Sourdough September 2020

It’s a very different Sourdough September this year. To me, flour and bread baking have been emblematic of Lockdown, and perhaps an appreciation of the fact that flour needs to be sown, grown, harvested, and milled before it can be brought to the shelves of our supermarkets and farm shops has filtered in to the public consciousness. I have been doing my best to buy my flour from independent producers such as Hodmedod’s, who are providing a market for niche products, and encouraging a wider range of grains to be used in baking. I recently tried their Emmer wheat as an alternative to rice which I can thoroughly recommend. Speaking of Emmer, there is this recipe for a Bavarian Plum Cake from Gilchester’s Organics which I really want to try, but it’ll be a race to see whether the wasps get to my friend’s plum tree first…

Vicky and I are running our Sourdough Tales workshops again as we are able to socially-distance in her large farmhouse kitchen, and we look forward to welcoming and encouraging people on their sourdough journey. My rye starter, or “mother”, has had a few ups and downs as we had a heatwave here and it just does not cope well in high temperatures (takes after its owner…) even though I kept it in the fridge, but I understand that white starters dealt with the heat a bit more favourably. I did have to help my sourdough loaves out with a teaspoon of baker’s yeast as it was very petulant for a week or two! No point in being too much of a purist and making life difficult though.

I last loaf I baked made me think about how “involved” bread-making can be. My starter is fed on Hodmedod’s rye flour which is grown in Cambridgeshire. I used the cooking liquor from some chickpeas instead of plain water, and those chickpeas were grown in Norfolk. I think I have mentioned before in a previous blog that to grow wheat organically requires a rotation of a soil-restoring crop as it depletes the soil – hence the need for constant applications of artificial fertilisers and FYM in conventional farming systems. Growing legumes is far better than topical applications of crop nutrition as it feeds the soil bacteria and avoids the significant issue of run-off, but it takes a year out of wheat production. Of course it does produce a valuable food crop, just not one that can be used for making bread and contributing to our wheat-obsessed culture. I topped the loaf with chia seeds, grown in Essex. My strong organic white is a blend of untreated UK and continental wheats, bought by the sack from Shipton Mill. I baked it in my large Netherton Foundry spun iron casserole.

Compare this to a sliced white loaf in a plastic bag from the supermarket…I really love our workshops as they enable people to feel sourdough is something ‘normal’ and it becomes something they bake frequently. I love hearing that those who came to our courses last year are still baking successfully – with the same starter.

This new year (I find September a better time for new starts than January; it’s the whole new school year thing) I want to experiment with more alternative grains in my bread. I’ve not used my KitchenAid mill as much as I’d have liked so I will be dusting that off and putting it to work with some of the barley, rye and ancient wheat variety grains I have in my store cupboard.

How have your loaves performed while we’ve been home a bit more? Has your frequency of baking during lockdown improved your skills? I am sure sourdough starters thrive on attention!

Please see my Sourdough Tales tab on the main website menu if you’re local and would like to attend one of our workshops.

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