Monday, 22 June 2015

The joys of interpretation

In our house we call it a visitation from the Voodoo Prince. You know, when something completely inexplicable happens. When you have ruled out all other explanations, what you are left with must be the truth, however improbable.

Today I spent most of the day writing this blog. And then the Voodoo Prince caused Blogger to reload my blog, and present me with a blank page. There was nothing for it but to sit and scratch my head for an hour or so, and start again. So please forgive me if some of the pictures get rather less accompanying text than usual this time! And I am going to roll both groups into one for the purposes of this last blog. So here goes!

On The Road in Ingleton

The third of our "On The Road" events took us to the peaceful village of Ingleton, with its impressive viaduct and beautiful views.

We had a full complement of helpers running the shop, cafe, milling demo and banner display, and we did some baking in the well appointed kitchen in the Community Centre.

Try your strength with the heavy rocks.

Not every day you get the chance to talk to a real live author.

After a fairly slow start, we had a steady trickle of visitors, and I even managed to get two people to have a go kneading. One elderly lady who used to bake a long time ago was convinced she couldn't manage it now, but eventually decided to have a try, and it is no exaggeration to say her face lit up. It certainly seemed to be taking her back to another time in her  life. This made my day, I have to say, and I am glad I persisted with the idea of providing some "play" dough for the public to have a go with. And we had some bread-tasters who insisted on having nothing on the bread so they could fully appreciate the flavour. And one old gent who said he had lost his taste buds still wanted to have a taste because he still got pleasure from the texture of good bread. Now that's what I call feedback!

In the afternoon we had a very lively and interesting talk about mining in Cumbria by Ian Tyler. He brought some samples of rocks along, including some which were unbelievably heavy for their size. He introduced these rocks with related stories, and illustrated the whole thing with slides, mostly old pictures of Cumbrian mines. He picked up one stone and asked "Has anyone had a barium meal?" to which the answer from the back of the hall was "no - we've all had sandwiches".

Very entertaining!

At the end of the day some of us had a stroll round the shops, where the highlight was a notice in the back of the cake shop which read "There are 2 kinds of people, and I don't like them".

Then it was time for fish and chips followed by the 3 plays on tramping themes, which were receiving their final airing, complete with pipe and fiddle music.

Favourite recipe swap shop

This recipe was shared by a member of Bread of Heron. We like our recipes hand made, like our bread.

Allowing for failing eyesight, I read that as follows -

Courgette and crouton salad with Parmesan and mint

4 slices bread
100 ml olive oil
3 cloves garlic
S + P
Juice of 1-2 lemons plus zest of 1/2 a lemon
Half a med red onion, shaved wafer thin
2 ditto courgettes cut into 1/2 moons
Handful mints [Shurely shome mishtake here? - Ed]
Pine nuts
5 tbs olive oil
1-2 handfuls Parmesan shaved


Gas mark 2
Bread 1" cubes
In bowl stir tog 100 ml olive oil with 2 cloves garlic crushed S + P
Toss bread cubes, on a baking sheet, and cook 20 mins turning 1/2 way through cooking
Put onion in salad bowl with lemon + zest + garlic + seasoning
Fry courgettes
All ingredients tog
Shavings on top

That is all so clear! And I just love the economical use of language: "All ingredients tog". And "courgettes cut into 1/2 moons" has something of the Elizabeth David about it. It makes me think of her "melt some tomatoes in olive oil", which is about all she had to say about making tomato soup.

I think I might go wrong with the last line, though - "Shavings on top".

Open to interpretation

It's not just recipes that need to be interpreted. Here is a fragment of music where the performer is asked to "almost shout". The first performance is a relatively straightforward version. You can certainly feel the shout in that, I think. This next person takes a much more full-throated approach though: pin back your lug holes. Who is to say which is right?

One thing that we have seen time and time again at Bread of Heron is that two people starting with the same recipe and the same ingredients will never end up with the same loaf. Here we see me and my daughter Rosie making a rye, ale and oats loaf. Mine looks like Mr Potato, and Rosie's looks like E.T.

There were several squidgy recipes being followed this week: savoury couronnes, rye and raisin - all the usual suspects.

Then there were pizzas and focaccias.

 It may be plain, but it's somebody's loaf, and they love it. Leave it alone!

The Bill and Ben pots below are cunningly disguised prototypes for trenchermen's soup dishes. I once tried making bread inside a pot like this, but it was a disaster because the pot took so long to heat up that the bread stood no chance of cooking. This is a much better idea - cooking the bread on the outside so that you get a hollow flatbread, in effect. The inside of the bread can be toasted up to make it possible to serve soup in the bowl, which can be eaten after the soup, saving on washing up. There's something very mother-earth-ish about this, which I find very appealing. 

It's even got a nobbly bit in the middle so you can serve your soup up with a carnation in the middle.

Someone had a go at the Chelsea Pensioners' buns again this week, and very good they looked too.

And the rye and raisin turned out nice again, despite as usual getting off to a very sticky start.

How many eggs go into this savoury couronne? Was it two or three?

One, two, three, four.

The rye loaf is covered with a sticky batter and sprinkled with oats.

Someone's got to do it.

Under the tent to keep it out of the draught while it rises.

This one had a half and half: rolled oats on one side, pinhead oatmeal on the other.

 The couronne is really tricky.

That's the rolling up done. Now for a coffee before shaping it into a ring.

Or a plait, why not?

Or cut it in two and do two plaits, why not?

I somehow convinced myself that this focaccia had been in the oven for long enough. Unfortunately I talked Rosie into taking hers out of the oven too.

And it was all going so well up to that point!

A bit of a tailback at the oven. And more couronnes in the making. 

Wow! That was round last time I looked!

Most of the beer ended up in the bread, honestly ossifer.

The rye beer and oat loaves come in all shapes and sizes.

Like the bakers.

Enough of this hard work - TEA!

Sampling time.

Redbournbury Mill near St Albans

We were driving past this mill on the way home from a recent trip to London, so naturally I swerved off the road to have a look. It's affiliated with the Traditional Cornmillers' Guild, so you know it is the real thing.

Like the Heron Mill, they have a comprehensive range of flours on sale which they have milled themselves. They use organic flour, much of it grown locally.

The fields round the mill were growing rye when we went, unless I am sadly mistaken.

The mill building itself is charming. The overshot waterwheel is on the right hand end of the building in this picture. It is no longer used to turn the stones, because the River Ver no longer has enough water. Instead they use an engine which has been lovingly renovated by volunteers over many years. Sounds familiar from the experience of Heron Corn Mill, which has taken decades of dedicated work by volunteers and mill experts to get to the happy position we are now in, namely being able to produce our own flour. We need to cherish this!

At right angles to the mill at Redbournbury is an on-site bakery. The mill and bakery were closed when we arrived, but the baker kindly invited us in to chat while he worked. He had some chocolate brownies in the oven when we arrived.

The next job was to roll out some puff pastry that he had made the previous day. He was rightly proud of the fact that he made his own puff pastry rather than buying in factory made stuff. He was also using the mill's own flour. Here is the roller, which works much like a pasta machine. The pastry is fed in from the far end, through the rollers in the middle -

It comes out at the near end, thinner than it went in - 

Then a flip of the ratchets in the middle to reduce the distance between the rollers, and start all over again.

Puff pastry is made by layering dough and fat, and repeatedly folding and rolling. The pastry this baker was working with consisted of 1,500 layers of dough and fat! And that was before he started rolling it out to Eccles cake thickness. The end result was worth it all, though! 


I took the opportunity of slipping in to Poilane's shop near Sloane Square on a recent visit to London. Boy, can they cook! Everything is wood fired, which certainly helps. And sourdough is the order of the day. The "punishments" - little buttery biscuits that are out  on the counter to encourage you to buy some more bread - are completely irresistible, at least until you see the £2-55 price tag for 100 g. I got some anyway!

I was a little surprised to find that although a 2 kg "country loaf" is 9 euros 10 cents on the website, in the shop it was on sale for £4-95 a kilo - quite a mark up for central London. Although I was really tempted by a whole country loaf (you can buy in quarters), I eventually opted for a whole rye bread at £4-25. This came with a four-line slash on the top, to form a square, which seems to be quite traditional for rye loaves. The crust was thick and crunchy, and the insides were chewy. But - oh! - the flavour was fantastic. Really worth the money.


Bouran's coming to the UK for a while next month, and we're hoping to arrange a one off baking session with a Palestinian flavour in the hut while she is here. We'll send out more details when this is finalised. This should be a fun event for all of us, I think. But I'm not doing pitta breads!

That's all for now folks!

Bread of Heron is now closed for a well earned summer break. We hope to be back in the autumn, possibly with some changes in the way things are done. There are some patient people on the waiting list, and we'd like to get them involved. And we have talked about spreading the work out a bit more widely across the group. Nell has done an awful lot of pinny washing, for instance!

But whatever else happens, have a very happy summer, and happy baking!