York Archives helps recreate the bread of kings

8 Feb 2013 @ 4.24 pm
| News

Issued by City of York Council

A German academic working together with City of York Council’s Archives service has recreated the medieval bread presented to Richard III when he visited the city.

When Richard visited York in June 1482 he was presented with a kind of bread unique to the City. Called “mayne” bread, it was a rich and spicy loaf made for special occasions and traditionally presented to royal or noble visitors by the Mayor, Sheriff and Aldermen.

Cllr Sonja Crisp, City of York Council’s Cabinet Member for Leisure, Culture and Tourism, said: “The art of making it was lost in the 17th century but attempts to reconstruct the recipe have been underway since the 1950s.

“Now, after working with archive staff to collect all references to the bread in the city’s records, Dr Almute Grohmann-Sinz, a German academic, believes she has developed a mixture close to the medieval original.

“Having only recently celebrated York 800, a year dedicated to commemorating York’s history, it’s fitting that we have been able to help recreate such an interesting and unique memento from York’s past.”

This week, staff received a parcel containing the final version of the bread. Grohmann-Sinz’s recipe is a yeast and egg dough, enriched with lots of sugar and flavoured with coriander, caraway seeds and rose water, drawing on evidence and clues from the archives.

By 1595 “mayne” bread had gone out of fashion. The city council tried to protect it by ordering bakers to make it every Friday morning. They recorded in their minutes:

mayne bread as it is reputed is not in use nor baked in any other City or place forth of this City in England, and hath been in use in this City time out of mind of man, and is one of the antientist matters of novelty to present men of honour and others repairing to this City…it is thought convenient that the same be still continued and kept in use and not suffered to decay nor be laid down.

The same ruling said that under no circumstances were the bakers to make the rival “spiced bread”. This competitor to mayne bread was extremely popular.

It was made with mace, cloves and currants, with a taste quite like our own Yorkshire teacake.

In 1607 the council went a step further and ruled that making spiced cakes instead of mayne bread was punishable by a fine of 40 shillings – £200 in today’s money.

Attempts to revive the bread were doomed to fail however. In 1617 King James I complained that he didn’t get his mayne bread. Charles I was the last monarch to be presented with it and after that there are no more references to it being made for ceremonial occasions.

Dr Grohmann-Sinz’s bread may be the closest the city has come to recreating this “antientist matters of novelty” for the 21st Century.

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