Bread has always been turned to purposes other than mere sustenance. Just as it is itself a symbol of survival and nourishment, so particular shapes are used to add further layers of meaning: the plaited strands of the Jewish challah recalling the Temple breads, the Greek loaves in the form of a dove at Eastertide, and so on. In England, the most famous modelled loaf is without doubt the harvest sheaf, displayed in church for the Harvest festival. Its apparently complex form is a simple matter of construction, and its message is unambiguous.
Any number of shapes may be constructed out of bread. If they are dried out very slowly (in an oven on pilot light, for instance), they can be preserved without deterioration for a matter of years. It is best if the dough is made stiff, and the loaf should not be underproved when baked, otherwise it runs the risk of rising too much in the oven, so distorting the chosen form.
© 2005 Tom Jaine. All rights reserved.