Today, Saturday the 9th of March, is the first of the season of breadmaking courses scheduled up at Allendale Bakery in Sparty Lea, if the snowfall stays wet and gentle.
For over a decade, Carrie Winger has been baking bread for a local consumer market, distributing loaves at first door-to-door, then from the new bakery at Allen Mill, moving back to a home-based bakery at Elpha Green, and finally retiring gracefully into the sunset, except for one crucial thing: training new breadmakers!
The Breadmaking for Beginners courses are among the most popular offerings, and scores of new bakers have gone through the day-long training session, which uses both fresh and dried yeast approaches, as well as a variety of traditional ferments (sponge), overnight proving, and more rapid two phase proves from morning to afternoon, extending by the end of the day to the age-old, quick and cheerful Irish soda bread technique.
More experienced breadmakers particularly relish the challenges of creating exquisite sourdough loaves, in the ‘Sourdough Techniques’ course. The term ‘sourdough’ comes from the days of the San Francisco gold rush, when the miners would carry a bit of ‘ferment’ along with them to make their own, quite sour, bread on the trail. These days, the ferment and new associated techniques result in a loaf with a satisfying ‘tang’ and taste, but with a rise, crumb and wholesome flavour that is very satisfying, especially for those with an intolerance to gluten. It’s said, notably by bread master Andrew Whitley, that the longer ferments and proves associated with ‘real bread‘ reduce the native gluten in wheat flour to its natural constituents, thereby breaking down the substituents that are both challenging to digest and immunogenic, a process that rapid commercial processes cannot achieve.
Carrie may not be producing bread for sale any longer, but she loves the whole process of laying on these breadmaking courses. She’s learned a variety of breadmaking traditions, including French, Italian (including pasta), Scandinavian, Mediterranean Flat Breads, and breads for festive occasions (Christmas and Easter). So she has a wealth of knowledge to pass on to her fascinated pupils. Some have come back for four or five sessions! It seems a little eccentric to run a bakery breadmaking school up in the far fellsides of Sparty Lea, but the process is more of a refinement of ‘the good life‘ than anything else, as the Sunday Times has noted in a slightly bizarre puff piece.
So this diary entry goes out as the big wood fire dies down in the three tray oven, so that the surrounding stone walls, floor and ceiling will ever so gently reduce in temperature until the precisely perfect ambient conditions are right for the gently rising loaves of the day’s course to softly enter the chamber, only to emerge beautifully risen, golden-brown crusty and flavourfully unctuous in crumb inside, to exalt the new breadmakers and encourage them to bring all their newly-learned techniques home. Today the participants include a grandfather, his son, and his grandson, all learning how to make and bake bread. As the loaves cool, we might take the new breadmakers on a life-style tour of the fellside garden, examining the hedgerows where loganberries grow, and where a new selection of raspberry canes are getting ready to sprout.
It’s no wonder Carrie lives her days in such a calm and pleasant way, when she can surround herself with the basics of life: a loaf of her own bread, a bottle of her own hedgerow berry wine, and a partner of her own choosing, me!