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How the Man Who Invented Xbox Baked a 4,500-Year-Old Egyptian Sourdough

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I would love to taste this bread. It sounds delicious. Luke Fater reports in Atlas Obscura:

LIKE MANY OF US, SEAMUS Blackley tweeted a photo of homemade sourdough while stuck at home this weekend. Unlike many of us, however, Blackley is no novice, and this was no online recipe comprised of everyday ingredients. A trained physicist and video game producer credited with inventing the Xbox, Blackley is also an experienced baker and amateur Egyptologist. The recipe came, in part, from ancient hieroglyphs, and the ingredients came, in part, from museum archives.

Blackley’s weekend sourdough was the culmination of a year-long passion project that produced a loaf of bread not eaten for millenia. By extracting 4,500-year-old dormant yeast samples from ancient Egyptian baking vessels and reviving them in his home kitchen, Blackley and his collaborators quite literally brought history to life, and ate it. “It was unbelievably emotional for me,” says Blackley. “I stan Egypt.” While the breakthrough is cause for celebration among Egyptophiles, archaeologists, and bakers everywhere, the project was actually born of an online blunder.

Ever since he first saw a mummy on Scooby-Doo as a child, Blackley has harbored an insatiable curiosity for all things Egypt. And ever since his parents let him in the kitchen as a teenager, he’s been baking bread as well. So when a friend approached him last April with what he claimed was ancient Egyptian yeast, Blackley leapt at the opportunity, tweeting a photo of the resultant “ancient” loaf. Online academics summarily dragged him for the yeast’s questionable provenance.

One of the detractors was an archaeologist with a background in Egyptology from the University of Queensland, Dr. Serena Love. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I don’t have an Xbox, I could care less about Xboxes,” says Dr. Love. She expertly probed him about the yeast, asking what Blackley ultimately called “the right questions.” Another interested voice was Richard Bowman, a biologist at the University of Iowa.

The online reaction actually seemed to encourage Blackley. “I feel I have a responsibility of being a modern representative of ancient Egyptians and not letting people give them any shit,” says Blackley. He’d hoped his experiment would disprove all-too-common assumptions about ancient cultures.

“People assume they were primitive because they didn’t have iPhones,” says Blackley. “They were potentially more sophisticated because of that.” He believes that feeble attempts at ancient-baking reenactments further denigrate the legacy of ancient Egyptians as well. “People come out with a bad result and say, ‘Oh, look at this disgusting food, the ancient world must have been terrible,’ but anyone who’s studied this knows that’s utter bullshit,” says Blackley. “They were master bakers.”

Instead of arguing with his auditors, Blackley enlisted Love and Bowman to help him get it right and bake a truly ancient Egyptian loaf. “I picked the two people who gave me the most crap and I said, ‘Let’s be friends,’” says Blackley.

Between an archaeologist, a biologist, and a dedicated, well-funded baker, the team laid their groundwork. If Dr. Love could secure access to ancient baking pottery, Bowman could provide a safe method to extract the ancient yeast for Blackley to then revive and bake. “It was one of those weird confluences where the right people with the right mix of skills showed up on Twitter at the same time,” says Blackley. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 9:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

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