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Researcher explores the special skills required to be a medieval baker

With The Great British Bake Off back on our screens and a University graduate taking part, many around campus are talking about the much-loved programme, which is now in its seventh season.

In an article written for the Medieval Manuscripts blog run by the British Library - and republished on Think: Leicester, the University's platform for independent academic opinion - History PhD student Becky Lawton has discussed how baking is one of the world's oldest professions, with baking guilds being among the earliest craftsmen guilds established in medieval Europe.

According to Becky, the high level of skill required in the baking craft was certainly recognised in medieval society - for example the Anglo-Saxon monk, Ælfric, implied that everyone can cook, but that it takes special skills to be a baker.

In the article Becky says: "In medieval society, bakers also provided extravagant fare at feasts and celebrations. Feasts were a fundamental part of medieval society and were used to celebrate victories, proclaim social bonds and enjoy the products of the land.

"Like their modern counterparts, medieval bakers created and used cookbooks, containing recipes and lists of ingredients. It is clear that there are many similarities between the medieval and the modern baker. Bakers are still valued members of society, use cookbooks and recipes, and cook for a wide range of functions."

However, Becky suggests there may be one great difference between modern and medieval bakers.

"One particular difference is the more tolerant approach that modern critics have for bakers whose culinary skills are just not up to scratch," she writes. "No matter how bad their skills, modern bakers will not be drawn through the streets on the back of a horse with the evidence of their failure tied around their neck.

"Thankfully to many an aspiring baker, modern society is far more tolerant of the varying talents of bakers and the cakes an loaves that they produce!"

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