Since ancient time bread has played a major part in the Greek diet and still does today. In a Greek household,
they prefer having fresh bread, baked at home or from the local bakery.
The ancient Greek word for bread is artos, meaning flavor. Today it is called psomi, meaning morsel, a choice piece, or the best bite.
In ancient Athens white bread was considered far superior to whole grain bread. Socrates called whole grain bread “pig food”. How the tables have turned, today whole grain bread is preferred especially by the educated health-conscious wealthy.
Athens was not a good place for growing wheat. Most had to be imported either from Egypt or areas around the black sea. Bread was made from barley, in the form of cakes called maza. There was great rivalry in ancient Greece as to who had the best baker and the tastiest bread. Athens won the laurel wreath with the baker Therion, a name passed down through generations and often mentioned in Greek literature.
By 400 BC there were 50-70 different types of bread, named for the flavor, the shape, holiday, or for religious festivals: vasilopita, New Year’s bread, named after Saint Basil; tsoureki”, Easter bread, sweet and flavored with mastica from the island of Chios, usually made in a braid with red–dyed eggs placed on top; christopsomo is the bread eaten on Christmas.
Most households had their own pottery ovens in which to bake bread, then the main household task, taking up to five hours every day. Greeks invented the olythian mill – two square stones placed one on top of the other driven by slaves, making it much easier and quicker to produce large quantities of flour to make larger quantities of bread.
After the 5th century, commercial bakeries were run through the night and bread could then be found at market stalls all over Athens. By this time Greeks were making pastries, the first were koulouria cookies, or biscuits.
Sweetening and olive oil, never butter, as butter was considered barbaric by the ancient Greeks, were added to the basic bread dough formed into small circles and baked.
The bakery fourno is still the hub of Greek village life. Housewives prepare bread and cookies, amongst other Greek dishes, take them along to the bakery and for a couple of Euros the baker will bake it in his oven. Meanwhile they return home to attend to other chores. The bread is usually picked up by the husband on his way home for lunch.