One of the unexpected things to come out of lockdown is the urge to make bread. So much so that there’s been a spike in demand for flour and yeast and as a result they’re as hard to score as hand sanitiser. Folk who’ve never shown any interest in proving and kneading have developed a serious sourdough starter habit and are tending and feeding their culture like new-borns and posting the (mixed) results all over social media.
I was drawn to a story in the paper the other day about Sturminster Newton Mill in Dorset, an ancient water mill which usually operates as a tourist attraction but has started producing flour on a commercial scale to meet increased demand. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book and became a working museum after ceasing industrial operations in 1970, but miller Pete Loosmore has turned it back into a full-time operation after local grocers reported shortages. Usually the mill gets through a tonne of grain during the tourist season, but Mr Loosmore reports “this year we have got through the whole of that tonne in two to three weeks and we’re still chasing more and more grain.” It’s a story to gladden the heart.
I’m not a bread maker but my Panasonic is. Most attempts at hand-making wholemeal or even a straight white bloomer have proved pretty dismal, but then our friend the foodwriter and photographer Joan Ransley posted a picture of raisin bread made with a recipe by Michelle Stratford and my interest was piqued. Planet Leicester Bakers was founded by Michelle in 2014 to harnesses the power of handmade bread to bring local communities together and she’s made an easy-to-follow guide on IGTV to this method of fermenting the raisins – the first stages of wine-making, essentially – that she found in her mother’s 1950s South African cook book. I’m going to give it a go since it manages to combine two of my new-found interests, home baking and drinking.