Saturday, 9 May 2015

Tramping for pleasure

We're on the road again

This summer the Heron Corn Mill is taking three mini plays on the road as part of a project celebrating journeyman tradesmen. These forgotten heroes of our working past tramped from town to town in search of work in the days before trade unions.

The plays are being produced in a number of village halls, and at some venues the Bread of Heron bread group are baking bread. Where there is no kitchen, we are taking bread with us, to let people know what kind of baking we get up to in our shepherd's hut back at t'mill.

This marvellous banner which the Heron's SEWN project has created is travelling with us as part of the "On The Road" events.


There is an incredible amount of detail in the banner, including a picture of the bread making group. We are all celebrating the Heron Corn Mill and its roots in history and the community.

The first "On The Road" venue was Arnside Sailing Club this week. As it was a bank holiday, there were lots of people visiting Arnside for the day. Our two "dinner lady gentlemen" enticed quite a few in to have a look round -


The hard working Heron staff laid on refreshments ranging from a cuppa to a proper packed lunch, with generously cut sandwiches, home made cake and biscuits.

Here we are finding our feet in the Sailing Club kitchen and bar, and starting to get the day rolling. The sponges for the bread have been hard at work overnight in the bowls -

Making bread in full view of the public is a bit daunting, I have to admit. But it did allow us to chat to people as we worked. You quickly find out that most people have very little idea what's involved in making "the daily bread". As a nation, we have lost touch with bread as the staff of life, and commoditized it. The OED defines "commoditized" as -

"Treated as a (mere) commodity."
It's that "mere" that says it all: people don't think of bread as important any more. That needs to change! 

Hydration, hydration, hydration

In this picture, the arrow is pointing at my little "hydration" demonstration. I made a batch of dough with a hydration level of 60%, which means for every 100 g of flour, I used 60 g of water.

Taking my cue from how Julius Caesar dealt with Gaul ("Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres") I split the dough three ways. The first piece I left at 60% hydration. To the second piece I added water until it reached 70% hydration. And to the third I added water until it reached 75% hydration. The more water you add, up to about 70%, the easier it becomes to work the dough. Above that things get a bit sloppy.

Scenario for a film

Three brother-doughs set out on a journey together but take different turns on the water front. A sinister controlling hand moulds and shapes each brother according to his degree of pliability. Finally they meet their common destiny in a blazing inferno.

I left these doughs for people to see and have a go at kneading for themselves. A bold handful had a go, but British reserve is a very hard habit to shake, and some people were too shy to try.

After lunch, we had a star speaker as Stuart the miller presented an illustrated history of the mill and the various renovation work that has been done to it over the years -

Stuart has the knack of making the mill story sound fresh and exciting every time he talks about it, which is really saying something, as there is a lot of detail, some of it quite technical. 

With help from the bread making group -

the bread soon mounted up -

until we had a nice collection to show off -

We soon had to hide it away again though, because people wanted to buy it and we needed it for the show in the evening.

One highlight that simply couldn't wait to be eaten was a Heron wholemeal wheat loaf made by this young helper, who demonstrated an impressive grasp of the plaiting technique -


And the finished loaf disappeared in a few minutes, cutting and eating very nicely.

In the evening we were treated to the three "tramping" plays. This really was great fun. The plays all went off very well, and I found plenty to chortle at. Two of the authors were holding court in the entrance lobby at the Sailing Club during the day. Here Karen (in the middle) is warming up with a bit of single handed quern grinding.

After which she challenges her co-author Iain the garden gnome impersonator to a bout of arm wrestling - tuppence a throw. The other lady's verdict is final -

Millstones, mud and mill moth

Karen's play, appropriately set in the pub, wove several real life milling jobs into the story, such as cleaning out the silt from under the water wheel, and cleaning out and de-caking the mill stones between grindings. These are all things Karen has done herself at the mill, often up to her knees or elbows in mud or flour. Atta girl!


Iain's play even managed to include a reference to clapcake, which rang a bell as Ivan Day is doing a talk in Kendal on May 21st with the gloriously English title -

"Bakestones and Clapcake: Girdle cakes and flat breads in rural Cumbria 1570-1960".
There were some suspiciously real sounding characters in there, too, that mill regulars might recognise!

The plays are being performed in Grange Institute next Friday (May 15th) and I'll tell you more about them then.

Marmalade update

I visited my favourite Turkish cafe again recently, and was amused to see that they had jars of "traditional bitter sweet orange peel jam" for sale. Now does that sound like marmalade, or what?

Sponge update

My trip to Shakespeare's Globe this week to see the Merchant of Venice threw up this pleasing sponge reference in the casket scene (Act 1 Scene 2), where Portia tries to avoid getting married to a drunkard -

And don't forget

It's National Mills Weekend this week, so come on down to the Heron Corn Mill and join in the fun!