Thursday, 21 April 2011

Towards a local loaf?

Over the pond in Amherst, Massachusetts the lovely people at the Wheatberry Bakery and Cafe are able to bake a local loaf using flour from traditional flour varieties grown in the valley around their bakery.  They have also set up a CSA for grain and beans, allowing people to get their staples from the local area.  Helped by their dedication to bring grain growing back to an area now considered inappropriate for wheat growing, local farms (including their own) are trialling and growing traditional wheat varieties.  A couple of years ago they were able to make a true local loaf. 

Wheatberry Cafe Local Bread.  Thanks to Adrie and Ben for permission to use this photo.

Aren't they beautiful?

You can read Ben's account of their creation here.

We're lucky to get our wheat from Northumberland, pretty local compared to the distances traveled by the majority of bread flour.  But it's one of the great ironies of the modern food system that I can see wheat being grown from our flat, but it is almost impossible to buy wheat from Fife.

We've decided to attempt to grow our own loaf in a very local way - from our back garden!  The Real Bread Campaign is having a Bake Your Lawn initiative, and we've dedicated a tiny patch of our pocket-handkerchief garden to growing a handful of seeds kindly given to the girls by Gilchesters Organic.  We've put them in.  Only one question remains - will they sprout before the pigeons find them?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Fife Spring Pie

We had three amazing bags of green in our veg box from the Pillars of Hercules last week - spinach, ruby chard and salad.  My thoughts immediately turned to Sarah Raven's version of Spanakopita, Ithaca Pie, from her Garden Cookbook.

Sarah's version was my basis, but I didn't have some of the greens she mentioned (no spring onions here yet), so I decided to go Greek and get foraging in our garden for the wild greens and herbs which make this pie zing.  I used to live in Greece as a small girl and well remember the 'horta' gatherers - usually old yayas (grandmothers) dressed in black - gathering greens from the verges.  Fortunately I'm pretty slack about dealing with dandelions and nettles, so there was plenty of horta to be gathered even in our tiny garden.

I also used my own on-going experimental wholemeal pastry recipe.  We try to avoid using refined flour in our cooking, and having discovered the technique of soaking wholemeal pasty flour in yoghurt, I have to say, it's no hardship.  In the past I have found wholemeal pastry to be a little claggy in the mouth, but soaking seams to deal with this issue.  I'll give you my pastry recipe below, but it is a work in progress and I'd welcome any comments.

I wanted to have a Fife Pie, so I made some substitutions from Sarah Raven's version of the Greek.  I used Anster instead of feta, which proved to be a delicious substitution, and pinhead oatmeal instead of rice.

Fife Spring Pie.

750-1000g mix of spinach, chard or other spring green leaves - I also used nettles and dandelion leaves, and a mixed salad bag.
Large bunch fennel (our fennel is just shooting up at the moment, you could also use dill)
Large bunch flat leave parsley
Large bunch mint
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
300ml olive oil
A handful of Welsh onion shoots - or you could use a lot of chives, or some spring onions
2 leeks, finely chopped
100-150g of pinhead oatmeal (the higher amount if your greens are very wet)
200g Anster cheese (or your local cheese of choice), chopped small (0.5cm dice)
Salt and black pepper

Wholemeal rough-flaky pastry (see below for recipe) - you need to make this the day before.

First, saute the onion and garlic in a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan, until golden.
Using rubber gloves, wash the nettles and remove from the water to drain, if using.
Then wash and remove any tough stalks from spinach and chard.  Wash the other greens.
Chop the greens and finely chop the herbs.
Add to the onions all the greens, herbs and Welsh onions, spring onions, leeks, as you are using them.  Jam on the lid and allow to steam for about five minutes, until the greens have collapsed.

Add the olive oil, oatmeal and salt and pepper.  Mix well.  Remove from the heat.

Pre-heat the oven to 160C.

Butter a small roasting tin you estimate will take your greens (about 40x40x4cm).
Using half your pastry, roll it out as thin as you can (couple of mm.), and line the buttered tin with it, there should be plenty hanging over the edge.
Roll out the other half thinly also.
Put the filling into the pastry case and sprinkle over the cheese.
Brush the pastry edge with water and manoeuvre the other bit of pastry over the top to form a lid. 

Pinch the two layers of pastry together all around the edge, trim the pastry, leaving a generous couple of cm of crimped together pastry, and brush a little olive oil over the top.

Bake for around an hour.

Allow to cool a little before eating.  We also had a great picnic with the leftovers the next day.

 Wholemeal rough-flaky pastry

This recipe is an combination of the yoghurt pastry from Nourishing Traditions and Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall's rough puff pastry from Everyday

525g wholemeal pastry flour (I like Doves Farm)
1 tsp salt
About 350g live, full-fat yoghurt
250g cold butter

Mix the salt into the flour
Cut the butter into small dice and mix into the flour until the butter bits are well coated with flour and well distributed.  Add the yoghurt, beginning with 250g.  At this point you really need to get your hands involved - mix until all the yoghurt has been taken up into the flour.  You want to use as little yoghurt as possible, but you do need all the flour to be incorporated.  Add the remaining yoghurt as necessary, little by little, until the flour and butter mix holds together.

Now leave a room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.

When you want to use the pastry, squash it into a roughly rectangular block on a well floured surface.  With a rolling pin squish and roll it into a flatish rectangle (it will be very crumbly and hard to work at this point) which should be in portrait view on your work surface.  Fold into three, top down then bottom up.  Turn and repeat.  Repeat another four times, but which time the pastry should be soft and easy to work.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Avocado Sweet

Last week we were visited by Jane and Michelle from Scottish style blog, Avocado Sweet.

You can read their piece on the bakery here

It makes me feel terribly modern, being interviewed for a blog!

Friday, 1 April 2011

The First Proper Bake

The oven got its second try out today, as Matthew baked a 'lucky dip' for the Bread Clubs.  We didn't take any orders - he just baked a selection and took them round to the hub households.  I'm sure he'll give you an update soon on how the oven is working, but I thought I'd share a couple of pictures from the bake today.

Here's Matthew wielding his new peel to free a couple of little hearth loaves which had got stuck behind a massive tray of oat loaves.  They were successfully liberated, and eaten by the girls - sliced while still warm and spread with butter - in pretty short order.

And Bloomers on a rack cooling before going of to the Bread Clubs.

We're looking forward to getting back to normal baking and expanding the Bread Clubs now the oven is basically done.  There are a couple of tweaks necessary, but it feels like we can look beyond to roller-coaster ride of oven building to steady baking.