Sunday, 18 December 2016

A bready ramble round Barrow, Bury and Manchester


I'd been meaning to take a look at Peace and Loaf in Barrow for some time. It sounds such a bold venture, but it's true - a proper sourdough bakery on the corner of Barrow market. The loaf I got was a straightforward white loaf, beautifully baked, with that blistery crust that is so hard to do at home, and expert slashing, which is also so hard to do - at home or anywhere else for that matter.

The bread had a distinctly sour tang to it - in a good way. Not all sourdough is particularly sour, and this one is a lot less sour than the stuff we had in San Francisco, but you certainly couldn't mistake this for anything other than sourdough. Great stuff, and long may Peace and Loaf prosper. They are a really nice couple, and well worth a visit to try their bread. And of course they are using Heron Corn Mill spelt flour!


Bury market is a bit like Marmite. You either love it our you hate it. I think it is really a case of where you shop. There is proper black pudding to be had in spades, if that's your thing - hot or cold. And the meat and fish hall is pretty good whatever you are looking for.

Bread is not so well catered for. The best I found was the Greek deli, which seems to have quite a few languages being spoken. They offer bread styles from several countries, and it's definitely worth a look. I thought the Italian olive bread looked best on the day, but I have to say it was a bit ordinary when I got round to cutting it.

Katsouris have a good cheese counter, including proper Lancashire cheese, which we are struggling for in Lancaster now that the covered market has collapsed. And I can vouch for the pork pies.

Oven bottoms - proper muffins - are on offer all round the market. Some have a hole poked in the top before they are baked, which accounts for the advertising slogan "Lancashire bagels". But I have to say they all looked pretty anaemic to me. I think the days of the oven bottom are long gone. Most of us cook on shelves and very few have access to a brick oven, so it may be a vain dream to create something that worked perfectly with the old fashioned ovens.


As part of a day mooching round the Manchester transport system, I naturally visited Chorlton's Metro station. This is a place full of childhood memories for me, and a lot of them were reignited by this old picture of the advertising hoardings on what was then the railway bridge - now the Metro bridge.

You can see the old station buildings under the hoarding. As well as the gentle rise of the road as it goes over the tracks, there is a steeper slope down behind the hoardings towards the station buildings. Because of that, the hoardings needed to be supported from behind by sort of iron flying buttresses. And this meant that there was a space between the hoardings and the supporting ironwork which irresistably suggested a magic walkway for kids. As a result, there was a well worn path just behind the railings, along the top of the slope - much better than walking along the road! On my 0.7 mile walk home from junior school for my lunch (yes - think about that for a moment!) I used to slip off the road and follow the jungle path between the coal merchant's yard and the hoardings, rejoining the road at the top.

The station buildings then looked much the same as in this old picture, except of course for the top hat and tails (on the men and horses respectively).

I clearly remember crowds of people going down to the station and through that door on the right to the platform for a mystery excursion on Saturday morning. But my best memory was standing on the platform, under the veranda at 8 p.m. when the Pullman went roaring through full steam ahead, and woe betide anyone who wasn't standing back from the edge, I tell you!

Going back to that advertising hoarding, the poster on the left is for sliced bread, wrapped up as was the way back then in waxed paper.

A mere £125 will buy you this poster of Moore's Luxury Loaf, which apparently made boys good at sports and gave them bulgy biceps -

It seems strange for a commodity like bread to be promoted in such a gender specific way. Presumably these lads would then grow up and drink Bass -

Moore's bakery seems to be an old family business, mainly making biscuits like Dorset Knobs. Here are the workers, hard at it with the biscuits. Just think of the price you pay for hand made biscuits now.

Going back to the advertising hoardings again, the second poster shows what was on at the Essoldo cinema -

This was a great favourite of mine. We used to go to Saturday morning cinema club, where you got a selection of cartoons and serials, complete with genuine cliff hangers. You know the sort of thing - hanging onto the edge of a ledge over a ravine by the fingers of one hand, with river rapids a sheer drop below. Who could fail to come back next week? Magically, by the beginning of next week's instalment, the hero had both elbows on the ledge!

After a chequered history, the Essoldo finished up as a bicycle superstore, but was then  closed after a wall collapsed and killed someone.

The other posters on the hoardings show a strong tendency towards dairy products. "Drinka Pinta Milka Day" was an advertising campaign by the milk marketing board, along the lines of "Go to Work on an Egg". And then "Enjoy Anchor butter" - never my favourite brand, and why import butter from New Zealand anyway? (It's been made in England since 2012.)

On the other side of Chorlton, we used to shop at a grocer's called Whitelegg's. I remember being fascinated by Mr Whitelegg's cheese wire. They had whole deep cloth-wrapped cheeses (not the flat wheels you often see wrapped in plastic these days) of red Cheshire and white (presumably) Lancashire. A real shop! And look at the Hovis advert outside!

I don't think you would quite get  away with "Big chief he say Hovis (not just brown)" these days!

Monday, 28 November 2016

A few bread notes from here and there

Cartmel Priory

This bread story came up in a recent baking session at the Heron Corn Mill, and I can now share these pics thanks to Greevz who sent me them. I really hadn't quite grasped how old parts of Cartmel are, and it's well worth a visit just for this.

The tradition of leaving out bread for the poor of the parish continues to this day. I wonder if it's sourdough.


I have what a character in Ulysses calls a "strong weakness" for Slaithwaite. (Despite the spelling, it is pronounced "Slawit". It's a Yorkshire thing.) The terrain is uncompromisingly hilly and the scenery is breathtaking in more senses than one. If you approach Slaithwaite from the M62, be prepared for a series of hair pin bends and superb views at every turn. And test your brakes before you start!

Down from the railway line, nestling between the canal and the river, you will find the marvellous Handmade Bakery coop. This started out as a subscription community bread service running in the back room of the local green grocer's shop. It's now in a large canalside premises. The whole setup ticks a number of boxes for me - community breadmaking, not for profit, cooperative working, hand made bread, overnight fermentation, a really cosy cafe in sight of the working bakery, bakers who will take a minute off to talk bread with you, real tea and coffee, proper simple food for lunch at reasonable prices, really friendly staff, a canalside situation, accessibility by train, glorious surroundings. What's not to like?

This was what the bread shelf looked like the afternoon I was there. Lots of bread had been sold, but a good choice was still available. The top shelf had two long-fermentation white options - yeasted on the left and sourdough on the right. The other shelves were for wholemeals of various kinds. 

Friends, Romans, countrymen: lend me your ears

If you look at the loaves on the top shelf, the slashing of the loaves on the right has clearly produced different results from the slashing of the loaves on the left. I asked the baker how this was done.

The bread on the left was slashed with the blade straight up - a single vertical cut along the length of the loaf. It looks like the loaf was fairly loosely shaped, because the bread has spontaneously ripped right down beyond the end of the cut, allowing the whole thing to open right up.

The right hand loaves have a distinctive step shape, known as the ear. In extreme cases you should be able to get hold of a loaf by its ear. This one looks pretty amazing -

But this one looks more like an owl than anything else!

This is achieved by slashing with the blade about 30 degrees above the horizontal. Think of the angle of the hour hand on a clock when it's 2 o'clock.

Another shelf at the Handmade Bakery had orders waiting to be collected, all bagged up with customers' names written on. The bakery has subscribing customers who order so many loaves a week and pop in to pick up their bread when it suits them. The bakery gets the security of regular sales, and the customer knows they will always get a loaf, even if the shop is sold out. A sound coop principle.

The cup that cheers

There are a few trusted items on sale at the bakery as well as the bread. They have a range of Suki teas from Belfast. Their Earl Grey is really worth a try. I first found this in the cafe at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Gallery, and always look out for it.

Flour power

The Handmade Bakery uses two suppliers of organic flour. One is Shipton Mill near Tetbury. You can find this flour at Low Sizergh Barn. The other supplier, which is more local to Slaithwaite, is Yorkshire Organic Millers of Spaunton, near Pickering. Botham's of Whitby also use this flour.

They are very proud at Yorkshire Organic Millers - proud to be Yorkshire, proud to be stone ground, and proud to be organic. Quite right too. They use electricity to power the stones, unlike the Heron Corn Mill which uses water power exclusively, of course. We need to treasure this fundamental distinguishing feature of our own historic mill! 

I bought a "wild white" from the Handmade  Bakery. That's an overnight sourdough to you and me. Very good too. Considerably more sour than the stuff I make myself, but very good flavour. 

I was happy to see that mine stands up quite well when compared to the professional version. Can you tell which is which?

Hungary comes to Huddersfield

From Slaithwaite the only place to go is Huddersfield, where I had a fairly hectic weekend of weird and occasionally wonderful music at the festival. In the market I came across this cheerful Hungarian couple, selling various Hungarian food, including the bread they have named their cafe after - langos.

This is essentially a pizza-like fresh dough, which is flattened into a circle and deep fried to order. It usually comes with a topping of cheese or various other options, but I had a plain one to see what the bread was like.

Being deep fried it is undoubtedly rich - a bit like a calzone, but not folded. It is nice and tasty inside, and crunchy on the outside. I had a little garlic dressing on mine.

Poland and the Caribbean

My last stop in Huddersfield was Wood Street, where there is a Polish deli and grocer, and a Caribbean general store and restaurant.

I always feel a little out of my depth when faced with a Polish deli. Polish names don't trip off English tongues very easily. On my last visit, I bought some meat to make a sandwich with, thinking it was cured pork. Actually it turned out it was bacon - not a great choice for lunch on the hoof! So this time I just took a look at the bread - various types of Baltic-heritage rye bread and dark breads like this Latvian one -

Caribbean bakeries mean one thing to me: BUNS! I used to get these in Manchester as a sweet treat. This one claims to be "Birmingham's best".

If you have never tried one, don't be put off by the rubbery looking outside. On the inside, it's a rather delicious gooey treacle fruit cake, with a touch of spice and brown sugar. It's definitey moreish, and seldom lasts long when I'm around.

Along with the wonderfully named "foo foo flour" and row upon row of jerk chicken mixes and chilli sauces, the Huddersfield Caribbean shop offers several variants on the classic bun theme, but I like my old favourite best.