A traveler in ancient Israel had to take food on his journey—for himself, his family and his animals. No traveler would set out from home without taking food along. Most family travel occurred at the time of yearly Festivals in Jerusalem. Men and boys aged 12-13 were required to attend the Festivals (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Edersheim), but women and children often went with their husbands except for special circumstances (1 Samuel 1:22).
Traveling by foot or pack animal meant women had to prepare meals in a camp setting, without refrigeration. In general the food kit would include bread, grain, dried fruit, olives and olive oil. It is thought that women prepared the main meal in the evening when it was cooler and the family could relax (Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, Packer and Tenny, page 466). Commentators agree that wheat in various forms made up about half of an Israelite’s diet, either in the form of parched grain or bread.
The women baked bread daily by pouring dough over fire-heated stones. If they cooked legumes or vegetables to make a boiled stew, it would accompany the fresh bread. The parched grain, raisins and dried figs prepared ahead of time would be energy foods. Grain, wine, oil, sheep, goat and ox are the foods mentioned in connection with the instructions for keeping the Feast (Deuteronomy 14:23).
Abigail’s gift of food that she sent to David at a festive time of year included 200 loaves of bread, 2 skins of wine, 5 dressed sheep, 5 seahs of roasted grain (1 bushel), 100 clusters of raisins and 200 cakes of figs. The dressed sheep would have been eaten at the time Abigail presented the gift; they were “dressed” and ready to roast. David and his men could have eaten the bread, dried fruit, grain and wine without concern for spoilage. (See 1 Samuel 25:18.)
The only item the traveler ate that we don’t find commonly in our diet today is parched corn. Bible commentaries state that corn is a general term meaning grain and not what we think of as corn from the cob or corn nuts. It can “actually mean various kinds of grain, including barley, millet, and wheat” (Illustrated Manners, page 468). “In Bible times parched wheat or pulse was a common food, even taking the place of bread…it was a useful food for armies [travelers] as it required no further cooking.”
How did Israelite women parch grain? Most of the commentaries say that the newly harvested grain was separated from the head, heated in an iron pan over a fire and stirred to keep it from burning. When the grain reached the right color, it was poured out on a cloth to cool. Older dried grain could be parched if it was soaked in water overnight. Women also parched grain by holding a bundle of sheaves over an open flame, much like roasting a marshmallow—taking care not to burn it. ♦ Mary Hendren