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Where does pumpernickel derive its peculiar name

00:00 Mon 29th Apr 2002 |

A.� Debates about Germany's black bread have raged for centuries.

The origins of the bread's curious name have interested linguists and historians for almost as long.

Meyer's Konversationslexikon in 1878 said: "The name 'pumpernickel' can be roughly translated as 'the hearty bread' from the Austrian and Bavarian pumper, meaning 'full-bodied and robust' and Nickel, a dialect word for bread."

|But in the vernacular, Pumpen was a synonym for being flatulent and Nickel a pejorative term meaning "old junk".

Q.� Why is the bread controversial

A.� It's one of those foods which has divided a nation. Some argue it's wonderful, others that it's woeful, and some that the black traditional loaf isn't really bread at all.

Pumpernickel was polarising opinion as long ago as the 16th century. In a letter to a friend in 1586, the Dutch classicist Justus Lipsius wrote: "Black, coarse and bitter to taste, it comes in clods, five feet in length, which an adult can barely lift with his own hands. It is, indeed, an impoverished people that is obliged to eat its own soil."

The French abbot Guillame-Andre-Rene Baston, who lived in the German Westphalian town of Coesfeld, said: "Never before has nature bestowed on us two things that bear a more striking resemblance to each other than this piece of black bread and a lump of peat. Should you sample a piece of the former, the pleasantness of the taste more than compensates for its unappetising appearance."

Q.� Why is it so distinctive

A.� Pumpernickel was born of necessity, as the sandy Westphalian soil is extremely receptive to rye. Baking day, once every two weeks, was particularly arduous for farm labourers, who had to carry the rye to the mill and then return immediately with the ground meal.

The dough was placed in enormous troughs, usually made of hollowed-out tree trunks, for kneading.

Barefoot in troughs, the labourers trampled the mass into workable dough, then moulded the loaves, which could weigh up to 60 kilos and placed them in massive ovens for between 24 and 36 hours.

There was simple reasons for the great size of pumpernickel loaves - they tasted better that way and remained moist and fresh for much longer.

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By Katharine MacColl

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