This caught my attention because only recently I had been trying to work out what, if anything, our choice of flour says about us. (Scroll down this blog to the previous post entitle "Rolled or ground".) My conclusion about flour was that we British find it hard to be objective about the relationship between quality, value and cost. Most food buying in this country is done on the basis of cost.
The radio programme, rather disappointingly I thought, came to the conclusion that people who break out of the cost-driven shopping model, and pay considerably more for sourdough bread than they could pay for sliced white, are really buying an aspiration. Not an aspiration to eat better bread, but to eat what better (or at least better class) people eat. I find this rather horrible really - social mobility through sourdough!
A few weeks ago, I had a day in Manchester, riding the Metro like a big kid, and shopping at my favourite shops, for my favourite foods. I was really not doing anybody any harm, and I was genuinely enjoying having access to the kind of food products that only a big town can provide. But I still managed to come up against the thorny issue of class. I'll tell you how it was.
My favourite shops in Manchester are The Unicorn Co-Operative Grocery, and Venus Foods. No trip to Manchester is really complete without a visit to at least one of these, and a curry at the Al-Faisal Tandoori in the Northern Quarter.
On this particular visit, I had been to The Unicorn in the morning, and filled a rucksack with good healthy ingredients - beans, pulses, flour, flakes and the like. Like a squirrel caching nuts, I had taken the Metro back up to the north of Manchester, to the park and ride where I had left the car, and off-loaded everything to make room for more good things in my rucksack when I went to Venus Foods in the afternoon. Lunchtime, I need hardly add, involved stopping off at Al-Faisal for a curry.
When I got to Venus Foods, number one on my shopping list was a large tin of olive oil. They often have very good offers on Greek or Italian oils here, and I was hoping to find some Kolymvari Gold, one of my favourites - nutty, and dark green, and reminiscent of a family holiday in Crete, at Maleme, just along the coast from Kolymvari. They didn't have any, so I spent a little while considering how big a tin (3 litres or 5 litres) of the Eleanthos oil to buy. The tin just says this is Greek oil, but I have subsequently found out that it is actually from Kalamata, so its provenance is almost as specific as the Kolymvari oil.
While I was looking at the oil shelf, a young chap came and stood near me, doing just the same kind of shopping as me. We had a chat about the oil, and went our separate ways. When I got to the till, clutching my 3 litre tin, the same young chap went by, also clutching a 3 litre tin. We had another chat, and he told me about some good shops in Whalley Range, where he lived. I said I was from Chorlton originally (just up the road from Whalley Range), so I knew which shops he meant. He looked a little less happy when I mentioned Chorlton, which is a more affluent part of Manchester than Whalley Range, but I didn't think anything of it. But when I returned his favour of telling me about his favourite shops, by telling him that I'd been to The Unicorn in the morning, his whole demeanour changed. He looked at me rather coldly, and said "how delightfully middle class, mate", with quite an emphasis on the "mate", and walked off, leaving me feeling somewhat like Neil Kinnock in 1989 - kebabbed!
So what was this all about, really, and what has it to do with Sourdough September?
Sadly, two people who both enjoy shopping at Indian general stores and Turkish supermarkets, and both bought 3 litres of good olive oil, managed to fall out over a workers' co-op selling fresh fruit and veg, and beans and grains grown without fertilisers. I love it and the simple values (and good value by the way) that it represents, but the other chap sees it as a posh shop selling trendy food for posh people.
And many people see sourdough as expensive bread for posh people who have money to throw away. Apparently, this includes the presenter of the BBC programme about bread - note the question at the bottom of this picture -
But all this simply misses the point. Sourdough is completely different from sliced white. And sourdough came first, don't forget! So the question should really be not -
"why eat sourdough at three times the price instead of normal bread?"
but rather -
"why eat tasteless soggy chemical filled 'bread' instead of proper bread at all?"The BBC programme asks the question "have you ever felt ashamed of your sliced white?". But my encounter in Venus Foods made me feel as if I should feel ashamed of my olive oil, my stoneground flour, my organic beans - my whole value system in fact. Well I don't! And I won't!
Let's enjoy Sourdough September for what it is - a celebration of simple ingredients, simply made with care and love. And let's enjoy sourdough bread for what it is - healthy, tasty, satisfying, and by the way, quite challenging to get right.
I'm going to be doing 2 Sourdough Saturdays at the Heron Corn Mill during the month of Sourdough September. A small group of us will be making sourdough together in the shepherd's hut. I've been recording a series of short videos on YouTube, showing how I am getting on with preparing my existing wheat starter and a brand new rye starter so they are in tip-top condition when we bake with them. You can find the videos on my YouTube channel. Each one has a number, so you can start at number 01 if you like, or just dip in to the more recent ones (15 so far!).
And please, when it comes to Sourdough Saturday at the Heron Corn Mill, let's have none of this "how charmingly middle class, mate": it's just good ingredients, good baking, good food, and good fun.