The spread of parchment.

the spread of parchment.
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Solution to some of the problems that papyrus had have been found in parchment - thin material created from hide of animals (calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin). Historians have found proof that parchment was in use even in 3nd millennia BC (Egyptian examples of leather prepared for writing date to 2500 BC), but organized production and the popularity of parchment arrived in 3rd century BC with the exploits of the Greek manufacturers in Pergamon. Under the leadership of the Eumenes I or Eumenes II, processing techniques for creating parchment evolved significantly, enabling Mediterranean countries to stop being dependable from the papyrus which was imported from Alexandria. The great library in Pergamon greatly benefited from the expansion of the parchment use, managing to rival the great library of Alexandria who was famous for the incredible amount of Papyrus scrolls. With rising prices of papyrus material and close extinction of the papyrus plant in the two nomes delta of Nile, parchment became popular across Greece, Rome, Middle East and even Egypt.

Already since the 8th century, Italian monks started to treat the moist and spread out skin with ground pumice in order to make it more receptible for ink. Later pastes produced from flour, egg white and milk in order to reduce fatty substances, which would make writing difficult. Since the 14th century, this pasts could also consist plant ashes, lime and chalk. The degreasing should be carried out with care. A greasy surface would make writing difficult, if not impossible. If, however the skin was completely stripped of its natural fat reservoir, then too much ink had to be used during the writing process. This pastes were also applied to increase the whiteness of the surface and to reduce spots. Pumice powder rubbed into the flesh side of the parchment would produce a silken surface, which was pleasant to write on. This should happen, when the skin was still wet and stretched out on the frame. When taken from the frame, a paste made of lime powder, quick lime, flour, white egg and milk could be applied with a moist cloth. This would render the surface smooth, hard, flat and very white.

In many important churches until now giant parchment books in folio size are displayed. One spread must have been prepared from a complete cow-skin since a single pages easily measures 1x 0,7 metres. Since a spread has ben the base of a parchment book, the spreads measure 2x1,4 metres. Mostly you can find books of Gregorian hymns which in the case of Southern Spain, date back to the time after the reconquista – thus between 1492 to 1700. The musical notations are so hige, that a singer has to see it from quita e distance to read it easily. Most properly the choir has been standing in some distance infront of the opened book. A monk must have been assigned to turn the pages. Those hymnbooks clearly have some performative mentions, since they are displayed even outside mass.

Another skin problem encountered by scribes during a book’s production was the animal’s hair follicle – the skin organ that produces hair. These follicles show as pronounced black dots on the white page. Often parchment makers or scribes were able to sand them away, producing the desired smooth and cream-colored surface. However, if the follicles had been too deep in a calf or sheep, no dermatologist could have removed the imperfection, let alone the blunt instruments of the scribe. The only thing to do was to write around the patch. The follicles are helpful because they allow us to determine – from the distance between them – whether the animal was a calf, a sheep or a goat. This, in turn, may shed light on where the manuscript was produced: the use of goat, for example, often points to Italy.

Before writing, the parchments were prepared by lay men. Learned monks only smoothened the surface with fine punice or pigs of wild boar. Monasteries posessed their own flocks of sheeps as well as their own forests. Sheeps and deers provided the monasteries with sufficient skins, since the clergy was granted hunting rights. At this time, books were confined to monasteries and exclusicely served religious purpose, while the nobles had little books. Monastery cared for the quality of the parchment, and the sheeps were treated better than their fellows in the villages. The parchment of fine specimen was much finer. They had consoderably lesser bruises, bug bites, skin diseases and scars. 

It is not uncommon to see such holes in pages or margins of medieval manuscripts. If the parchmenter notices cuts in time they can be stitched up with thread to stop their expansion into holes; sometimes in pages of manuscripts one sees holes with stitch marks around their edges, evidently indicating that cuts were mended but nevertheless split their sewing and opened up again under pressure.

Another advantage to parchment paper is the inexpensive cost. This allows bakers to prep multiple pans or batches at one time. If you were to use silicone liners, you would need several of them, which could be costly.

Parchment! I hate washing and storing my silpats and it seems like after time, they start taking on weird flavors from around my kitchen. I love the pan sized parchment sheets and use them all the time for lots of stuff, not just baking!

But, there are also times when it is best to line the sheet pan. This serves a couple of purposes. First, a liner creates a nonstick surface without any added fats or oils. Also, the liner helps insulate the food, preventing over-browning on the edges. Last, liners make clean up a breeze and preserve your pans for years of use.

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