It's tempting to just do what we love and stick to it...
But we are bread pioneers, our mission -
"to explore strange new whirls, to seek out new loaves and new caramelisations,
to boldly dough where no man has scone before."
to boldly dough where no man has scone before."
Something to get us out of our comfort zones.
We did some scones last week, and hot cross buns on Good Friday, both of which were completely new to me, and surprisingly good fun. At home I just make bread, that's all! Coming to bake at the shepherd's hut at the mill is like stepping into a different world...
This week the "Buns" half of the group will be doing rye and raisin bread, and pitta breads on the side. Here are the recipes we are following this week -
My mum's cobs
It's not always the most sophisticated things that create the most satisfying memories.
Bread and cake shops within sniffing distance
Nothing gives children more confidence in the innate goodness of human nature than for an adult to go beyond the call of duty in the business of selling penny cakes.
My memory has been playing tricks on me again. I just realised the baker's name was Ramsbottom, not Higginbottom. But what's in a name? On the other hand I can remember his signature trade mark as if it was yesterday. He used to poke his thumb through the top of his loaves, making what looked like a navel on top of the loaf. Everyone knew where his bread came from.
Other bakers' shops were available. As well as Taylor's, I was regularly to be found further down the road at a shop that made the best vanilla slice in town. It was heavenly. Sweet sticky icing, wobbly bright yellow custard, and the flakiest of flaky pastry. Or so it seems to me now. Who knows really? This one would have been marked down on the pastry, but the custard and icing look about right!
And across the other side of the village, you could get mini Hovis loaves for a very reasonable price - again, well within the parameters dictated by pocket money. The beauty of the mini Hovis was that it was proper wholemeal bread, and quite capable of being sliced to within an inch of its life. I used to see how many slices I could get out of a loaf that was possibly 2 inches long. Perfect with cucumber.
I seem to remember Hovis loaves being sold in waxed yellow wrapping paper, but maybe I'm just inventing that. But shops selling Hovis certainly had signs outside. This is another local bakery, on Beech Road, Chorlton. But it was not "one of mine". Note the Hovis sign on the wall.
Mabs Snack Bar also sold records. We used to have a money box at home where we collected all our 3d bits, until we had enough to buy a single (6/8d each, 3 for £1). We never collected enough to buy an LP at 34/-. If these prices mean nothing to you, don't worry - your turn will come soon enough to be an oldie.
Speculate to accumulate
and they used to give me an 8 oz box back. Now there's psychology for you!
This memory is a slippery creature, without a doubt. We all think we have clear memories from long ago, but how accurate these memories really are is very open to doubt, given how very unreliable our shorter term memories are.
And medium term memories are no better. I have been complaining for several years about a block of flats in Manchester that (according to me) were built across one of two derelict railway lines, making it impossible to reopen the line properly. Yet when I had a look recently, both lines were still there, as shown in this picture when the metro was being built -
It makes me wonder, what kind of a witness would I be? And how reliable is any eye witness years, months, weeks, days, hours or even minutes after the event? There's nothing new here, of course. People have been misremembering things for centuries. Here is Hamlet's famous soliloquy as mangled by the jobbing actor who was responsible for the First Quarto. He starts to ramble after 6 words!
To be, or not to be, eye there's the point,
To Die, to sleep, is that all? Aye all:
No, to sleep, to dream, aye marry there it goes,
For in that dream of death, when we awake,
And borne before an everlasting Judge,
From whence no passenger ever returned,
The undiscovered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd.
But for this, the joyful hope of this,
Who'd bear the scorns and flattery of the world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich cursed of the poor?
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wrong'd,
The taste of hunger, or a tyrants reign,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweat under this weary life,
When that he may his full Quietus make,
With a bare bodkin, who would this endure,
But for a hope of something after death?
Which puzzles the brain, and doth confound the sense,
Which makes us rather bear those evils we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Aye that, O this conscience makes cowards of us all,
Lady in thy orizons, be all my sins remembered
Fudging the issue
Likewise when did I put the bread in the oven? Was it "5 to" or "5 past"? I can easily find myself with no idea how long the bread has been in. On the other hand, I am surprisingly good at getting up to check the clock at just about the right time - when the bread needs turning, or taking out. So maybe inside every temporally challenged man there is a time and motion expert trying to get out. But I don't think so.
At least I am not alone in this constant struggle with memory. We made a couple of batches of hot cross buns at the mill on Good Friday. The first batch needed to be "crossed" when we were part way through preparing the second batch. So we stopped working on the second batch before adding the water, and came back to them when we'd dealt with the first batch. The three of us all agreed we were up to the point of adding the water, and it was only some time later that we realised we had all forgotten to add the sugar. Unlike my scones last week, this was a salvageable mistake, and we simply worked the sugar in. Ah, the happy ending!
The loneliness of the long distance flour bagger
What really surprised me was how hard it was to keep track of where I was up to, while carrying out a mundane and repetitive task. Try listening to this for about a minute, and see if you can remember how it started.
There are a number of weighing scales at the mill, but the heavy duty ones are a bit of a puzzle to use, and we are not entirely sure all the bits are present and correct. So weighing a relatively small amount of flour on a large set of scales would be a bit too error prone to be attempted with confidence. There is a smaller set of scales which are fine for bagging up flour in 600 g and 1.5 kg bags, so I opted to use these to weigh out my 20 kg.
500 g of flour is pretty well all the scoop can hold, so 20 kg is forty scoops' worth. Hmmm. Surely it can't be that hard to count up to 40 ... can it? After two scoops I decided discretion was the better part of valour. Rather than find myself all at sea with half a sack of flour weighed out...
I thought I'd better start keeping a record. Not having my worry beans with me, I decided to start taking notes. I started off confidently enough, my plan being to make a note every time I had weighed out one kg. Weigh one scoop, do nothing; weigh one scoop, write it down; weigh one scoop, do nothing; weigh one scoop, write it down. What could possibly go wrong?
Frailty thy name is memory
In the end I decided there was really no alternative to recording every scoop as I weighed it. I who have a brain the size of a house, effectively ready reckoning on an abacus! Still, better safe than sorry. Just a bit of a wake up call, that's all!
When we delivered the flour to our customer, I found myself rather envious of this scale in pride of place on the window sill. This baby has a full set of imperial weights, and a rather charming needle in between the two pans to indicate the balance.