Thursday, 3 August 2017

Learning about sourdough

September is for sourdough

Every September since 2013, the Real Bread Campaign has had a month long Sourdough September event to promote sourdough. At the Heron Corn Mill, we will be celebrating our second Sourdough September with an all-day sourdough adventure in the shepherd's hut.

Sourdough is definitely not for the faint-hearted, and the idea of guiding a group of bakers through the minefield that is sourdough sends me weak at the knees. So between now and September I will be monitoring my sourdough starter culture and making sure it is in really tip top condition by the time baking day arrives.

Like last year I will be creating a brand new culture in my sourdough laboratory at home, using Heron rye flour, so that we can see the difference between a wheat culture and a rye culture.

Baking with rye is particularly challenging, and baking rye sourdough is if anything even more so. Making a rye starter last year taught me quite a few lessons along the way, not least about keeping on top of hydration.

It was a big mistake to allow the consistency of my culture to vary over time as I fed it, and try to calculate the ever-changing ratio of water to flour. With hindsight rather than just recording what I added, I should have kept everything in the same ratio by very carefully weighing 7 parts water to 5 parts flour every time I fed.

This year I have ordered a camcorder so I can keep a video diary of how the cultures develop up to baking day. Hopefully this will help me to see clearly where I got things right, and where I didn't.

Learning about sourdough by doing nothing

Sourdough never sleeps - it just dozes off. But even when it appears to be dormant, the character is slowly changing, and not always for the better. A sourdough culture can be a bit of a beast.

Fortunately though, my culture has been very predictable and reliable.  I've had along run of baking sourdough every week and the culture has settled into a good routine.

But this summer I have discovered the joys of yeasted white bread baked without a tin or a basket, just straight onto a tray. And as there is only so much bread you can eat, sourdough has rather taken a back seat. I've fed my culure a couple of times, and otherwise just let it rest in the fridge.

When I finally did come to bake some sourdough again, I got the culture out a couple of days before baking, and fed it again. Then I made a sponge the day before baking, as I usually do. On baking day I was a bit surprised to find that the sponge wasn't as vigorous as I was used to finding it. And when the bread came out, I found that it was considerably sourer than usual.

Some people really like their sourdough tangy, which is fine. The ultimate really sour sourdough is the San Francisco version, which is very challenging stuff indeed. My own preference is for as little actual sourness as possible. What I like is bread with as much sponginess and body as possible, and just a touch of "attitude" in the flavour. My sourdough this time was several notches closer to San Francisco than normal.

Clearly, there was something to learn here. I'd fed the culture, I'd made a sponge, but the result was quite different. So what had I done differently? Well, I hadn't baked off it or made a sponge with it for a long time.

Most bakers tend to feed their culture in the pot, and then take some out to bake with. I don't like this at all, because the part that stays in the pot can just get older and  older. Much better, I think, is to take the whole of the culture out of the pot to make a sponge with, and then take some of the sponge back to keep for next time. My recent experience with this sourer-than-usual sourdough just shows why my sponge method is so good.

When you make a sponge, the 80 g or so of culture is bulked up to about 680 g of sponge, and then 80 g of sponge is taken back for next time. So very very little of the 80 g of culture in my pot this week was there last week. And it's had a really good feed on many times its own weight in fresh water and fresh flour. Sponging is like a complete makeover for a starter, whereas feeding in the pot is more like life support.

Moral of the story

If you just feed your starter, then at the very least make sure you throw most of it away beforehand. And if at all possible, sponge and bake from your culture rather than just feeding it.

Friday, 7 July 2017

The nick of time

Today at Bread of Heron, the Heron Corn Mill's community bread group, we took a leaf out of the Staff of Life bread book and made a loaf designed for toasting. It should be a rich loaf, as it has full cream milk instead of water, and a good helping of treacle. It looks like a brown loaf, but that's mainly the effect of the treacle. There is a small amount of Heron Corn Mill rye, but mostly white flour. And then a few caraway seeds to make it a fragrant loaf. Quite a lovely combination!

Some people baked in tins, and others raised the bread in baskets. And there's always the question - to slash or not to slash? It's not immediately clear why you should at least consider slashing the tops of your loaves. But here is a good demonstration of the difference it makes.

The loaf on the left has been slashed on the way into the oven, and the loaf on the right has not been slashed. They both went in the same oven, and they both rose strongly when they hit the heat. As the bread swells in the oven, the tension on the surface increases until it gets to the point where something has to give. The slash on the left hand loaf gives it somewhere obvious to expand: open the cut a bit and there is immediately more room to stretch. The loaf on the right has to find its own weakest point and rip itself open along the line of least resistance. Very rustic of course, and it shows how unpredictably bread can behave in the oven. It will open up one way or the other, but slashing the bread reduces the unpredictability of how the bread will open up in the oven.

We had some young visitors today, from a school in Macclesfield, who came into the shepherd's hut to see what we were up to. I learned from one of them that Hovis was invented in Macclesfield, and I swapped the information that the thing that makes Hovis different from other bread is that it has lots of wheatgerm added - the very best bit of the grain, which is a "waste product" of roller milled white flour.

We were able to show the youngsters how different the same bread could look, depending on how you handle it. All three loaves in this picture are basically the same loaf, but one of them has been raised in a tin, and two have been raised in bannetons - wicker baskets. We showed them how the ridges of the basket left lines imprinted in the dough.

One of the bakers pointed out that the tin loaf had also tried to open itself up by ripping itself open along the edge of the tin. So even tin loaves might be candidates for slashing.

The other loaf we did today was a simple half and half loaf - half white and half Heron Corn Mill wholemeal wheat or spelt.

This is of course a lot lighter than a loaf using only wholemeal flour, but the Heron element should ensure a good flavour, and we added a few "bits" to make the texture a bit more interesting. Rye flakes, cracked wheat and linseeds are my regular choice here, though I have recently stocked up on wheat flakes and barley flakes as well. We only just got these loaves in the oven in the nick of time, because they were starting to hang over the side of the tins!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Life in Fife

We've just come home from a short break in the East Neuk of Fife. This is the east coast of Scotland, north of Edinburgh.

It's an area with a lot to say for itself - scenery, seafood, history, coastal walks and a really good music festival. We packed five concerts, 2 crabs, a lobster and fish and chips into a 3 night stay.

They are rightly proud of the seafood in the area, but there is not a great deal to shout about in the way of bread, so far as I could see. The allegedly artisan sourdough left a lot to be desired -

I would have given it at least another 5 minutes in the oven. But it was sadly lacking that firm sponginess that real sourdough should have. No evidence of oven leap. And the crust! Oh dear.

The seafood was another story though. There is a hut on the harbour at Crail which cooks lobster to order, and usually has crab as well. The day we were there, someone had stolen 2 boxes of crab, so it was just lobster. I'm much more of a crab person myself, but when in Crail, do as the Romans do.

You know it's fresh when it's like this -

I never ignore signs like this one -

There are a number of old mill sites along the East Neuk coast - Crail, Kilrenny, and this partially restored windmill at St Monans.

What's interesting about this mill is that it is not designed to grind corn. Rather, it was used to lift sea water up the hill side and drop it into salt pans, where it could be boiled to make sea salt. This is all that remains of the salt pans -

And they would have originally looked something like this -

The whole site would have looked like this, with the sea off to the right -

The salt operation relied on local coal, which fired the pans. The whole thing is nicely written up in this blog. It seems amazing that 7 tons of coal was needed to produce 1 ton of salt. And what is now an attractive place for tourists to look at was, in its own time, a genuine eyesore and pollution source.

Crail, where most of our concerts happened, also has evidence of an old mine, but it has all been back filled now. The story of industrial sabotage in 1620 makes interesting reading.

All in all, I found Fife to be a very attractive place. It was a bit like stepping back to a time when the pace of life was a lot more relaxed. And there is something engagingly direct about the people. On the Sunday morning I went out looking for milk, but everywhere in Anstruther was closed. I walked along the harbour as far as the pub at the end, and had a quick look through the window before giving up and turning back the way I had come. An old boy out walking his dog stood eyeing me up curiously for a while, and then asked, with a very strong emphasis on the last word "are you LOST?". It was clear that the thought process that preceded this question was "you are behaving strangely. I have been trying to account for your erratic behaviour. Are you LOST?". When I explained what I was up to, he came back with "I thought you were maybe looking for a drink of BEER". Lost or thirsty - it had to be one or the other I suppose.

Anstruther has a place of last resort - when the milk shops and the pubs are all closed, this would be the place for me -

Saturday, 24 June 2017

What's in a name?

Today we baked some bastards. Quite why these really ordinary loaves should have such an extraordinary name, nobody seems to be entirely sure. One suggestion (from the Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales) is that a bastard dough is neither firm nor soft.

State of the art bâtard, 23 June 2017

The loaves we made at the Heron Corn Mill today all turned out looking pretty good.

It's very nice to find that they really do look remarkably similar to what a bâtard is supposed to look like -

This tea towel was posted on a discussion board to disprove one contributor's claim that there was no such bread as a "bâtard". Point made, I think!

Our loaves look like "complete bastards" on the tea towel, but it should be noted that the French word for wholemeal is "complet".

Over the last couple of years at Bread of Heron, the Heron Corn Mill community bread group, we've tried making several of these different types of French loaves. Here are some of our efforts.

Prototype bâtard, 25 September 2015

I think it's fair to say that has improved in the last two years!

One roll short of a Marguerite, 24 June 2016

I like to think of this as a Polo mint - the Marguerite with a hole. But it is another way of making a couronne.

All around my hat with a fruit couronne, 25 September 2015

There were some pretty good couronnes back in those days. The one in the middle is mine. The rest of the group did a lot better on this than me!

Back in March 2012 I was still having trouble deciding how to slash a couronne -

This was what I thought might work in September 2011 -

The criss-cross slash on the loaf above the couronne here is often used on a classic pain de campagne. This often turns up in my early bread photos. Here's one from 2013 -

There have also been fougasses, genuine pains de campagne (with levain), and various pains aux céréales - including today's rather wonderful gloopy wholegrain wholemeal.

Vive la France!

Shakespeare on bastards

King Lear ACT I SCENE II. The Earl of Gloucester's castle.

SCENE II. The Earl of Gloucester's castle.

Enter EDMUND, with a letter

Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moon-shines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,
Got 'tween asleep and wake? Well, then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate: fine word,--legitimate!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:
Now, gods, stand up for bâtards,
Especially complete ones!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Today I have a perfect sourdough, and radishes on the side

It doesn't look like much, I grant you -

The dough stubbornly refused to behave itself when I was kneading it, sticking to my hands and the work top. It wouldn't go back in the bowl the right way up, and had to be manhandled in with the scraper. It stuck like glue to the basket, and stretched like chewing gum before finally coming away and flopping lifelessly down onto my baking tray. It deflated sadly when I slashed it, and I was feeling quite glum by the time I finally got it into the oven.

But in the end this little loaf was everything I could wish for from home made sourdough. It rose like a trout in the oven, proudly announcing its noble heritage with a crisp and crackly crust. The texture was spongey as could be, and it resisted the knife like Horatio defending the bridge. It was moist, it was fragrant, and above all it actually tasted of bread.

I managed to leave the loaf uncut for the best part of an hour...

but then the first cut was made and the flood gates opened. That still warm, slightly roughened first piece! My good lady wife had the first rip, and I followed on a very close second. You just know, when things are right.

We had mussels for tea, their plentiful liquor bursting with white wine, garlic, oil and butter, just begging to be mopped up with bread. Nothing of course would do but the sourdough, and great door-stopping wedges soon lay soaking among the mollusc wrecks. The joy of that bread, sopping wet with sauce, the crust still crunchy in the mouth.

It reminded me of the man in the pub who put a sign over his lunchtime cheese board - "today I have a perfect brie". That simple pride, and the joy of being alive to witness the day! Now it was my turn to proclaim with swelling chest the honest truth "today I have a perfect sourdough".

It doesn't take much to turn an average day into a perfect day. Watching the tide come in at Arnside is a good start, especially if there are any herons around. But even the most trivial thing can make all the difference. Same with bread, of course!

I tried out a polenta loaf the other week, with a view to making it at Bread of Heron, the Heron Corn Mill community bread group. It was OK, but nothing special. The recipe just replaced a quarter of the white bread flour with polenta, and used two parts water to three parts flour (66% hydration) to make a medium firm dough. The polenta makes the bread quite yellow, but apart from that the main characteristic is a slight sweetness - not unpleasant, but nothing to write home about.

At the mill I decided to make a small change to my prototype loaf, and replace most of the water with milk. This completely transformed the bread, turning "sweet" into "rich and succulent". The milky polenta loaf didn't stay fresh for long when wrapped in paper. Fortunately, it turned out to be one of the best toasting loaves I've made, so just for the record, here is the recipe -

Simple polenta milk loaf

This loaf is slightly sweet from the corn. Milk makes the loaf a bit richer.


  • 375 g Carr’s white flour
  • 125 g polenta - fine for a soft loaf or rough for more texture
  • 5 g salt
  • 5 g yeast
  • 325 g warm milk or milk and water


Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl - don’t put the salt and yeast together.
Add the milk and mix well in the bowl.

Turn out and knead for 10 mins.
Leave to stand in a lightly oiled bowl for up to an hour.

IMG_20170608_104809.jpgTurn out and shape into an oblong loaf and put in a well oiled tin.
Leave to rise for an hour.
Slash the top if you like

Bake at 200 fan for 10 mins then turn down to 180 fan and bake for another 35 mins (making 45 mins in all).

Check the bread after 45 mins and give it another 5 mins if (like me) you like it well done. Put it back in the oven upside down to crisp the bottom.

Once cut, wrap in plastic to keep fresh.

Anyone who has baked with me will know that I like to keep my bread simple. I like my bread to be bread, and my cake to be cake. Parkin for preference. You have to try things out, just to find what works and what doesn't. But I am seldom tempted to "give things a twist" in the style of MasterChef and the Great British Bake Off. So I really felt for the baker in my last group who was told the bread he took home from the mill was "too fancy".

There is a golden rule when you are testing computer programs: get everything stable, and then change one thing only. That way you can clearly see any difference and be fairly sure what caused it.

The same thing applies to making bread. If you are only using three or four tried and tested ingredients, and you change one of them, the difference in the loaf you bake is probably due to the change you made.

In fact there is a golden rule in Italian cooking - only use three or four ingredients, and NEVER change anything! I remember Jamie Oliver presenting a dish to some Italians, who knew exactly what it should taste like, and they tore him to shreds because he had "given it a twist". He'd added a dash of this and a sprinkle of that, like he does, and they picked up straight away that there were too many tastes in the way, and they couldn't clearly taste the ingredients they were wanting to taste. "Hear! Hear!" say I. Don't overload things...

Speaking of Italy, I think I have my Italian holiday sorted for next year already. I've found three concerts in Florence in March 2018, on consecutive days. Days one and two the Belcea Quartet are playing, and on day three, the pianist Radu Lupu is playing. What better excuse for a few days in beautiful Florence?

If it comes off, I will make sure we get our lunch at Trattoria Mario by the market.

This place is the real deal. Daily hand-written menus, based on what's in the market.

And lunch time only, because the staff have lives too. If you have 20 minutes to spare, I recommend their video here. If you click "English version" you get subtitles. It's good because you can tell these people really care about the food they cook.

I really like the hugger mugger of the place, with whoever is eating crammed onto communal tables.

Simple dishes are beautifully cooked, and presented with no ceremony. The staff are attentive and efficient - "who needs to pay?" is the cry, as there is always a queue outside the door. It reminds me of the old English style of eating known as "the ordinary".

Keeping things simple and using few ingredients certainly improves your chances of successfully repeating a recipe. This one from Rachel Roddy in the Guardian uses four ingredients, but I think I could teach our cat to do it successfully. Just to make it a bit more challenging, I've laid it out as a Haiku

Butter good toast well.
Lay some anchovies on it.
Eat with radishes.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Two things I learned today

There's more to caraway than meets the eye

In my increasingly desperate efforts to come up with recipes to bake with the Bread of Heron bread group at the Heron Corn Mill, I decided this week that I would have a go at the Deli Rye recipe from the Staff of Life bread book (page 48).

If you don't know this loaf, you really need to get out more. It has been the highlight of many a visit to Kendal, but its strong flavour has always proved elusive. There is rye flour in there, some texture due to the cracked wheat, and there are caraway seeds in the mix certainly. But what is the flavour? It's so strong, but is it a herb? A spice? I could never put my finger on it.

It turns out that the overriding flavour of the loaf is in fact completely due to the a amount of caraway seeds. I was so surprised at how much caraway the recipe needed that I phoned the shop to check it wasn't a misprint. But the finished loaf doesn't even seem to taste of caraway seeds!

Just so you get the idea what a massive shot of caraway this loaf is delivering, consider this. My favourite Bellina wholemeal bread includes 5 g of caraway seed with 500 g of flour. And for nearly 30 years I was not allowed to make this bread at home because the flavour of the caraway is too strong for some people's tastes. (You know who you are!)

The Deli Rye recipe includes 25 g of caraway seed with 600 g of flour - that's 4 times as much caraway (weight for weight) as I include in the wholemeal bread.

I was quite excited to find that I had recreated the taste of the Staff of Life loaf fairly accurately, and as a result rather a lot of the loaf was eaten while it was still warm, in a great rush of enthusiasm - like you do. I haven't quite worked out yet if the caraway seeds were responsible for an attack of heartburn later on in the afternoon! Maybe I will have to try baking it again and see if it behaves more sociably when it has had time to cool down properly.

It really is an experience though!

In the interests of balance, here is a review of the Deli Rye loaf from Peter Gordon in the Guardian in 2007, when the price was only a little lower than 10 years later -

Staff of Life Bakery deli rye, 800g, £2.50 
Not your typical rye bread. Good for rye-bread beginners. I don't personally like it. 
1 star
It takes all sorts, I suppose!

Subliminal snakes

You never quite know what is going to come up in conversation when you are baking. This is one of the greatest pleasures about Bread of Heron - the serendipitous nature of the chit chat that goes on while we bake.

This week the word "threshold" came up, with the suggestion that it refers to the barn doors, with upper and lower halves which can open separately. We have a door like this in the shepherd's hut. I know these as "stable doors", which makes sense as you might be quite happy to have an 'orse's 'ead sticking out of the top half, while wishing to preempt any tendency to bolting by keeping the bottom half securely closed.

Here's a fine fellow whose upper moiety has the freedom of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, while his lower person is restrained within the perimeter of his personal stable space.

The idea about "threshold" was that the bottom half of such a pair of stable doors could be closed, and the top half opened. A farm cart could be backed up to the door, and corn (in the general sense of cereal crops) could be delivered over the top of the bottom door, and thence onto the floor of the barn. The bottom half of the door would then keep the grain in.

This all seemed quite plausible and really rather a satisfactory derivation for the word. You thresh grain on a threshing floor, and the door holds it back.

But then the doubts set in. The etymology doesn't feel right. This kind of thing comes back to haunt you in the middle of the night - especially when you have had too many caraway seeds - and nags away at the back of your mind until the only thing to do is look it up in the great treasury of words, the OED.

The OED has a noun "thresh", which is either a threshing implement or a rush (a Scottish usage - OED abbreviation "Sc" stands for "Scottish", not "scarce" as I originally thought!). But there is no sign of a noun "thresh" meaning something you could hold behind a door. This meaning of threshold may be an urban myth. (See number 4 in this list of myths.)

The most natural way to understand "thresh" is as a verb meaning to tread or stamp, either on your corn or on somebody's front door step, or threshold.

The OED entry for "threshold" (scroll down to the bottom of this blog) suggests that the meaning of the "hold" part of the word threshold is unclear. It also appears as "wald" or "wood", which to me suggests it is describing the material of which the threshold is made, rather than what the barn door might be doing to the grain behind it.

Googling "threshing" is quite fun. Look at these wonderful German gents having a fine time doing the threshing equivalent of Morris dancing. That reminds me of the day my daughter (as a little girl) came home and excitedly told her mum she had "seen Maurice, dancing outside the post office".

The rhythm of the German threshers is a little similar to the rhythm of these very brave rice cake pounders.

No roundup of threshing would be complete without some yaks.


If "thresh" isn't what comes in from the farm, and "hold" isn't what a barn door does to it, what exactly does threshold mean?

According to the OED, the simple meaning is -

The piece of timber or stone which lies below the bottom of a door, and has to be crossed in entering a house; the sill of a doorway; hence, the entrance to a house or building.

There are all sorts of ritual / ceremonial / superstitious significances listed in the OED examples. But this thousand years old one is what really caught my eye -

Ofer þa duru, & under þone þerxwold.

"Over the door and under the threshold". What is that about? Maybe it's refering to some sort of a custom of marking the importance of the entrance to your home. The OED supplies a clue about what might go over the door -

The horse-shoe's nail'd (each threshold's guard).

More spooky is "under the threshold". What would you put under the threshold? According to -

The house snake tradition evolved in Scandinavia where it became customary to bury the body of a snake under the threshold for good luck in the home.

But where do these subliminal snakes come in? The OED has a thousand year old reference to "limen" as an equivalent word for threshold. So something that you are only subliminally aware of is something that is below the threshold of your consciousness. Best place for a snake!

******* End of blog - what follows is only intended for word nerds *******


Etymology: Old English þerscold , -wold , þerxold , -wold , þrexold-wold = Old Norse þreskjǫldr , -kǫldr , nominative plural þreskeldir , modern Icelandic þröskuldr , Norwegian, Swedish tröskel , Danish (dør)tærskel ; compare Old High German driscûfli neuter, Middle High German drischuvel , durschufel , German dialect drischaufel , etc. The first element is generally identified with thresh v. (? in its original sense ‘to tread, trample’), the forms of which it generally follows; but the second is doubtful, and has in English, as in other languages, undergone many popular transformations.(Show Less)

 a. The piece of timber or stone which lies below the bottom of a door, and has to be crossed in entering a house; the sill of a doorway; hence, the entrance to a house or building.

α. OE þresc-þrex-þerxold, ME thresshhold, 15 threshouldthressaldthreszsh-tresholde, 15–16 thresholde, 15– threshold.
c1000   Ælfric Exodus xii. 22   And dippað ysopan sceaft on þam blode, þe ys on þam þerxolde.
c1000   Ælfric Deut. vi. 9   And write þa on þinum þrescolde.
c10001Ðrexold [see β. ].
1513   G. Douglas tr. Virgil Æneid vi. i. 100   To the dur thressald cumin ar thai.
1530   J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 280/2   Thresholdeseuil de luys [l'uis].
1535   Bible (Coverdale1 Sam. v. 5   They..treade not vpon the threszsholde of Dagon.
1535   Bible (CoverdaleProv. xxvi. B,   Like as the dore turneth aboute vpon the tresholde.
1553   T. Becon Relikes of Rome (1563) 256 b,   At euery time the bishop shal come vnto ye church dore & strike ye thresholdthereof with his Crossier staffe.
a1616   Shakespeare Coriolanus (1623) iv. v. 119   When I first my wedded Mistris saw Bestride my Threshold . 
1727   J. Gay Fables I. xxiii. 80   The horse-shoe's nail'd (each threshold's guard).
1837   E. Bulwer-Lytton Ernest Maltravers I. i. i. 9   A tall figure crossed the threshold.
β. OE þrex-þræx-þreoxðærsc-þersc-þeorsc-þercs-þer(e)xwoldþrexwald-wealdþersc-þærsc-,þirscwald, ME þreoxwold, ME þrex-thresshe-thresh-threswoldthers-þreis-thrys-throssche-,treswald, ME thrys-threschwoldethris-thresche-thryshwald, 15 threskwolde (18 dial. thresh-wood).c888Þeorscwold [see sense 2a].
971   Blickl. Hom. 207   Of ðæs portices dura..ðærscwolde wæs gesyne þæt [etc.].
c1000   Ælfric Gram. (Z.) ix. 40   Limen, oferslege oððe þerexwold [v.rr. þræx-, þreox-, þerxwold, ðrexold].
c1000   Sax. Leechd. II. 142   Ofer þa duru, & under þone þerxwold.
c1000   in T. Wright & R. P. Wülcker Anglo-Saxon & Old Eng. Vocab. (1884) I. 280/15   Limenþerscwald.
11..   in T. Wright & R. P. Wülcker Anglo-Saxon & Old Eng. Vocab. (1884) I. 551/32   Limen, ofersleie, uel þreoxwold.
c1325   Gloss. W. de Bibbesw. in Wright Voc. 170   La lyme, the therswald.
1362   Langland Piers Plowman A. v. 201   He þrompelde atte þrexwolde [v.rr. þresshewold, þreschfold, throschfold] and þreuh to þe grounde.
1382   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.1 Kings xiv. 17   Whanne she wente in the threshwold of the hows, the child dyede.
c1386   Chaucer Clerk's Tale 232 (Lansd.)    And as sche wolde ouer þe þresshewolde gon [Camb. throswald, Petworth thresshold, Ellesmere, Hengwrt, Corp. thresshfold, Harl. þreisshfold].
c1400   Ywaine & Gaw. 3222   He come to the thriswald.
14..   in T. Wright & R. P. Wülcker Anglo-Saxon & Old Eng. Vocab. (1884) I. 733/8   Hoc limen, -nisthryswold.
c1440   Promptorium Parvulorum 492/2   Threschwoldelimen.
1442–3   in J. R. Boyle Early Hist. Town & Port of Hedon (1895) App. p. clxxxiv,   Reparanti j. thryshwald infra tenementum suum.
c1480  (▸a1400)    St. Mary of Egypt 579 in W. M. Metcalfe Legends Saints Sc. Dial. (1896) I. 313   Quhen we come to þe thryswald.
c1480  (▸a1400)    St. Mary of Egypt 593 in W. M. Metcalfe Legends Saints Sc. Dial. (1896) I. 313,   I..furth can gange to þe treswald.
1483   Cath. Angl. 385/1   A Threschewaldelimen.
1511   in W. H. Stevenson Rec. Borough Nottingham (1885) III. 333   Makyng ye seid doore and leyeng of ij. threskwoldes.
1825   J. Briggs Rem. 215 (E.D.D.)   Upon this thresh-wood..cross straws were laid.
γ. ME þreschefoldethreshfooldþreshe-thressh-þresch-threissh-threis-throschfold, ME thresh-,thresfold(e (18 dial. thresh-fod).
c1374   Chaucer tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. (Cambr.) i. pr. i. 3   They passeden sorwfully the thresshfold [B.M. MS. þreschefolde].
1382   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.Ezek. ix. 3   At the threshfoold [a1425 L.V. threisfold] of the house.
1393   Langland Piers Plowman C. vii. 408   He thrumbled at þe þreshefold [v.rr. þresshfold, þrescwolde, treshfold].
1413   Pilgr. Sowle (1483) iii. ix. 56   Not by the dore but vnder the threshfold drawen oute.
14..   in T. Wright & R. P. Wülcker Anglo-Saxon & Old Eng. Vocab. (1884) I. 592/47   Limen, a thresfolde.
1828   W. Carr Dial. Craven (ed. 2)    Thresh-fodthreshold.
δ. 15 thressholl, 16–17 threshal, 18 dial. threshelthrashel ( drashel).1593Thressholl [see sense 2b].
1607   G. Chapman Bussy D'Ambois iv. 54   Ile make th' inspired threshals of his Court Sweat with the weather of my horrid steps Before I enter.
1655   J. Howell 4th Vol. Familiar Lett. xliii. 104   He dragg'd her body to the threshall of the door.
1787   in Coll. Sc. Poems 12 (E.D.D.)   Luckie out o'er the threshal goes.
1898   J. MacManus Bend of Road 90   The house crammed..from the threshel to the backstone.
1900   G. Williams Fairmner's Tint Laddies iv. (E.D.D.),   To cross the thrashel o' oor hoose.
ε. dial.16 treshwart, 18 threshwortthreshut; 18 freshwood: cf. [see th n.1].   (6).
1608   in J. Barmby Churchwardens' Accts. Pittington (1888) 151   Pd to John Lamb for mendinge of the treshwart of the portch, iiij d.
18..   Brierley Out of Work x. (E.D.D.),   Mind thou doesno' tumble o'er that threshut.
1825   J. Briggs Rem. 201 (E.D.D.)   The entrance from the front door was called the freshwood.
1879   T. F. Simmons Lay Folks Mass Bk. Notes 399,   I bids thee..never again set thy foot over my freshwood.
1888   W. Dickinson Lit. Rem. 234 (E.D.D.)   The threshwort's worn quite hollow down.
1892   R. O. Heslop Northumberland Words   Fresh-wood, the threshold, or foot-beam of the front door.

 b. (erron.) The upper horizontal part of a door-case; the lintel. rare.

[Cf. c1000   in 1 α, 1 β  
a1382   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.(Bodl. 959) (1959) Exod. xii. 22   Þe lytyll sprynkill of ysope wetiþ in blode þat is in þe neþer þreschwald & sprengiþ of it þe ouer þreschwald [a1425 Corpus Oxf. ouerthreswold; a1425 L.V. lyntel; L. superliminare].]
1821   J. Clare Village Minstrel I. 11   The rural sports of May, When each cot-threshold mounts its hailing bough.
1834   H. Martineau Demerara (new ed.) iv. 52   Cassius stood, leaning his forehead against his low threshold.
 2. transf. and fig.

 a. Border, limit (of a region); the line which one crosses in entering. spec. in an airfield: the beginning of the landing area on a runway. Also attrib.

c888   Ælfred tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. xxi,   Se ilca [sc. Godes miht] forwyrnð þæræ sæ þæt heo ne mot þone þeorscwold oferstæppan þære eorþan.
a900   tr. Bede Eccl. Hist. (1890) v. vi. 398   Forðon þe he mæc..from deaðes þirscwalde wæs acegende.
1642   T. Fuller Holy State iii. iv. 159   Know most of the rooms of thy native countrey before thou goest over the thresholdthereof.
a1863   F. W. Faber Happy Gate of Heaven (hymn) ii,   Fair are the thresholds of blue sea.
1899   Westm. Gaz. 2 Sept. 2/1   On what is known as ‘the threshold of England’, the Sussex coast.
1937   Jrnl. Royal Aeronaut. Soc. 41 295   Sites..for threshold lighting and other signal apparatus required to assist the pilot.
1960   Guide Civil Land Aerodrome Lighting (B.S.I.) 15   A pilot needs to be given a clear indication of the runway thresholdand the addition of wingbars, composed of green lights, is recommended to make the threshold more conspicuous in poor visibility.

 b. In reference to entrance, the beginning of a state or action, outset, opening. (In quot. 1659, in reference to going out or leaving, close, end.)

1593   Queen Elizabeth I tr. Boethius De Consolatione Philosophiæ in Queen Elizabeth's Englishings (1899) ii. pr. iv. 28   The thressholl of thy felicitie.
c1595   Countess of Pembroke Psalme cxix. 3 in Coll. Wks. (1998) II. 206   Right wonderfull thy testimonies be:..Their very threshold giues men light.
1659   in C. H. Firth Clarke Papers (1901) IV. 297,   I..shall be moste glad to heare that you are gott over the thresholde of your present troublesome stay in London, the country being the most proper place for [etc.].
1834   L. Ritchie Wanderings by Seine 8   The youth, stepping proudly upon the threshold of manhood.
1877   M. Foster Text Bk. Physiol. (1878) iii. i. 389   We are..met on the very threshold of every enquiry [etc.].
 c. In technical language, a lower limit.

 (a) Psychol.: esp. in phr. threshold of consciousness: see quots., and cf. limen n.subliminal adj. and n.   In Physiol. and more widely: the limit below which a stimulus is not perceptible; the magnitude or intensity of a stimulus which has to be exceeded for it to produce a certain response.

 (b) The magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction or phenomenon to occur.

1874   J. Sully Sensation & Intuition 47   There is a certain limit below which our several sensibilities are unable to discriminate. This boundary..Fechner calls the ‘threshold’ (die Schwelle).
1886   E. Gurney et al. Phantasms of Living I. 453   A telepathic disturbance may take place below the threshold of consciousness.
1886   J. Ward in Encycl. Brit. XX. 47/2   We do not distinguish or attend separately to presentations of less than a certain assignable intensity. On attaining this intensity presentations are said to pass over the threshold of consciousness, to use Herbart's now classic phrase [‘Schwelle des Bewusstseins ’ (Psychol. als Wissenschaft (1824) §47)].
1902   J. M. Baldwin Dict. Philos. & Psychol. II. 696/2   The least noticeable difference in sensation is called the threshold of discrimination or difference.
1919   W. D. Halliburton Handbk. Physiol. (ed. 14) lii. 767   That strength of stimulus which just suffices to evoke a sensation is called..its absolute threshold.
1922   Electr. Communication I. i. 45/1   Articulation tests were made upon the..telephone system..when it was set to deliver various intensities from the threshold of audibility to very large values.
1930   City Noise (N.Y. Noise Abatement Commission) 34   This means decibels above the threshold of hearing.
1931   Brit. Jrnl. Psychol. Jan. 285   There is a definite ‘colourless interval’ between the ‘general threshold’, or the intensity which just suffices to produce a sensation of light, and the ‘specific threshold’, or the intensity at which colour is just noticeable.
1936   G. K. Zipf Psycho-biol. of Lang. 113   Every phoneme must also have a lower threshold below which it cannot pass without strengthening.
1938   Ann. Reg. 1937 346   The view [was] advanced that spontaneous mutations are mono-molecular reactions produced by thermal agitation when this over~steps the energy threshold of the chemical bonds.
1941   in M. Gowing Brit. & Atomic Energy 1939–45 (1964) 403   From..the fact that [uranium] 238 does not give fission with slow neutrons, it is clear that the jump at 1 MeV represents the threshold of 238. The fission which takes place with neutrons of energy less than 1 MeV must therefore be ascribed to 235.
1948   P. M. Morse Vibration & Sound (ed. 2) vi. 227   The upper contour is the threshold of pain, above which the sensation is more of pain than of sound (and the result is more or less damaging to the ear).
1949   A. Koestler Insight & Outlook xv. 207   Heightening the threshold of some sensory receptors and lowering the threshold of others.
1949   S. C. Rothmann Constructive Uses Atomic Energy 205   The Geiger threshold of a radiation counter tube is the lowest operating voltage at which the charge transferred per isolated count is substantially independent of the nature of the initial ionizing event.
1950   Gloss. Aeronaut. Terms (B.S.I.) i. 25   Cruising threshold, the equivalent air speed giving the lowest comfortable continuous cruising speed.
1955   J. A. Wheeler in W. Pauli Niels Bohr & Devel. Physics 166   A photofission threshold of 5·15 MeV..goes with a half life against spontaneous fission of the order of 1015·8 years.
1958   Oxf. Univ. Gaz. 27 Jan. 524/2 (heading   Non-random sequences in visual threshold experiments.
1959   Sunday Times 5 July 8/6   The absence of a lower threshold for the production of mutations by radiation.
1962   A. Nisbett Technique Sound Studio v. 98   At 1,000 c/s the threshold of pain is 110 dB or more above the threshold of hearing.
1963   B. Fozard Instrumentation Nucl. Reactors v. 46   The scaling circuit which is used to count the pulses from the G.M. tube has some more or less well defined ‘threshold’, i.e. it accepts only those pulses which exceed a certain amplitude.
1965   Proc. Royal Soc. B. 161 338   While a climatic change in one area may have produced conditions very favourable for a new species, in another area the same climatic change may have produced conditions only just above the critical physiological thresholds for the existence of that species.
1965   W. Lamb Posture & Gesture iii. 44   There has been a lot of investigation of the threshold of fatigue in athletics and the type of training required to push this threshold back is well understood.
1972   J. Mosedale Football ix. 124   Performances like Nevers' demonstrates [sic] the high threshold of pain common to many athletes.
1973   Times 19 Oct. 7/8   A GP who might only see one case of child abuse a year might not have as low a threshold of suspicion as I have.
1983   Sci. Amer. Jan. 98/2   Above a certain threshold, known as the critical density, the expansion [of the universe] will eventually cease and contraction will begin.

 (c) In contexts of wages and taxation, in which wage or tax increases become due or obligatory when some predetermined conditions are fulfilled (esp. above a specified point on a graduated scale). Also in more general use in contexts of work. Freq. attrib.

1967   L. B. Archer in G. Wills & R. Yearsley Handbk. Managem. Technol. 131   Usually there is a threshold between ‘good enough’ and ‘not good enough’ in respect of each objective, below which a design proposal would not be acceptable.
1971   Guardian 7 Sept. 11/2   Mr [Tom] Jackson..argued in favour of a single threshold claim on behalf of all public employees.
1972   Observer 13 Aug. 10/8   Threshold cost of living agreements could make things much happier so long as the thresholdis put fairly high and/or there is a big reduction in the effective basic level of wage settlements.
1974   Ann. Reg. 1973 14   The main features of the incomes plan [of Mr. Edward Heath] were..threshold payments of a maximum of 40p. a week if the retail price index were to rise by 7 per cent [etc.].
1976   F. Zweig New Acquisitive Society ii. iv. 108   The tax thresholds in real terms have been substantially lowered over the years.
1979   H. Wilson Final Term ii. 42   Viewed with hindsight the thresholds were a disastrous mistake. That does not in fact mean that Mr Heath had been wrong to introduce them in October 1973.
1980   J. Boyd-Carpenter Way of Life xiii. 169   The alternative relief was to make a big increase in the level of the ‘Thresholds’, that is to say the point on the income scale at which people became liable to tax.

d. An obstacle, stumbling-block. Obs.

1600   W. Cornwallis Ess. I. iv. sig. D2,   Makes his imagination build blockes and thresholdes, in the plainest and most beaten way.
?1706   E. Hickeringill Priest-craft: 2nd Pt. viii. 91   Let us set the Church Doors Wide open, and not please our sleves, by laying great Thresholds, Scandals, or Stumbling-blocks at the Church Door.
?1706   E. Hickeringill Priest-craft: 2nd Pt. vii. 70,   I hope it was left by chance, and not on purpose to be a Threshold, or Stumbling-block at the Church Door.
 3. attrib. and Comb.
1535   Bible (Coverdale2 Kings xxii. 5   The money that is brought vnto ye house of ye Lorde (which the tresholde kepers haue gathered).
a1661   B. Holyday tr. Juvenal Satyres (1673) vi. 95   The hangings too, and threshold-boughs yet green.
1678   T. Otway Friendship in Fashion v. 55   Let all the Doors be barr'd.., and Gunpowder under each Threshold-place.
1805   Scott Lay of Last Minstrel i. i. 9   No living wight, save the Ladye alone, Had dared to cross the threshold stone.
1842   Tennyson St. Simeon Stylites in Poems (new ed.) II. 62   His footsteps smite the threshold stairs Of life.

 b. (Having a value or intensity) equal to that of a threshold (sense 2c).

1906   J. R. Murlin tr. R. Tigerstedt Text-bk. Human Physiol. xvi. 455   In order that an external stimulus may produce a sensation, it must exceed a certain lower limit of strength, which is called, after Herbart, the threshold value of the stimulus.
1921   J. Mills Within Atom 215   Threshold frequency, the minimum frequency of radiation which will produce photo-electric effects.
1926   J. S. Huxley Ess. Pop. Sci. 199   It is needful, not merely that some thyroid secretion should be circulating in the body, but that it should reach a certain definite concentration, a certain ‘threshold value’.
1941   in M. Gowing Brit. & Atomic Energy 1939–45 (1964) 400   Neutrons of less than a certain threshold not cause fission of 238U.
1959   Listener 26 Nov. 929/1   It is possible that the radiation level has to exceed a critical or threshold value before any genetical effects arise.
1964   W. G. Smith Allergy & Tissue Metabolism ii. 23   The tissue response would depend upon the number of susceptible cells..reached by a threshold concentration of histamine.
1971   J. H. Smith Digital Logic iv. 69   The device is actuated when the input signal crosses a certain ‘threshold’ voltage.
1978   J. Paxton Dict. European Econ. Community (rev. ed.) 46   Imports were kept up to minimum, or threshold, prices by means of variable import levies.

 c. Electronicsthreshold devicethreshold element, etc.: a circuit element having one output and a number of inputs, each of which accepts a binary signal and multiplies it by some factor; the output is 0 or 1 depending on whether or not the sum of the resulting quantities is less than a certain threshold value; threshold function, a Boolean function that can be realized by such an element; threshold logic,threshold switching (based on such elements).

1960   IRE Trans. Electronic Computers 9 122/1   Another useful logical two-state device is a threshold element.
1960   Proc. IRE 48 1335/3   The increasing use of threshold devices such as magnetic cores and parametrons.
1961   IRE Trans. Electronic Computers 10 6/1   Linearly separable switching functions..have been studied under different names, such as..linear-input logic, threshold logic, majority logic, and voting logic.
1961   IRE Trans. Electronic Computers 10 798/2   Elementary threshold functionsi.e., functions that can be implemented by a single threshold circuit, are first characterized for the cases of 2, 3, and 4 variables.
1963   Proc. IFIP Congr. 1962 757/1   A threshold gate determines its output in two steps: a linear summation followed by a discrimination.
1964   H. C. Torng Introd. Logical Design of Switching Syst. viii. 133   Threshold switching devices are..extensively used in pattern recognition systems and perception-like automata.
1970   Z. Kohavi Switching & Finite Automata Theory vii. 183   One of the limitations of threshold logic is its sensitivity to variations in circuit parameters.
1975   N. N. Biswas Introd. Logic & Switching Theory vii. 183   In many cases where the nand or nor realizations may require a number of gates, the threshold logic may realize the function by only one gate.
1978   S. C. Lee Mod. Switching Theory iv. 117   As another simple example of a threshold function, consider f (x1x2x3) = x1x2 + x3.