|Type||Famine food, Bread|
|Place of origin||Scandinavia|
|Main ingredients||Flour, water, inner bark (e.g. phloem) of plants|
|Cookbook: Bark bread Media: Bark bread|
During the 18th and early 19th century Northern Europe experienced several very bad years of crop failure, particularly during the Little Ice Age of the mid-18th century. The grain harvest was badly affected, and creative solutions to make the flour last longer were introduced. In 1742, samples of “emergency bread” were sent from Kristiansand, Norway, to the Royal Administration in Copenhagen, among them bark bread, bread made from grainless husks and bread made from burned bones. During the Napoleonic Wars, moss too was used for human consumption.
The last time bark bread was used as famine food in Norway was during the Napoleonic Wars. The introduction of the potato as a staple crop gave the farmers alternative crops when grain production failed, so that bark bread and moss cakes were no longer needed. In Northern Sweden, traces of Sami harvest of bark from Scots pine are known from the 1890s, and in Finland pettuleipä (literally "pinewood-bark bread") was produced as ersatz bread during the Finnish Civil War of 1918.
Examples of production
Finger sized twigs and branches were collected from deciduous trees and shrubs, and the bark split and the inner bark (the phloem and sometimes the vascular cambium) collected while still fresh. The yellow or green inner bark (depending on tree species) was dried over open fire, in an oven or dried in the sun for a few days. A mortar or mill was used to grind the bark to a fine powder to add to the flour. The dried bark pieces could also be added directly to the grain during milling. The bread was then baked the normal way adding yeast and salt.
Bark bread did not leaven as quickly as normal bread due to bark content. The more bark to flour, the slower the leavening. Bark bread was therefore often made as flatbreads. The bark flour could also be used for porridge.
Bark bread as food
The bark component was usually from deciduous trees like elm, ash, aspen, rowan or birch, but scots pine and Iceland moss (sometimes named “bread moss” in Norwegian) are mentioned in historic sources. The inner bark is the only part of a tree trunk that is actually edible, the remaining bark and wood is made up of cellulose which neither man nor animal can utilize directly. The dried and ground inner bark was added in proportions like 1/4th to 1/3rd “bark flour” to the remaining grain flour. Erik Pontoppidan, the Bishop of Bergen, Norway, in the mid 18th century, recommended using elm, as it helped the often crumbly bark bread hold together better.
The bark will, however, add a rather bitter taste to the bread, and give particularly white bread an unappetizing grey-green hue. Another problem is that the yeast cannot break down the ground bark and the bread will not leaven properly and be hard and not hold together well. Though bark today is sometimes added to pastry as a culinary curiosity, bark bread was considered an emergency food, and as is common with such food, phased out as soon as the availability of grain improved.
The bark bread was seen as nutritionally deficient, more as “stomach filler” than as actual sustenance. Both the bishop Pontoppidan and others blamed the high mortality during the famine of the 1740s on the “unhealthy bark bread” and general lack of food. Among the Sami however, the bark and bark bread made from Scots pine served as an important source of vitamin C.
- Vilhelm Moberg (1973). A History of the Swedish People. Stockholm: Norstedt.
- Zackrisson, O.; Östlund, L.; Korhonen, O.; Bergman, I. (2000), "The ancient use of Pinus sylvestris L. (scots pine) inner bark by Sami people in northern Sweden, related to cultural and ecological factors", Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 9 (2): 99–109, doi:10.1007/bf01300060
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