carrying in the lovely harvest of that country.

But cross the Channel and travel through Kent and Sussex, at one time the best wheat-land in Great Britain, and how changed is the picture! Hardly any wheat is to be seen, and what is even worse, but little employment for the men ; the agricultural labourer is rapidly diminishing in numbers, and the fields yield little labour for women or children. Are we wise in thus allowing the greatest industry of our country to die out on the plea of cheap food? To save a small amount upon each loaf by importing grain from abroad, the nation sacrifices an enormous item of labour for the people, and places the country, as shown by the report recently issued by the Commission on Supply of Food in Time of War, within measurable distance of famine-priced articles of food in the event of conflict breaking out between Great Britain and some other great Power.

Francis Fox.


Since the publication of an article on this subject in the pages of this magazine in November last, much attention has been directed to the question, and correspondence has been received from all parts of the kingdom. The remarkable unanimity that prevails throughout these letters is a proof that a real evil has been unearthed, for, although it was known to the trade, the ordinary public were hopelessly in the dark, and were entirely ignorant of the reasons which made the very white bread indigestive and objectionable.

It is evident that the blame for the present condition of things is not to be laid at the doors of our millers nor of our bakers ; many of them condemn what they are producing, and plainly state that as long as the public demand white bread so long shall they produce white flour, while deploring the fact. Even some of the makers of the machinery for grinding, and for that further craze of flour-bleaching by electricity and nitrous acid, admit that it is wrong.

When Tennyson wrote Maud he described what was then prevalent in the country:

Chalk and alum and plaster are sold to the poor for bread,
And the spirit of murder works in the very means of life.

This was done to secure the whiteness of the loaf, any duskiness being then attributed to dirt in the flour. But this evil has, it is believed, passed away, and whiteness is not now attained by the addition of adulterants, but by the abstraction of some of the valuable constituents of the wheat.

Let there be no misapprehension on this point. The desirable bread, that is, a loaf which contains the phosphates and the germ, is still a white bread; but it is not the snow-white anaemic material, which has been emasculated and impoverished by the abstraction of all ingredients not absolutely white. It is the fine Hungarian flour introduced some thirty years ago that is responsible for all the trouble, and it is almost pathetic to see how the necessity for this snowy-whiteness has incorporated itself into the minds of our millers. If we speak to them about their flour, they do not, as one would have anticipated, dilate upon its nutritious qualities, but they descant upon its beautiful and fine 'whiteness ; and it is said that, at the various exhibitions at which prizes have been awarded for bread, the test applied is not as to nutritive and palatable qualities, but as to whiteness. At a recent Bakers’ Lecture the chairman asked the judges, who were sitting behind him on the platform, whether they had taken into consideration any of the qualities of bread, as to its being nutritive, palatable, and digestible. The answer he received was laughter at the bare idea of such questions being considered, and it is understood that the only tests applied were as to its whiteness, texture, and general appearance, and that not a sample was submitted to the tasting test.

It has been pointed out that when a man eats his bread in the dark, the question of colour is not involved, but that what is required is a thoroughly wholesome and nutritive material, even at the risk of its being a somewhat golden colour.

It is an interesting fact that the evils of roller-grinding were predicted by Mr. Stephen Terry in a letter written to Thb Lancet so long ago as June loth, 1882 ; he seems to have been gifted with prescience upon the subject, and he is still bringing his influence to bear in the efforts to recover to the people of these lands the old-fashioned farm-bread of our forefathers. “The second, third and fourth coatings of the grain,” he wrote, “contain nitrogenous substances, phosphates, and other salts which are necessary for the formation of bone, teeth and muscle, and in later communications he has said, that “indigestible food, or food made so by preservatives and cloying bread, is the predisposing cause of appendicitis.”

One of the leading Bakers' Journals wrote the other day to the following effect: “Much as we prefer stone-milled flour and the dusky loaf, and we are at one with Mr. Fox in the preference, we fear there is no hope for a return to the old-fashioned flour and bread so long as the public evince no desire to do so.” But it is a subject for congratulation that the public are beginning to express such a desire, and millers and bakers are now turning their attention to the increased demand for stone-ground flour. Even children who have once tasted the right material are no longer satisfied with ordinary baker’s bread, but ask (or that which satisfies them better and is more pleasant to their taste; and it is an encouraging fact that since the subject has been brought to the notice of the public some of the millers have doubled their trade.

Let it once more, and very briefly, be pointed out what is desired and aimed at,—the rejection of the bran, and the retention in the flour of some of the inner coating of the grain and fine “middlings” together with the germ.

If wheat be ground between stones, all is reduced to powder with the exception of the bran, and whole-meal bread is the result. But whole-meal does not suit most people, and although a bran-mash may be suitable for horses, and bran may be useful for stuffing dolls and pincushions, yet it is not desirable for the majority of people. Therefore let it and the larger proportion of the "middlings” be extracted by one or more sieves or silks; the remaining powder contains all the other constituents of the wheat, and the old-fashioned farm-bread is obtained.

Some little while ago, at a lecture given on Bread, a loaf which had been made more than a month previously was produced for inspection and tasting by the audience. In outward appearance there was nothing to show it had been baked so long ago. It was hard and crisp on the surface ; but inside it was sweet, moist, and perfectly eatable. Many of those present, including some bakers, submitted it to a critical examination, and unanimously expressed their opinion in its favour. There was no sign of sourness or mouldiness about it, not even of the staleness of white bread ; in fact it had been kept in its excellent condition by the presence and action of the germ which is destroyed in order to procure the white bread.

The remark of a working man who has recently adopted the farmhouse-bread was instructive ; he said that no one in his senses having once tasted it would return to the very white loaf, as the former was far sweeter, more nourishing and satisfying, and that such a loaf would feed more children. Consequently, he feared the bakers would not care for the demand for bread made from stone-ground flour, as it would reduce the bills of their customers. This, however, need not be feared, for although a smaller quantity may be required at a meal it would bring bread much mote into request and use.

It is, I believe, no secret that our late Queen was supplied, while in London, with stone-ground flour from a well known Surrey mill; and, having recently visited that mill, I was much impressed with the care devoted to the preparation of the grain. There is no branch of trade in which greater ingenuity and skill have been employed than in milling, and for the benefit of ordinary readers it may be well to explain what is done. The grain is gathered, maybe in some distant part of the world, by reaping machines and self-binders. These latter tie the sheaves round with iron wire, and this in threshing frequently gets mixed up with the grain. It is then shipped, often in a dirty condition, with a proportion of soil, sand, and stones, and on reaching Great Britain is stored in granaries. These consist generally of vertical bins, and as they are used for all kinds of cereals, it is inevitable that a small quantity of other kinds of grain becomes mixed with the wheat. A merchant, sending in a thousand tons of wheat, finds, when it comes out, that it is short weight by several hundredweights, in consequence of the dust and dirt having been removed. The result is that he has less weight to sell and to be paid for; and although the grain is better and worth a higher price for being clean, as a rule he prefers the greater weight, and consequently grain and dust go to the mill mixed together as they arrived.

But now the miller appears on the scene, and he has a number of most ingenious machines, which seem almost to be endowed with human intelligence. In the first place, all such rubbish as bits of rope and string, sticks and straw, are taken out; in the next, the grain passes over magnets which attract to themselves all the pieces of iron wire, nails, screws, even lumps of iron; how, one wonders, did such materials ever get in? The next series of machines carefully pick out and deposit in separate sacks such, foreign substances as maize, oats, barley, cockle, beans, peas, etc., by which time the grain consists merely of the desired ' wheat.

But it has still to be freed from the soil and sand of the prairie, and for this object it is washed in cold or warm water, and afterwards dried by means of hot air, by which time it is clean and bright and ready to be ground. This is next effected, either by stones or rollers, and here we are at the parting of the ways.

If stones are' used, the resulting bran is removed by the first sieves, and if a fine flour be desired, it is passed through other sieves, but the germ having been disintegrated, remains to the greater extent in the flour, and the yield from good English wheat varies from seventy to seventy-five per cent. If rollers are employed, the bran is removed during the whole process of gradual reduction, and the germ which has not been disintegrated but rolled out flat, is taken out by sieves. The material which is separated is termed by millers offal, which is a wrongly applied word, and one much to be regretted, as it conveys to the minds of people exactly the converse of the fact. According to the dictionaries, offiu means, “the rejected or waste parts of a slaughtered animal, a dead body, carrion, that which is thrown away as worthless or unfit -for use, refuse, rubbish.” So far from this being the case with that which is abstracted from flour, it constitutes the richest, the most valuable, and most nutritious portion of the grain. Then, by additional grindings and siftings, the superfine white flour is produced. It contains less percentage of the original wheat (probably sixty-eight to seventy-two), requires more costly machinery and more elaborate processes, and when finished is a more expensive and less desirable product.

The Americans show their wisdom by shipping flour to this country in place of wheat, for by so doing they retain the bran, germ, and phosphates in their own country for the feeding of their cattle and other purposes ; and they sell to us the comparatively innutritious white flour, to our injury in many ways and to their own enormous profit.

It is far better for us as a nation to receive only wheat and to grind it ourselves ; by this course, what may be called the byproducts of flour are secured for our own use ; but still better, and far better, would it be if we could grow our own wheat and bring back the agricultural labourer to the fields, thus in some degree assisting to solve the vexed question of the unemployed.

The late Sir Arthur Cotton, of Indian fame, wrote a pamphlet on the cultivation of wheat in this country, and advocated deep tillage, wherever the character of the soil permitted it. He states that the yield of wheat per acre, which at present is thirty-two bushels, could be increased to 160 bushels ; and in some of his experiments he had obtained as many as 6,000 grains of wheat from a single seed. If his facts and figures be correct, they would go a long way towards enabling the greater quantity of wheat required by the nation to be grown within the borders of our own country.

In conclusion, it is only fair to point out that it is claimed by roller-millers that they can produce the right kind of flour by their mills, should the public demand it. If it be true, it of course matters not whether stones or rollers are used. All we ask is that they should abandon the manufacture of white flour, that they should adopt low grinding, extracting all dirt, leaving in the flour all the ingredients essential to the formation of bone, teeth, and muscle, and to the general health and stamina of the nation.

It is perhaps desirable to state that having no pecuniary interest in flour or wheat, nor in any milling enterprise, this article has been written solely in the interest of the community, and especially of the rising generation.

Francis Fox.

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