Pliny the Elder’s Picenum Bread

This description, taken verbatim from chapter 27 of Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder, is titled “The Method of Making Bread: Origin of the Art.” It is as close to a recipe as we have from this era. Picenum was a region of Rome’s empire in the northeast of Italy located along the Adriatic Sea. Alica is a hulled wheat, probably emmer or spelt, that has had the hulls removed and has been pounded into grits and coarse flour. In Pliny the Elder’s time, this work was done by “slaves working in chains,” and the flour was whitened with chalk. 

Picenum still maintains its ancient reputation for making the bread which it was the first to invent, alica being the grain employed. The flour is kept in soak for nine days, and is kneaded on the tenth with raisin juice, in the shape of long rolls; after which it is baked in an oven in earthen pots, till they break. This bread, however, is never eaten till it has been well-soaked, which is mostly done in milk mixed with honey.

Reprinted with permission from Sourdough Culture by Eric Pallant, Agate, September 2021