Virtuous Bread

February 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

It is a Sunday evening and I’m contentedly sitting at home enjoying a steaming bowl of kale and onion soup from a bowl potted by Rob Bibby (a warmly received wedding gift from a dear friend) and munching on a very delicious slice of buttered homemade courgette and sage spelt bread. Homemade, that is, by ME. The first loaf of bread that I have EVER baked has turned out remarkably well and truth be told, I do feel a little virtuous.

But niggling in back of my mind is perplexion as to why I have never attempted it before, what with being nearly 35. Bread has always been an integral part of my life – as nourishment but also in how it relates to my polish heritage. Brought up in West London as part of a strong polish community, the bread on our table (usually rye) was sourced from one of the many local polish delis and its symbolism, in particular for my father, born in Krakow, was in its ties to our homeland.

Despite its importance, the skill of actually making bread was never passed down to me. Luckily, in the spirit of reclaiming the artisan craft of baking, I was given the inspired present of a bread baking lesson with Jane Mason, founder of Virtuous Bread and my endearing and infectiously enthusiastic demystifier of ‘the loaf’. Thanks to Jane, I have achieved something I have been wanting to do for years.

Last Saturday morning, I broke out of NW6 and headed south under a crisp blue sky, over a bottle green Hammersmith Bridge and in to Jane’s home in Barnes to cash in my present. Below is a photo diary of the day – make sure you scroll past if for more about Virtuous Bread!

Our day started with a welcome cup of tea, chat about the neighbourhood and life by the river ~ Jane clearly connects with her locality through her bread as reflected by her unique knowledge of the area . The kitchen balcony flung open, river flowing and starboard stroke rowers sweeping peacefully past us, we set to work. Deciding upon spelt, rye and wholemeal as our preferred flours, we added water, yeast and salt and then a pause and chance to quiz our teacher with bread related questions – as Jane says, the brilliant thing about making bread is that there is a lot of time when you don’t have to do anything because the bread is doing something on its own. 15 minutes later, our yeast active, we got to kneading…by far my favourite part of the day and from witnessing my mother and sister’s technique…the first demostration of why each loaf of bread is different! There are so many factors that contribe to the the final product from kneading to oven temperature to the amount of down time that you give your dough ~ each loaf is as individual as its maker.

More down time. Whilst our dough rose, we sank ~ into comfy chairs where we feasted on a delicious lunch and chin wagged and daydreamed about world bread domination. Jane not only runs courses but bakes in schools, hospitals, prisons and is also in the process of finding a site for a pop-up DIY bakery where anyone can come to use a communal oven and create their own masterpieces. Virtuous bread also supports ‘Bread Angels’ who want to set up their own home baking business and the website is dedicated to providing a knowledge bank of all things bread, demystifying the baking process and creating a community of likeminded bakers. In her own words, “Virtuousbread.com gives back to society and forges the link between eating well and doing good by using bread and bread events as catalysts for social change. Baking and baking bread brings people together. It is an act of creation that is quickly shared and always appreciated, feeding us in every way.”

The next stage was all about stretching, folding, rolling, stretching, folding, rolling and finally rolling into a tight sausage to beautifully fit into a greased tin – one I had prepared earlier of course. Baked for 45 minutes in Jane’s beautiful swedish oven, our loaves emerged picture perfect and warmly received.

Most of us will have read about the intensive processing of industrial bread on supermarket shelves or mock high street bakeries – packed with additives and fat in order that the production line may be sped up and shelf life extended. Known as the ‘Chorleywood process’ even its name sound like some distopian nightmare and this alone should inspire everyone to take up the mantle of making their own bread at home or with an excellent teacher such as Jane.

Our bounty in hand and brimming with pride we said our goodbyes with promises of following up on all the ideas we had come up with during this wonderful day. In all the excitement we forgot the bananas Jane offered us from her surplus, but I’m sure with her enterprising skill and imagination she put them to good use somehow.

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