Let’s play 20 questions!
#1- Is it larger than a breadbox?
Wait, what is (was?) a breadbox? Why did people put their bread in boxes?
Breadboxes, or “bread bins” for our friends across the pond, were quite popular until fairly recently. They serve to keep bread at a cool, constant temperature, keep the mice away, and help keep the bread from going stale.
The staling process of bread is quite interesting, as it’s not directly related to the loss of moisture but instead has to do with the alignment of the starch molecules within the bread. As bread sits, the water molecules that normally are found in-between the starch molecules leave their position and move towards the surface of the loaf. This brings the starch molecules into direct contact with each other, leading to a crystalline structure. Basically, when water is present, the chains of starch are all mixed up, but when the water leaves, they organize themselves into neat rows. This makes the bread much tougher and harder.
So, to keep bread from going stale, we want to store it in a moist enough environment, but not too moist, lest our loaves go soggy. Don’t be tempted to put bread in the fridge, however, as the staling process speeds up at low temperatures.
You can blame the decline of the breadbox on the advent of preservatives in bread, and the packaging of commercial bread in plastic bags. Another kitchen accoutrement put out of work by modern packaging? Pie safes.