It all started when… All my courses have a history, a reason for beginning, a lot of planning and preparation and the usual marketing and promotion, but my bread making ones simply began ‘due to popular demand’. That was some 6 years ago and they have been evolving and (hopefully!) improving ever since. People want to learn to bake bread nowadays. My mother baked bread – up every morning at 5am to make wholemeal bread for our family – you really couldn’t get a good loaf of bread in those days (that was only a few years ago of course!) and wholemeal bread and flour could only be obtained from health food shops – imagine that. We had compulsory cookery lessons at school, and fortunately it now seems to be ‘back on the menu’ in many schools, but there are still those who weren’t given this opportunity so are really keen to learn as adults.
Everyone says it’s the TV personalities like Paul Hollywood who have popularised bread making, but I feel there’s a lot more to it than that. After all, you can’t learn to bake bread while gazing into those lovely blue eyes! (They are rather nice as I discovered a few weeks ago at the BBC Good Food Show in Harrogate!!). Since I started teaching bread making I have discovered a multitude of reasons why people want to learn to bake it, but probably the overall major reason is that people are now very aware of what is going in their food. And supermarket bread is no exception – full of all sorts of ‘added extras’ – just watch Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the River Cottage Bread DVD and you’ll get the full line-up of chemicals in an average loaf of sliced white. My favourite line is this when he says ‘”flavour enhancer – that’s the saddest of them all. Bread should taste of its own lovely wholesome flour and if you can’t deliver that in a loaf, what’s the point? Do we really need all this rubbish in our daily bread?” The Real Bread Campaign does just that and was set up to fight ‘for better bread in Britain’ and to find ‘ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet’. I’ve just had a look at their website – it’s full of useful information – here it is – http://www.sustainweb.org/realbread/.
Today is Earth Day So how can we find ways of making bread that helps the planet? Well, this is something I feel really passionate about – we are so incredibly lucky here in Lincolnshire. We have so many windmills which mill their own flour – I get mine from several different ones. The flour is so unlike anything you get on the supermarket shelves – for a start it is stoneground and very soft and silky. The type I get is organic, which I place as really important, is unbleached, has no added ingredients, is freshly milled and it is all milled locally using wind power! What more could you want from a flour? This is really worth shouting about! Especially on Earth Day!
A little chemistry lesson The Real Bread Campaign people list the ‘necessary’ ingredients of Real Bread as Flour, Water, Yeast (either commercial or a natural sourdough starter), and Salt. You can add other things like seeds, nuts, cheese, milk, malt extract, herbs, oils, fats and dried fruits as long as they don’t contain any artificial additives. They add that Real Bread should not contain “any processing aids, artificial additives (which includes most flour ‘improvers’, dough conditioners and preservatives), chemical leavening (e.g. baking powder) or, well, artificial anything.” The list of some of the added chemicals makes your mind boggle – E481 (sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate), E472e (mono- and diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), E920 (l-cysteine), E282 (calcium propionate), E220 (potassium sorbate), E300 (ascorbic acid), E260 (acetic acid) soya flour, vegetable fat and dextrose, phospholipase, fungal alpha amylase, transglutaminase, xylanase, maltogenic amylase, hemicellulase, oxidase, peptidase and protease … There’s more on their website. That’s all very heavy stuff! If everyone knew what went in their bread I’d have people knocking on my door demanding more bread making courses! And talking about heavy, there’s another thing – many people say that their attempts at making bread haven’t been successful as the bread has been too heavy. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be – well, not like a brick exactly, but it is never going to be like a supermarket loaf – they’re only like that because of all those chemicals!
And here’s another thing… That’s all very heavy stuff! If everyone knew what went in their bread I’d have people knocking on my door demanding more bread making courses! And talking about heavy, there’s another thing – many people say that their attempts at making bread haven’t been successful as the bread has been too heavy. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be – well, not like a brick exactly, but it is never going to be like a supermarket loaf – they’re only like that because of all those chemicals! Making your own bread is a wonderful yet simple skill – it is an amazing and almost magical moment when you see simple ingredients coming together to produce a beautiful loaf of bread! Do you know, I think the process of making bread, touching it, kneading it and creating something that feels, smells and tastes great is just about as good as it gets! And I think it actually changes the way people feel. As soon as bread making novices start gaining a little confidence in what they are doing and get their hands stuck into that sticky dough, they start to relax and laugh and joke. An amazing transformation.
Next time…and the next time after that… I wrote a short piece for the Lincolnshire Life magazine a few years ago about the history of bread-making and want to write all about it here, but I think it will have to wait for another time. I promise it won’t be just another history lesson!
It’s Real Bread week next month (14th – 22nd May) and I’m celebrating by adding on some extra courses, please see website. More about this in my next blog…or the one after the next one!