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FOOD & DRINK

Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette

More than six billion baguettes are baked each year in France and UNESCO has now inscribed the tradition in its “intangible cultural heritage” list.

Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette
(Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

The French baguette – one of the country’s most abiding images – was given world heritage status by UNESCO on Wednesday, the organisation announced.

READ ALSO French baguette gets UNESCO world heritage status

Here are some of the more popular theories:

Napoleon’s Bread of War
The oldest tale has the baguette being kneaded by bakers in Napoleon’s army. Less bulky than a traditional loaf, the long slim shape of the baguette made it faster to bake in brick ovens hastily erected on the battlefield.

France’s most famous man of war was preoccupied with getting his men their daily bread.

During his Russian campaign in 1812, he toured the ovens daily to sample the day’s offering and ensure the crusty batons were being distributed regularly, according to historian Philippe de Segur.

He also had portable bread mills sent to occupied Moscow, but the setbacks suffered by the Grande Armee in one of the deadliest military campaigns in history ended his bid to export the doughy staple.

Viennese connection
Another theory has the baguette starting out in a Viennese bakery in central Paris in the late 1830s.

Artillery officer and entrepreneur August Zang brought Austria’s culinary savoir-faire to Paris in the form of the oval-shaped bread that were standard in his country at the time.

According to the Compagnonnage des boulangers et des patissiers, the French bakers’ network, Zang decided to make the loaves longer to make them easier for the city’s breadwomen to pluck from the big carts they pushed through the city’s streets.

Breaking bread
Another theory has the baguette being born at the same time as the metro for the 1900 Paris Exposition.

People from across France came to work on the underground and fights would often break out on site between labourers armed with knives, which they used to slice big round loaves of bread for lunch.

According to the herodote.net history site, to avoid bloodshed, one engineer had the idea of ordering longer loaves that could be broken by hand.

Early rising
In 1919, a new law aimed to improve the lives of bakers by banning them from working from 10 pm to 4 am.

The reform gave them less time to prepare the traditional sourdough loaf for the morning, marked the widespread transition to what was called at the
time the yeast-based “flute”, which rose faster and was out of the oven in under half an hour.

Standardised at 80 centimeters (30 inches) and 250 grams (eight ounces) with a fixed price until 1986, the baguette was initially the mainstay of wealthy metropolitans, but after World War II became the emblem of all French people.

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What is Sweden doing to celebrate the King’s 50th year on the throne?

Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf marks his 50-year jubilee next year, while the nation will mark the 500th anniversary of the year Gustav Vasa ascended to the throne after liberating Sweden from Danish rule. So, how is Sweden celebrating?

What is Sweden doing to celebrate the King's 50th year on the throne?

Carl XVI Gustaf was only 27 when he became king following the death of his grandfather, Gustaf VI Adolf in 1973, and he had been Crown Prince since his father, Prince Gustaf Adolf, died in a plane crash when he was just four years old. 

In 2018, he became Sweden’s longest reigning monarch ever, and he’s currently showing few signs of slowing down. 

Here are the main events planned for 2023 to celebrate his rule. 

January 27th: the Sweden Dinner

Jubilee celebrations will begin shortly after the New Year’s celebration, with a Sverigemiddag, or “Sweden Dinner”, planned in Stockholm at the Kungliga slottet, or Royal Palace, for January 27.

Leaders from each of Sweden’s 21 counties are invited, and those leaders will also select significant people from their counties to “set the tone” (tongivande människor) for the event.

February-September: Tour of Swedish counties

Throughout the year, the King and Queen will travel to all of Sweden’s counties, riding in a horse-drawn carriage wherever possible. These visits will take place between February and September.

June 6th: National Day celebrations

As mentioned above, on June 6, the royal couple will be in Strängnäs to mark the anniversary of the founding of modern Sweden under Gustav Vasa.

After visiting Strängnäs, the King will give a National Day speech at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, which has its own statue of Gustav Vasa, and which will itself be celebrating its 150-year anniversary next year. A National Day reception will also be held at the museum.

September 15th and September 16th: Main jubilee celebrations

September 15, 2023, officially marks 50 years from the day when Carl XVI Gustaf became Sweden’s king. 

A Jubilee dinner with international heads of state and royals will be held that evening in the Rikssalen at the Royal Palace.

The next day, on September 16th, the King and Queen will travel through Stockholm in a Jubilee Cortege. This will be followed by a Jubilee Concert, which will be open to the public and may also be broadcast live on TV and radio.

While not all these events will be open to the public, there are plenty of opportunities for regular civilians to get caught up in Jubilee celebrations. In March, an exhibition titled “Vasa to Bernadotte – Culture in the service of the kingdom 1523 – 1973 – 2023”, tracking the history of the Swedish monarchy, will open at the Royal Palace. And in June, an outdoor photography retrospective on Carl XVI Gustaf’s time as King will open at Slottsbacken, by the Royal Palace. 

Gustaf Vasa led a rebellion against the Danish King Kristian II, led Sweden’s reformation, and established Sweden as a unitary kingdom. Photo: National Museum of Sweden

So what’s planned to celebrate the the Vasa anniversary? 

Next year isn’t all about contemporary royalty, there’s also a historical king to celebrate. 

Gustav Vasa, or Gustav 1st, is seen by many Swedes as the country’s greatest ever ruler. During his rule, Vasa did away with the tradition of elected monarchs, replacing the system with a hereditary monarchy, then ruled by the House of Vasa.

The day he was elected king, June 6th, 1523, is now celebrated as Sweden’s national day.

So on June 6th, a full day of festivities is planned in Strängnäs, the city where Vasa’s election was held, with King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia presiding over the day’s events.

The Royal Castles will mark Gustav Vasa’s election with a variety of events, including lectures, concerts, and park walks planned throughout the year at Vasaborgen Gripsholm, or Gripsholm Castle, in Mariefred. The castle itself is an important historical site, dating back to the era of Sweden’s Vasa rulers

You can apply for tickets here from March for the events at Gripsholm Castle. 

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