To my surprise I have not been able to find much that has been written on pumpernickel. I half thought that Elizabeth David would have a few good paragraphs in her book on bread cookery or that there would be a section devoted to it in Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food. But there was nothing to be found.
Then I remembered that the Wikipedia article I found explaining the relationship between pumpernickel and flatulence also made reference to the Dutch version of the bread roggebrood. I have a book on Dutch baking called Windmills in my oven and in it there is a whole three pages on roggebrood.
The book sets out to uncover the hidden history and tradition of Dutch baking and expose it to the world in all its glory – so there are chapters on pancakes and speculass, stroopwafels and a type of Dutch sweet coiled sugared bread that goes by the nickname of droppen on account of its unfortunate but unmistakable resemblance to a turd.
The section on roggebrood explains that for many people then it was seen as only being fit for feeding to livestock and that sometimes the quality of rye was so poor that it brought on a case of sand colic to anyone who tried to eat it.
It goes on to explain how the dough would be kneaded in great wooden troughs, though ‘treaded’ would be a better more accurate. The first dough-kneader was invented in 1603, expressly for avoiding foot contact and thereby rendering it more palatable in the inventor’s view, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the twentieth century that machines -dog, horse and petrol driven – gained popularity, especially in rural areas. Using feet was the easiest way to knead the heavy dough efficiently, making full use of one’s weight. The modern mind finds this distasteful; not so the customers of old. As one former baker recounts, a customer complained at the beginning that the bread had a machine taste, whereupon the baker tartly rejoined that at least the sweaty foot aroma was gone. Admittedly, both body temperature and physical contact have a beneficial effect on dough…..
Which all perhaps begs the question as to which of the seven were treaded as opposed to kneaded?