Horse Bread

“Great-grandmother fetched a coarse-baked loaf,
all heavy and thick and crammed with husk:
she bore it forth in the middle of the dish,
with broth in a bowl, and laid the board.”

-The Lay of Rig, as translated by Olive Bray

Antiquity’s conception of nutrition often had more to do with scarcity and refinement than health.  In fact, it is often true that what we would deem the most healthy historical man would have considered unfit for human consumption. The more effort that went in to a thing, the more sophisticated it was, the more highly it was esteemed. Sometimes this made sense, and sometimes, as in the case of bread, it was a little off.

There was an idea that in perfecting one’s craft one perfected one’s self, and those who did menial labor that required no perfection , just the physical stamina to push on, were considered inferior. Likewise the coarse, unprocessed food they consumed to satisfy the heavy caloric needs of their physically taxing lifestyles was considered crude and inferior.

This attitude is an old one, as evidenced in The Lay of Rig, where each class is characterized not only by their appearance and dwelling, but also by the description of their skilled craft and their food.  The thrall’s bread is coarse and unrefined and accompanied by merely broth. Their diet is shaped by scarcity and the heavy demands of their overworked lifestyle.  Amongst impoverished peoples, it was common practice to supplement a lack of good quality flour with legumes, vegetables, coarser or less desirable flours (rye or barley) and occasionally nuts or tree bark. This was known in the middle ages as “horse bread” and was food for the most indigent, or for livestock.

In the world we live in today we have almost infinite gustatory options, and experience a bizarre turn in terms of what is valued and what is trash- namely that the overprocessed and over refined is rampantly available to the impoverished, who receive little nutrition and many of the illnesses historically associated with the wealthy.  Meanwhile it is very expensive to obtain very simple, untampered with food.

Likewise, more of the general population is involved than ever before in work that historical society would have considered demeaning and unfit for a respectable member of society. The world no longer asks us to become great, the trades are dying, and we no longer find it easy to step into a life, the goal of which is to acheive mastery. Rather we are asked to consume, to pay our bills, and above all to sacrifice our most valuable of resources, our time, and our energies, to do so.

This recipe is for the thralls of modernity- an offering of caloric vitality to start the day’s labor. Whether you use it to illuminate your energies to a better option, or whether you choose to perfect yourself in the discipline of Will to survival; that is, to take that undesirable option life has offered, and to in the struggle to survive it, conquer your weaker self- is up to you.

The combination here of rye and peas is a classic example of a grains and legumes based protein source. Rye and peas are also both exceptional sources of the kinds of fiber that keep blood glucose levels from spiking. Rye especially is well known for it’ s slow-burning energy and lower gluten content than wheat. Both are traditional northern european foods with a long history of keeping the tough alive through the worst of times. This bread takes more effort than modern breads often do, however the fermentation and inclusion of ingredients beyond wheat flour are practices with a long history of increasing nutritional viability.

Horse Bread


1 cup of rye flour

1tbsp sea salt

1/4 cup of kefir

water, enough to make the mix a thick paste


1/4 cup of dried split peas

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

For the Bread

1 cup h20

1tbsp yeast

1 cup wheat bread flour, plus extra for kneading

1 cup rye flour, reserved to adjust consistency of dough

1 medium carrot, grated

1 cup dried figs, chopped

4 pitted dates, chopped

2 tbsp cardamom


Day One

Mix together all starter ingredients until they form a thick paste, and put in a dark, covered container in a warm place. I use an old Nancy’s yogurt container and put it in a warm part of my kitchen counter.

Meanwhile, put the split peas and apple cider vinegar in a big jar and fill it with water. Make sure to stir it all up so that you dont get a weird lump of peas at the bottom of the jar. Cover and set aside.

Leave both of these things for 24- 48 hours.

Bread Making Day

Rinse the peas thouroughly and put them in a food processor.



Mix the rye-kefir paste with 1 cup of water and 1 tbsp of baker’s yeast.


Add the peas and stir in wheat and rye flour. It should be thick but still somewhat moist.


Cover the dough and let it ferment in a warm, dark place for 2-3 hours, or until it seems to have almost doubled in size.

Finally, after the dough has risen, add grated carrot, cardamom,  and chopped dried fruit.

Now, either using a big wooden spoon in the bowl, or a bench scraper on a well floured  counter, incorporate enough flour to make your dough into a wet sticky ball. Work the dough, folding it in on itsself in order to stretch the gluten and mix everything in as thouroughly as possible.

Form your dough into a log, and using either a sharp knife or the bench scraper, cut it into segments the approximate same size as you would like your buns. Place these on a well floured cookie sheet.


Let these rise for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 450f.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes. To know if they’re done, knock on them. If they sound hollow, they are done. If they sound dense, they need more time.

Good by themself, with butter, or for an old world style mcmuffin, put a thick slice of leverpostej on there.


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