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Author Topic: Point at which Prosphora became "white"  (Read 5772 times) Average Rating: 0
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calligraphqueen
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« on: July 27, 2009, 03:28:38 PM »

Dh and I have gone on about this, and no one can answer me with reasoning from an Orthodox perspective-so ya'll have at this...


Every single prosphora recipe I have seen, from various jurisdictions, calls for white flour. History documents that it was not until the latter 1700's that even kings could afford bleached stripped flour. By the 1800's the aristocracy caught the rage, and in another 100 years more and more middle class and commoners would experience the nutritionally deficit wheat kernels we now know as Wonder Bread...or at least its predecessors.

The cost of stripping the kernel from its perfect nutrition was prohibitive to most until hundreds of years after the Schism (at least) -not even possible at that point by all known factors. So how is it that prosphora recipe of today calls for what was most certainly not used in Christ's time or after the ascension? I know this sounds silly, and obviously not important. Its just odd to me that I have to switch to pillaged flour to make something so Holy if I choose to make it. Okay, so I grind my own wheat and make my own bread-and YES its better than your Wonder Bread. Grin I am just wondering at what point the recipe for this blessed bread we use each week became sullied with the white flour we use today. Its so bad for us, our bodies cannot gain any nutrition from it, and its pointless. And yes I know we have the mystery of it being turned to Christ's actual body...I just wonder who made the decision and why. Hopefully this topic isn't remotely polemic Wink Wink
« Last Edit: July 27, 2009, 03:28:58 PM by calligraphqueen » Logged
David Leon
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« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2009, 03:40:35 PM »

I have often wondered the same thing and would love to know the answer to your question.  I would also like to know if prosphora is made anywhere today using a flour other than bleached wheat flour.  Anyone know?
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« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2009, 04:02:39 PM »

It's a great question!
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« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2009, 04:12:02 PM »

Everything I have ever read about prosphora indicates that white flour should be used to make the prosphora. This is verified by Father George (originally By then Subdeacon George Aquaro) from  www.Prosphora.org when he notes:

No Whole Wheat Flour
Some people think that whole wheat flour is somehow "more natural" and therefore more appropriate for prosphora. Nothing can be further from the truth, and whole wheat flour should be avoided unless there is no other option.


First, whole wheat flour was never used in the early Church. White flour was always used, since it was more expensive that the brown variety and the loaf was quite literally a sacrifice for those who provided it. Second, whole wheat flour is merely the same grain as the white, except with the outer shell ground in with the kernel. While this has some nutritional value, you would have to eat a LOT of antidoron to get any value from it! Third, whole wheat flour is harder to work with. It takes longer to rise and creates less regular bubbling. Fourth, whole wheat flour makes a harder crust.


http://www.prosphora.org/page4.html

He also cites:
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee (this book is in cooking circles considered to be authoritative). 

Page 290-
"After flour has been ground and blended to the desired mix of particles, it is treated chemically to accomplish in a matter of minutes what otherwise takes weeks.  Bleaching removes the light yellow color caused by xanthophylls, a variety of carotenoid also found in potatoes and onions. The color has no practical or nutritional significance and is oxidized simply to obtain a uniform whiteness.  Bleaching does, however, destroy small amounts of vitamin E in flour, which probably accounts for its bad reputation in some circles.  For historical reasons, yellow coloration is valued in pasta, and so semolina is never bleached.

"Bleaching is often accomplished with the same gas, chlorine dioxide, that is used to age or "improve" the flour.  But even unbleached flour has been aged with potassium bromate or iodate.  Aging has important practical results.  It has long been known that flour allowed to sit for one or two months develops better baking qualities; hence the practice of letting flour age before use (during this period, it is also naturally bleached by oxygen in the air).  But done in this way, aging is a time- and space consuming, somewhat unpredictable procedure.  Hence the use of chemicals both to accelerate and to control flour improvement.  Aging effects the bonding characteristics of the gluten proteins in such a way that they form stronger, more elastic doughs."

So, what he's saying is that the modern bleaching practice is something like using dry yeast: the Fathers (or dare I say mothers!) left a lump of dough out to collect naturally occurring yeast particles since they didn't have little jars of Fleischmann's at the bazaar.  When I was in Greece, I picked up on this when I noticed that peasant bread (using local flour) was indeed yellow.  The island didn't have the modern facilities to age its flour with chemicals, nor did they have the inclination to risk letting their flour sit around for a few months and risk dampness, wild yeasts, etc.  Mr. McGee also points out that this process improve elasticity in dough.  This is extremely important in light of the alternative: crumbing!  I know our parish priest dreads loaves that crumb, as it complicates his clean up and his efforts to appropriately handle the Gifts.

The Fathers don't discuss it simply because they took it for granted.  White flour was the best for what they needed it for, and people wouldn't think to bring anything lesser as sacrifice.  White flour, in which the outer bran has been polished off, dates back long before the birth of Christ. Asians typically eat rice with the bran polished off (white rice) and have done so for thousands of years. Around 400BC, Hippocrates wrote of the differences between white and brown flour. Around the same time as Aristotle, the culinary writer Archestratus sung the praises of white bread from Lesbos in his book, Gastronomia (McGee, p. 282). McGee goes on to say that classical Greeks had a deep affinity for white flour.

The use of white flour is also witnessed in two other ways: the ecclesial arts (which spared no expense, since the process of polishing off bran is more costly in the loss as well as labor) and the witness of monastic centers (who both rigidly hold to the practices handed down to them and use white flour).  Unlike the West, technology and science has never posed problems to our Faith.  We thank God for the conveniences!  There is "unbleached" white flour which is available in most markets with a decent selection, but, as you read, the process is much the same as it is for the bleached.

This may be located at http://www.prosphora.org/page8.html

Father George answered my questions that were similar to yours, I hope this will help you in your understanding as it did mine.

Thomas

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« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2009, 12:10:16 PM »

So Thomas, I guess this is the 'law' then-even if some if it is false and biased?  I still can't find any historic reference to how bleaching would take place in ancient times, other than uric acid which one would most definitely NOT want. I would also love to know (history geek here) how they stripped the germ and the bran.   Today's bleaching often uses benzoyl peroxide in the process-the same chemical used for the treatment of acne! Removing the germ and the bran strips the flour of nearly all of its nutrient value, so processors like to add synthetic 'nutrients' back in.  They have to strip it purely for shelf life issues, so therefore taking the kernel and processing it is entirely for the sake of the bottom line. The wheat kernel itself is almost perfect nutrition on its own merit, adding in the protein found in beans completes the equation.

I dunno, this just sits wrong with me. My whole wheat has a softer crust than the store's falsely labeled "wheat' bread, just as soft as white unless I make an artisan steamed bread. My kids love the entire loaf from end to end when I make it, not so with store bought bread. Its not harder to work with, just heavier than funky little standmixers can handle. I think a lot of what Fr. George wrote on this was opinion based. I find the prosphora at church to be incredibly dry and crumbly, nearly tasteless and the crust to be tough and chewy. Obviously it serves a purpose much higher than bread snobs should be concerned about.  Smiley I don't make bread like that, so that is why I wondered. Thanks for the links...
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« Reply #5 on: July 28, 2009, 01:50:02 PM »

So Thomas, I guess this is the 'law' then-even if some if it is false and biased?  I still can't find any historic reference to how bleaching would take place in ancient times, other than uric acid which one would most definitely NOT want. I would also love to know (history geek here) how they stripped the germ and the bran.   Today's bleaching often uses benzoyl peroxide in the process-the same chemical used for the treatment of acne! Removing the germ and the bran strips the flour of nearly all of its nutrient value, so processors like to add synthetic 'nutrients' back in.  They have to strip it purely for shelf life issues, so therefore taking the kernel and processing it is entirely for the sake of the bottom line. The wheat kernel itself is almost perfect nutrition on its own merit, adding in the protein found in beans completes the equation.

I dunno, this just sits wrong with me. My whole wheat has a softer crust than the store's falsely labeled "wheat' bread, just as soft as white unless I make an artisan steamed bread. My kids love the entire loaf from end to end when I make it, not so with store bought bread. Its not harder to work with, just heavier than funky little standmixers can handle. I think a lot of what Fr. George wrote on this was opinion based. I find the prosphora at church to be incredibly dry and crumbly, nearly tasteless and the crust to be tough and chewy. Obviously it serves a purpose much higher than bread snobs should be concerned about.  Smiley I don't make bread like that, so that is why I wondered. Thanks for the links...
Dear CQ,

As the author of the previously-quoted article, please allow me to clarify.  First, bleaching naturally occurs when flour is exposed to air.  If you've ever seen freshly-ground flour, it has a yellowish cast that disappears with time.  Chemical bleaching accelerates the the process to aid with shipping and processing dangers of having flour sit about waiting for the air to act.

Second, stone milling is terribly inefficient especially when it comes to bran.  In fact, stone mills were not able to mill bran fine enough to make flour, and it was thus very easily sifted out with a linen screen during the first milling (grain used to have go through the stones several times to get it fine enough to use).

I have a number of books/articles on the history of baking from which I drew my information.  Here's the short list:

Jasny, Naum.  The Wheats of Classical Antiquity.  In The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Series LXII, No. 3.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. 
Vickery, Kenton Frank.  “Food in Early Greece.”  University of Illinois Bulletin, Vol. XXXIV, No. 7.  September 22, 1936.
Mayeske, Betty Jo.  “Bakers, Bakeshops, and Bread: A Social and Economic Study” in Pompeii and the Vesuvian Landscape.  1979.  Washington: Smithsonian Institute. 
Watts, Martin.  The Archeology of Mills and Milling.  2002.  Charleston, SC: Tempus Publishing.
Frayne, J.M.  “Home-baking In Roman Italy.” In Antiquity, LII March 1978.  pp. 28-33.

Modern 'whole wheat' flour is a totally modern concept, since mills were not able to mill bran fine enough to use in bread until the advent of the steel roller mill in the 19th century.  Otherwise, bran was tossed out or added to the bread of slaves as a way to stretch out the good flour.  The Romans realized that bran was totally indeigestible and weren't at all concerned about its positive effects on the digestive track.

On a final note, a good baker can make a white flour prosphora that is both traditional and down-right tasty.  Most people either don't know how or don't want to take the time.  However, I will finish by saying that 'whole wheat' flour is simply unnecessary, not to mention not a part of our Tradition.  After all, you can make wine with white grapes, but we don't use it, do we?

Thank you for reminding me that I need to finish my book on the topic.


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« Reply #6 on: July 30, 2009, 06:14:33 PM »

So Thomas, I guess this is the 'law' then-even if some if it is false and biased?  I still can't find any historic reference to how bleaching would take place in ancient times, other than uric acid which one would most definitely NOT want. I would also love to know (history geek here) how they stripped the germ and the bran.   Today's bleaching often uses benzoyl peroxide in the process-the same chemical used for the treatment of acne! Removing the germ and the bran strips the flour of nearly all of its nutrient value, so processors like to add synthetic 'nutrients' back in.  They have to strip it purely for shelf life issues, so therefore taking the kernel and processing it is entirely for the sake of the bottom line. The wheat kernel itself is almost perfect nutrition on its own merit, adding in the protein found in beans completes the equation.

I dunno, this just sits wrong with me. My whole wheat has a softer crust than the store's falsely labeled "wheat' bread, just as soft as white unless I make an artisan steamed bread. My kids love the entire loaf from end to end when I make it, not so with store bought bread. Its not harder to work with, just heavier than funky little standmixers can handle. I think a lot of what Fr. George wrote on this was opinion based. I find the prosphora at church to be incredibly dry and crumbly, nearly tasteless and the crust to be tough and chewy. Obviously it serves a purpose much higher than bread snobs should be concerned about.  Smiley I don't make bread like that, so that is why I wondered. Thanks for the links...

I am happy to see that FatherGyrus is among us as the author of the article I quoted. Thankyou Father for your additional references. Your work has been gratefully recieved in my parish Orthopraxis Classes on Prospohora making. I hope that your information was informative to all of us.

I myself  have seen great variety in prosphora based upon the recipe used, quality of material used,  and the skill of the prosphora maker. I have had  whole wheat prosphora (yes there are some bakers who escew Orthodox Tradition and use whole wheat) but I have found that it is usually even more dry and crumbly than the worse made white flour prosphora that is used in my parish. The recipe I use for Prosphora makes a dense bread that does not crumble when cut (it even tears into squares without a lot of crumbs) and I have had people comment on it favorably.

I think the real secret is prayer and offering our best we have to offer to the Most Holy Trinity that makes successful prosphora.

Thomas
« Last Edit: July 30, 2009, 06:20:37 PM by Thomas » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2009, 06:21:02 PM »

I think the real secret is prayer and offering our best we have to offer to the Most Holy Trinity that makes successful prosphora.

.... and a good slosh of holy water in the mix helps a lot.  Smiley
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« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2009, 12:12:41 AM »

So Thomas, I guess this is the 'law' then-even if some if it is false and biased?  I still can't find any historic reference to how bleaching would take place in ancient times, other than uric acid which one would most definitely NOT want. I would also love to know (history geek here) how they stripped the germ and the bran.   Today's bleaching often uses benzoyl peroxide in the process-the same chemical used for the treatment of acne! Removing the germ and the bran strips the flour of nearly all of its nutrient value, so processors like to add synthetic 'nutrients' back in.  They have to strip it purely for shelf life issues, so therefore taking the kernel and processing it is entirely for the sake of the bottom line. The wheat kernel itself is almost perfect nutrition on its own merit, adding in the protein found in beans completes the equation.

I dunno, this just sits wrong with me. My whole wheat has a softer crust than the store's falsely labeled "wheat' bread, just as soft as white unless I make an artisan steamed bread. My kids love the entire loaf from end to end when I make it, not so with store bought bread. Its not harder to work with, just heavier than funky little standmixers can handle. I think a lot of what Fr. George wrote on this was opinion based. I find the prosphora at church to be incredibly dry and crumbly, nearly tasteless and the crust to be tough and chewy. Obviously it serves a purpose much higher than bread snobs should be concerned about.  Smiley I don't make bread like that, so that is why I wondered. Thanks for the links...

I am happy to see that FatherGyrus is among us as the author of the article I quoted. Thankyou Father for your additional references. Your work has been gratefully recieved in my parish Orthopraxis Classes on Prospohora making. I hope that your information was informative to all of us.

I myself  have seen great variety in prosphora based upon the recipe used, quality of material used,  and the skill of the prosphora maker. I have had  whole wheat prosphora (yes there are some bakers who escew Orthodox Tradition and use whole wheat) but I have found that it is usually even more dry and crumbly than the worse made white flour prosphora that is used in my parish. The recipe I use for Prosphora makes a dense bread that does not crumble when cut (it even tears into squares without a lot of crumbs) and I have had people comment on it favorably.

I think the real secret is prayer and offering our best we have to offer to the Most Holy Trinity that makes successful prosphora.

Thomas
Thank you for the encouragement.  The website has just completed its first decade on the internet, and I will keep it up for as long as I can.

Now, I want to let you in on the secret to forever ending the curse of crumbly prosphora: kneading.

Most crumbling is because the gluten in the bread has not been stretched sufficiently to form the chains of gluten that provide the structure of the loaf.  Many of us are far too lazy or hurried to do it properly, which is why I use a mixer with a dough hook.  Otherwise, you need to devoted 15-20 minutes of kneading using a proper 'stretching' technique rather than the ineffectual 'fluff and fold' that most people use.  Dough must be streeeeeeeetched.

Now, I have gotten some nasty emails from so-called 'traditionalists' who maintain that using a machine mixer is equivalent to confessing the Filioque.  They could not be more wrong, since many Imperial Roman bakeries (from which prosphora originated up until the total disintegration of the Byzantine Empire) used mixing machines.  When not available, the preferred method of kneading dough was... drum-roll please... the foot.  Yes, slaves used to knead the dough of their masters by sitting on a bench and using their feet.  It makes sense when mixing large batches, since legs are much stronger than arms.  Bakeries were considered just a cut above mining in the slave world, and so some Greeks took to insulting one another by claiming that opponents had 'dough between their toes.'  One must also remember the old tradition of using feet to press wine, then you see that I'm not pulling your leg... Wink

So, for truly authentic bread, don't bother with holy water or special prayers (Imperial bakeries used neither), but kick off your shoes.  Smiley

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« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2009, 02:05:37 PM »

Father G Bless!

Thanks for the advice , I will include it in my next class I teach on Prosphora. I will tell the story about the feet, but, I probably won't use that technique nor encourage it.

Thomas
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« Reply #10 on: August 06, 2009, 12:46:09 AM »

Father G Bless!

Thanks for the advice , I will include it in my next class I teach on Prosphora. I will tell the story about the feet, but, I probably won't use that technique nor encourage it.

Thomas


Hopefully, I will get my own instructional video finished.  It all depends on how cooperative the kids are...

Yes, I don't recommend foot kneading either.
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« Reply #11 on: August 09, 2009, 04:14:32 PM »

I saw this discussed somewhere else on the internet with basically the same understanding, back then, white flour was considered "the best" of our fruits and labors and so it is what we should offer to God. However is white flour today considered "the best"? To me it's really not. It's merely a stripped down version of the "best" we have and so we aren't giving God back our best. (again just IMO) I'm not saying we should change to using whole what prosforo, I mean, why bother? Unless you're grabbing 7 or 8 pieces after you take Communion, or baking it at home for personal consumption, I don't see the point.

And I think there are other practical reasons white flour prosforo should be used, but the whole "it's the best" idea simply is no longer true. At least not in many people's opinion. And so that reasoning, at least for me just doesn't stand the test of time.

I have no problem with using white flour, it is our tradition after all, but I think we need a new reason behind it's use.

It's too bad so few people have had tasty white flour prosforo, that's something my Church has no shortage of....although I've gotta say, the best I ever had was at a Coptic Church, man, that stuff was amazing! (of course I didn't take Communion, but took the bread they handed out after Liturgy)
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« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2009, 05:55:26 PM »

I saw this discussed somewhere else on the internet with basically the same understanding, back then, white flour was considered "the best" of our fruits and labors and so it is what we should offer to God. However is white flour today considered "the best"? To me it's really not. It's merely a stripped down version of the "best" we have and so we aren't giving God back our best. (again just IMO) I'm not saying we should change to using whole what prosforo, I mean, why bother? Unless you're grabbing 7 or 8 pieces after you take Communion, or baking it at home for personal consumption, I don't see the point.

And I think there are other practical reasons white flour prosforo should be used, but the whole "it's the best" idea simply is no longer true. At least not in many people's opinion. And so that reasoning, at least for me just doesn't stand the test of time.

I have no problem with using white flour, it is our tradition after all, but I think we need a new reason behind it's use.

It's too bad so few people have had tasty white flour prosforo, that's something my Church has no shortage of....although I've gotta say, the best I ever had was at a Coptic Church, man, that stuff was amazing! (of course I didn't take Communion, but took the bread they handed out after Liturgy)

This is basically what I feel. I know scientifically the white flour is not at all healthier or better in any way, but I have no need to change any tradition.
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