Week 3 Lab Summary: Grain

Reed Culverwell, Eryk Jones, and Liv Patinkin


While the original forecast on April 15th, 2021 in Northfield, Minnesota called for cold and rain, the ARCN 222 class was met with only wind on Mai Fete Island for our second lab of the term. Still on the topic of food, and rather optimistic from our successful endeavors in cheesemaking last week, we were ready to try and take the cake in breadmaking. Having read about bread from writers such as Pliny the Elder and Jeffrey Hamelman, and with our resident bread expert, Morgan Morton, by our side, we were ready to shake and bake.

As we transitioned from the cheese of shepherds to the grain products, or sitos, of most of the people in antiquity, our lab goals remained mostly the same. Rather, it was what we were making that changed. The general goals for each group were to experience, reflect on, and then experiment with the products and processes of breadmaking. Unlike cheesemaking, though, which has remained mostly the same across millennia, the possibilities of breadmaking seemed almost infinite in comparison.  

Like last week, each group shared a fire with another, but unlike last week, around each fire was a different bread making experience. Each of these groups, along with the general lab goals, had specific goals as well, tailored to their respective processes. 

Groups C & F tackled the challenge of cooking in a hearth (our experiment utilized an open fire pit), as well as exploring the viability of unleavened quadratus bread as a major caloric source. Additionally, as these processes involved much less labor and more waiting, they were able to closely examine seven additional different types of grains and flours, about which Morgan enthusiastically explained the differences in texture and use. After completing the initial processes of the lab manual, groups C and F experimented with a modified quadratus recipe and frybread, respectively.

Groups A & E explored and experimented with alica, a product made from grinding soaked farro grains. They also explored flatbread, which, as well as the alica, was cooked on a pan over a fire. Furthermore, they experimented with slightly differing recipes of globuli, a similar grain product to alica bread but with the addition of ricotta cheese during the dough-making stage. The main focuses of these groups came in the slight alteration of their recipes, as the cooking aspect of their experiments was much quicker than that of other groups. Thus, they were able to create many different “loaves,” each with its own unique recipe, allowing for comparison in production, texture, and taste. 

Groups B & D had the unenviable task of making maza. A significant portion of the process involved the slow process of grinding roasted barley. Many of the questions for these groups involved the process of turning barley into maza, whether it be from the variables of roasting, to the efficiency of grinding. Like groups A and E, this group was able to experiment with quite a few varying recipes, with different levels of honey and olive oil added to each maza loaf, and the resulting changes in texture and taste. Additionally, these groups used the same soaked farro as groups A and E to create a simple farro porridge, which showed just how simple some grain products can be.

While we (fortunately) did not have to rely on our final products for sustenance on this day, we gained a greater appreciation for just how much it took for someone to eat enough to survive just a few hundred years ago. For thousands of years, and still today, many people rely on grain products for the bulk of their caloric intake, and while for our class this was merely an exploration of these methods, it was not lost that this was how people survived.


For this week’s lab, each group was assigned one or two different types of bread to experiment with. There was, therefore, no singular process––rather, there were six. Only the first two steps were consistent for all: the lighting of the fire and the gathering of the necessary materials.

Quadratus Bread (C & F)

Groups C & F brought their mixing bins and measuring tools to the scale, where they weighed the three ingredients: flour (~500g), salt (~10g), and water (~325g). Then, they returned to their stations and began mixing until the ingredients were bound enough to knead. At this point, groups C & F diverged; group C found their dough too dry, and compensated by adding water, while group F found their dough too wet, and compensated by adding flour––as a result, group F’s dough was significantly larger. Nonetheless, both groups kneaded for ~7-10 minutes until they produced a “smooth, stretchy dough.” In the meantime, one member from each group placed their pot onto the coals adjacent to the fire to pre-heat. 

After the dough was fully kneaded, it was shaped into a rough circle and marked into quadrants (group C used a knife for this, while group F used their hands). Then, it was ready to bake; groups C & F released their doughs into the center of each pot. To ensure even baking, each pot was sealed with a lid, covered in coals and logs, and rotated periodically. Additionally, groups C & F both checked on their breads at 20-minute intervals. Group C’s bread was removed after 26 minutes, while group F’s bread was removed after 43 minutes. Minimal time was reserved for cooling, as the groups were very excited to taste their experiment. Once cut, it was clear that group C’s bread had not cooked all the way through. They took their experiment a step further, then, by frying small pieces of the bread in an oiled skillet (see: Additional Experimental Processes).

Sourdough (C & F)

Groups C & F did not hesitate to begin their sourdough experiment after completing their quadratus experiment. Because of the time-consuming nature of developing and maintaining a sourdough starter, though, they worked with a premade dough. The process was therefore much quicker.

Groups C & F both moved their pots slightly farther from the fire after noting that their quadratus breads had charred. Once again, they released their doughs into the center of each pot. To ensure even baking, each pot was sealed with a lid, covered in pieces of coal and wood, rotated at least once, and checked on in 20 minute intervals. Group C’s bread was removed after ~30 minutes, while group F’s bread was removed after 40 minutes. Both groups had to unstick the bottom of their bread from the used pot. Group C’s bread charred again, but this time, both were cooked all the way through. Minimal time was reserved for cooling, as everyone agreed that sourdough is best enjoyed warm.

Frybread (F & S*)

Group S made fry bread as a primary experiment, while group F made it as an additional experiment; for the purpose of this section, group S will be the primary focus.

Unlike groups A-F, who operated out of the Mai Fete Island lab site, group S operated out of an indoor kitchen. Without the extraneous concerns of weather and timing, they had more room for additional experiments. They began, however, with the standard ingredients (same as the quadratus bread): flour (~500g), salt (~10g), and water (~325g). They mixed until the ingredients were bound enough to knead, and kneaded for ~5-10 minutes until they produced a “smooth, stretchy dough.” At this point, they ripped off small pieces, flattened them into rounds with their hands or a rolling utensil, and tossed them into a hot pan (since they operated out of an indoor kitchen, the temperature of their pan was more consistent than the other groups’). They decided when to flip each round using personal judgement (have any bubbles formed? Is the bottom side golden-brown?); once both sides were cooked, they removed each round from the pan. Additional experiments using olive oil, honey, and all-purpose flour brought up greater challenges (see: Additional Experimental Processes), but this one was, indeed, a success.

Alica (A & E)

Groups A & E worked with a pre-soaked batch of farro, which they took turns grinding into a paste on a quern and/or metate (to ensure that no farro went to waste, they maneuvered the paste using the dough scraper). Meanwhile, an oil-coated pan was placed on a grate over the fire pit to pre-heat. Once the paste was sticky and consistent, it was formed into small patties by hand and placed in the pan. Groups A & E decided when to flip and remove each patty using personal judgement (when “tasty looking,” according to the lab manual)–– ~2.5 minutes per side, ~5 minutes total. After completing this recipe, they experimented by kneading flour (~270g), water (~135g), and salt (~8g) into their farro paste (~135g). This created a more dough-like consistency, and they used a rolling pin to achieve their desired thickness (~¼ inch). In some variations, they switched up the quantities of flour, water, and salt, and added honey and/or feta cheese (see: Additional Experimental Processes). These generally cooked in the same time range as the plain alica.

Globuli (A & E)

While making their different alica variations, groups A & E also made globuli. This was done by forming a 2:1 ratio of feta cheese and farro or alica (with salt to taste) into small balls (~60g each) and placing them in the olive-oil coated pan. After 2 minutes of cooking, however, the balls remained crumbly. Increasing the heat made no difference––10 minutes later, they were removed. Another variation with a 1:2 ratio of feta cheese and alica held together much better and was removed after 8 minutes of cooking.

Maza and Farro Porridge (B & D)

Groups B & D collaborated in making their maza and farro porridge. They took turns heating their pot and incrementally pouring in four cups of raw barley grain (~950g). They allowed the raw barley grain to dry-roast for 29 minutes, stirring consistently and moving the pot ever so often to adjust the temperature. Once dark and crispy, they transferred the barley out of the pot and into a bowl. Then, handful by handful, they spent the next several hours grinding the barley into “a coarse flour, with small larger barley bits” using a mortar, a pestle, and a quern (after a great deal of trial and error, they determined that the quern was the most efficient tool). One cup of barley took ~4 minutes to grind using the quern, and much of the flour did not pass through the sieve during the next step; one and a half cups of barley flour took ~40 minutes to produce, as whatever did not pass through the sieve was ground a second time. Forming the maza proved to be an easier feat. Groups B & D used a 2:1 ratio of barley flour and water to form several granola bar sized pieces of maza, by hand. They experimented by incorporating small quantities of honey and/or olive oil, frying the barley grain a second time, or varying the size (see: Additional Experimental Processes). They were left to dry overnight and evaluated the next day. For the most part, they held together well. 

During the grinding and forming process, the empty pot was used to make farro porridge. 541g of farro grain were poured in with ~1 liter of water and two pinches of salt. After ten minutes, it was clear that too much of the water had evaporated, so more was added. 37 minutes later, it was finished.

*S = Softball; the Softball team had to reschedule their lab due to a conflict.

Additional Experimental Processes

Experimental Recipes with Alica, Globuli, and Maza (A, B, D, E)

Both groups A & E and B & D were able to further experiment with their processes. Firstly, the groups making alica experimented with adding flour and then honey to different iterations of experimental recipes. The recipe for the added flour included 140g of farro, 240g of flour, 14g of salt, and 130g of water, while with honey they used the same recipe but with about half a tablespoon of honey mixed into some leftover dough. All of these were cooked the same way as the alica. 

For the globuli recipes, there were many created with varying ratios of cheese (1:1, 4:1) to alica, and some including flour as well (See Group A Lab Data for specifics). These likewise were cooked the same way as the original globuli recipe, and all came out slightly different.

The groups making maza also made many versions of maza with different ingredient ratios and other ingredients added. The core ingredients of barley grain and water remained the same, as did the cooking process (for all but one bread). The main alterations to the recipe included different sizes, addition of olive oil and honey, less water, and one of the maza breads was fried. Each of these recipes resulted in a different outcome.  

Twice-Cooked Frybread (C) 

As a result of their undercooked original quadratus bread, group C attempted to finish their quadratus by frying it on a pan. The quadratus loaf was cut into four quadrants, each of which were sliced into approximately half-inch thick slices, almost resembling tortilla chips. These “chips” were then placed on top of a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan, and held above a fire for about 5-10 minutes, flipping the chips to make sure each side was evenly cooked.

Quadratus/Focaccia (C) 

Group C attempted to make another quadratus loaf, but added olive oil to the original recipe, as well as some extra flour. The process was about the same as the original quadratus loaf, with the olive oil (~20mL) and an extra pinch of flour (~10g) added a minute and thirty seconds into the kneading process. Group C also attempted to make this loaf slightly flatter to hopefully cook better on the inside. The final recipe ended up including 500g of flour (in addition to the pinch during kneading), 400mL of water, and 10g of salt. During the cooking process, the metal pot was placed further away from the fire to hopefully cook slower and more even throughout the loaf.

Experimental Frybread (F)

The recipe for the fry bread was almost exactly the same as the quadratus recipe, with the only change being the addition of a “small amount” of honey. The kneaded dough (13 minutes) was broken into smaller pieces and flattened before being put in a small amount of olive oil on a frying pan over the fire. The cooking time was approximately 15 minutes, with the bread being flipped periodically to facilitate even cooking on both sides. After 15 minutes, the fry breads were finished.

Experimental Frybread: All-purpose Flour, Honey, and Oil (S)

Group S was not present at the original lab, but they were still able to experiment with their fry bread. The first change was the use of all-purpose flour as opposed to the fresh-milled flour that the other groups used. The rest of the procedure and recipe seems to be almost exactly the same as the one outlined in the “Fry Bread” section. 

As well as the all-purpose flour bread, they made five more experimental fry breads, the first two breads were comparative in terms of the type of flour (fresh-milled vs. all-purpose) with olive oil added to the recipe. The second two were similarly comparative, but with honey added instead of olive oil. The last experimental fry bread used the same amount of flour and salt as the original recipe, but the original water was replaced with 60% water and 20% honey, for only 80% of the original amount of liquid. The dough was difficult to knead, but the group cooked it the same way, with less successful results. 


Quadratus Bread (Groups C & F)

Though they followed the same procedure, groups C and F’s quadratus breads varied in their size, bake time, and baking temperature. Group C produced roughly 860 g of dough and cooked it for 26 minutes near a hot fire with coals beneath the pot, while group F produced about 1600 g and cooked it for 43 minutes a similar distance from a slightly less active fire without coals underneath. Both groups’ breads finished with charred exteriors and dense, undercooked interiors, suggesting that they were cooked too quickly. Group F found that their bread was still tolerable, though group C opted to fry some of theirs (see below). Both groups reported that their quadratus hardened overnight but maintained its interior texture and flavor. 

Cutting group F’s quadratus.

Sourdough (Groups C & F)

Both groups produced sourdough with similar processes and results, though group F baked theirs for 40 minutes to group C’s 30 minutes. Group C produced a bread with a burnt crust but a light, evenly cooked interior. Group F’s bread had a similarly well cooked interior with only minimal external charring on the base and top. Group C speculated that their pot had once again been placed too near the hot fire, though both groups had moved their pots farther farther from the flames after their quadratus results. The sourdough produced kept remarkably well and remained delicious nearly a day later. Cut pieces lacked the dense, moist surfaces of the quadratus that hardened overnight; as a result, it better retained its airy texture.

Frybreads (Groups F & S)

Group S produced two frybreads using the same basic ingredients as for quadratus bread. The bread made with freshly milled flour reportedly reportedly tasted better than that made with all-purpose flour. It also bubbled more to the degree of having a bready texture, while the all-purpose flour frybread remained flat and tortilla-like. The first dough may have built up more gluten, which could allow it to rise without leavening. The group made four more frybreads in this manner: each combination of one of two additives, honey or olive oil, with one of the two types of flour. Though we lack data on the effects of added honey and olive oil, group S reports that freshly milled flour produced better results than all-purpose flour in each case. The seventh dough, made by substituting some of the water for honey, was difficult to knead and produced a crumbly, unappetizing, oily, and sweet product.

Group F, working over an open fire, made a similar frybread to one of group S’s; this used the required amounts of freshly milled flour, salt, and water, as well as a small amount of added honey. Like group S’s results with fresh flour, the well-kneaded, unleavened dough fried well and bubbled in the pan. 

Alica (Groups A & E)

Groups A and E produced alica from soaked, ground farro. In grinding the grain on the quern, they produced what group A described as a sticky paste with a similar feel to melted marshmallows. The first product was a cake of pure alica, which was made from ground farro formed into a patty and fried in a pan with olive oil. Group E reported that their patty burned lightly in areas that lacked oil. The cakes produced were soft and oily, but had a pleasant flavor.

The next alica product was a 1:2:1 mix of alica, flour, and water. Both groups noted that this mixture behaved much more like a dough than a paste, to the degree that it required additional water to keep it workable. When fried in a pan, they browned lightly and cooked most evenly over indirect heat. The cakes tasted good, but group A preferred them with added salt while group E, having prepared the mix with extra salt, considered them slightly too salty.

Group A tested a similar mix with only one part flour; this was easier to work and produced a softer cake without altering the flavor.

Group E performed another experiment by modifying the 1:2:1 dough with honey and additional flour. Their first batch was poorly mixed and some honey-rich areas caramelized while the rest of the cake did not change significantly; a second batch, which was mixed better, turned out much sweeter.

Globuli (Groups A & E)

Both groups A and E made globuli from a 2:1 ratio of ricotta and farro. Group A found more success producing cohesive patties that formed crusts when cooked, though group E also accomplished this by cooking a deeper layer of olive oil. When cooked with less oil, group E’s globuli tended to fall apart and burn. Regardless of consistency, group A reported that the globuli were enjoyable to eat, especially when salted.

Group A also mixed globuli at a 4:1 ratio of ricotta to farro. Their taste was indistinguishable from that of the 2:1 globuli, but they were far less sturdy and were difficult to cook. An improvement to the 2:1 mix was made, however, by adding a teaspoon of honey to each ball and an additional teaspoon of alica for structure. These cooked just as easily as the 2:1 globuli but reportedly tasted better and generally improved their quality.

Maza and Farro Porridge(Groups B & D)

Groups B and D made maza from roasted, ground barley. Group D, cooking in a cast iron pan, cooked their grain much more quickly than group B, which used a pot. The pan gave less even results, but thorough mixing allowed the grains to be cooked well. The roasted barley was edible, tasting much like burnt popcorn. Both groups found the manual grinding process to be laborious; even with the quern, which was much easier to use than the mortar and pestle, and with cooked barley, which was easier to grind than raw barley, group B took 40 minutes to produce just 1½ cups of compressed barley flour. 

The groups experimented with several mixtures. A combination of two parts unsieved barley to one cup water with a pinch of salt produced the worst-tasting maza, which group B described as bitter with large chunks of grain. This, however, dried out quickly and stored well. A similar product with added honey was the best tasting as the sweetness masked the bitter barley. Maza with olive oil, however, tasted just as bad as the first batch but was softer. Both these products kept reasonably well overnight. When both honey and olive oil were added, the maza tasted fine but was very wet and crumbly; this did not make for good storage. A batch with the same amount of olive oil and honey tasted a bit worse but held together much better, offering a good balance between enjoyment and preservation. A fried maza with olive oil and no honey kept better than any other batch. Its taste, however, is debatable; group B thought it tasted bad, while group D compared it to other combinations with all ingredients.

In addition to maza, groups B and D also made farro porridge. This had a bland taste and unextraordinary texture, but it was very easy to make.


All six groups accomplished the goals of the lab, which were to learn about and test ancient methods of grain processing and bread production. In addition to the ease of production and and taste of each of each of the products, we also gained insight into how well they could be stored and transported. While frybread seemed like an easier and tastier food than quadratus bread, for instance, the quadratus preserved far better and could have been a convenient source of energy to travel with or keep for several days. Globuli made for good snacks, but were impractical to keep more than a few hours. The making of maza was tiresome and the product bitter, but it perhaps could have been stored for a longer time and eaten when other food was unavailable. In daily life, farro porridge may have remained an easy and palatable option. All six groups were able to experiment with their respective recipes and create their own products. While all of these processes came with mixed results, the lab for the sake of experience and experimentation was a resounding success. 

Group Data Reports

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