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Column: XX Notes – Dusting Off the Bread-maker… and the Bread-making Machine

Published on: 3 May, 2020
Updated on: 23 Jul, 2020

Maria Rayner

There are too few women on The Dragon team so we are delighted to welcome back Maria Rayner with a new column from a woman’s perspective but of interest to everyone.

Waitrose has white bread flour in stock, hang on a sec, oh no, it’s sold out again.

But last week (Or was it the week before? Time is hazy in the age of lockdown), I finally managed to score a bag of the white stuff. Not yeast of course, that’s modern gold dust, but who needs yeast? So 2019. Back on March 26 I joined a Facebook live sourdough course and my life changed.

How did it start? Confined to the house, with two large teenaged boys to feed, I brought down the breadmaker from its dusty perch in the utility room. Fill them up with carbs, was the idea. When I was a more organised SAHM and made a loaf every other day, I kept all the ingredients in a large Tupperware container. How time flies. It was all still there but the yeast was best before 31/5/17.

Age is just a number, right? Wrong. The resulting loaf was as menopausal as the baker: rather dry and lumpy in all the wrong places, certainly unattractive to an adolescent.

First loaf – pure wholemeal. As menopausal as the baker.

Desperate measures were needed.

I consulted the WhatsApp group of friends previously known as ‘Woodland Walks. “You have yeast?” exclaimed one. “Please tell me where you found flour?” pleaded another. “The starter from my sourdough course in Wales may still be active,” soothed Alice, always ahead of the game where self-sufficiency is involved.
When she’d returned from the course, it sounded relaxing and the results were tasty but seemed to require spare time and effort that pre-Covid-19 I didn’t possess.

Now, suddenly everyone is talking about sourdough. Stephen Fry on twitter, Jane Garvey risked her career by dismissing it on Woman’s Hour, so when my sister-in-law suggested joining in with her friend’s course: Lockdown Sourdough, making a starter from scratch, via FB live, I had no more excuses and plenty of time. Besides, the boys were eating for Surrey.

I won’t bore you with all the gory details, who knew there were so many ways to bake bread? It’s like childbirth, a different experience for everyone, and every bread baby is an individual too. But the starter is pretty easy to make from scratch, if you can get your hands on flour.

Bee, our teacher, recommends Strong Canadian, but mine started with Sainsbury’s basics plain with a tablespoon of out-of-date Sharpham Park spelt and rye and was “fed” with anything I could get my hands on.

That’s better! Mixed seed and white loaf – (Wessex Mill – scored from Secretts farm shop).

Turns out wild yeast isn’t fussy. In the early days, you build it up by alternating feeding with discarding. If you keep the “discard” in a tub in the fridge you can add egg and milk and make amazingly fluffy American pancakes. Nothing’s wasted, it’s the new wartime kitchen.

Back to flour. According to The National Association of British and Irish Millers (Nabim), mills are “working round the clock” to supply the nation’s new obsession with home-baking; the 125-year-old family-owned Wessex Mill, a brand popular in village stores surrounding Guildford, has become a 24-hour operation.

One problem is that the demand for flour is similar post-isolation, but the size of packaging required by supermarkets is smaller than hotels and restaurants, who rarely order smaller than a 16kg bag. A neighbour isolating with her family of five, plus her temporarily homeless in-laws, desperate for flour and confident of using a 25kg bag direct from a mill fairly quickly, double-clicked and ended up with 50kg. A complicated divvying of resources followed, involving doorsteps, plastic boxes and bleach wipes.

It was an operation as risky as any drug baron’s, with the new police lockdown powers, and normally law-abiding domestic goddesses feared a tap on the shoulder when retrieving their packages.

Week Six and we’re all adjusting to a slower pace of life, using new technology for working and socialising, and traditional methods to obtain and cook food. But I must go now: a quiz to prepare for tonight’s Zoom party and the veggie patch to water.

(SAHM, you ask? That’s a Stay-At-Home-Mum)

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test 3 Responses to Column: XX Notes – Dusting Off the Bread-maker… and the Bread-making Machine

  1. Isabel Woodhams Reply

    May 4, 2020 at 9:35 am

    Wonderful read, Maria. Your bread looks fantastic. I hope you manage to have some yourself after the hungry boys have been at it.

  2. Emily Woodhams Reply

    May 4, 2020 at 9:36 am

    That loaf looks stunning!

  3. Rachel Sligo-Young Reply

    May 4, 2020 at 9:50 am

    Very entertaining. Perhaps I’ll get round to it when lockdowns over!

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