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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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bread the fundamental food in many parts of the world, so much so that the word ‘bread’ is often equivalent to ‘food’, and by extension, in 20th-century English vernacular, to ‘money’. Christians who recite the Lord’s Prayer ask for their ‘daily bread’, and Anglo-Saxons called their lords hlafward (loaf guardian) and their ladies hlaefdige (loaf kneader). But bread is by no means the universal staple; in parts of Asia there is a corresponding equivalence between ‘rice’ and ‘food’.

Bread’s place in the scheme of human survival has ensured its role in religion, magic, and custom. Hence the breaking and blessing of bread in Orthodox Jewish custom; the extension of this rite to the Christian Eucharist; the loading onto bread of countless superstitions and customary rituals, from the hanging of a loaf in the house on Good Friday to ward off evil spirits, the cutting of a cross on loaves ‘to let the Devil out’, to eating buns marked with a cross at Easter (but the cross has symbolism older than Christianity, and cutting a loaf this way may reflect other customs, such as sun or fire worship, fertility rites, or the ritual division of a loaf into portions).