Category Archives: self sufficiency

Gorse Flower Syrup

05/05/2015

Becky and I yesterday walked for what seemed a long distance but was really only a few miles taking in the views of the Shropshire countryside from the rock hills of Stiperstones ridge, we watched the clouds change with the weather whilst being treated to a natural landscape which reminded me of how beautiful British countryside can be.

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On the decline we picked a carrier bag full of Gorse flowers, it was a warm day so the smell of Gorse was in the breeze which gave off the scent of coconut and Summer holidays. Gorse can be found all over the British countryside, it flowers throughout the year but it’s best to pick new blossom in April or May. It’s also a very spiny bush, we didn’t have gloves but I would recommend using some when picking.

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Today I used the flowers to make a syrup for a cordial or to be drizzled over vanilla ice cream. Below is a simple recipe which has a few different recipes amalgamated off the Internet.

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Gorse Flower Syrup

  • 4 handfuls of gorse flowers or half a carrier bag full
  • 250g of caster sugar
  • 1 lemon juiced and the zest of 1 orange.
  • 500ml of water

Boil on a rolling boil the sugar and water for 10 minutes to create a syrup, after the 10 minutes in a large bowl pour the sugar syrup over the gorse flowers add the orange zest and lemon juice. Steep the flowers overnight or throughout the day. Once the petals have been steeped, place the flowers over another bowl and squash all the flowers through a fine sieve, add as much pressure as possible – there will be around 500ml of syrup with the recipe measurements. Pour into a sterilised bottle and store in a cool dark place.

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Sourdough bread, and why you should bake it

28/04/2015

Yesterday evening I refreshed my sourdough starter before dinner and then built a preferment with flour, water and some of the starter. This morning, I woke up and used that preferment  adding flour, water, salt to then make one of my weekly breads. The bread was kneaded and then bulk fermented in my cool kitchen for just under 11 hours, the dough was then preshaped when I got back from work and then rested for 15 minutes. It was then placed in a circular banneton for its final prove until it was baked on ceramic tiles at the temperature of 230c with a first initial steaming for 10 minutes. Over all the whole process lasted just under 24 hours but really in actual ‘doing something’ time it was for about 20 minutes with 40 minutes baking time.

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I have been making sourdough bread and managing my own sourdough starter for just over 2 years. The first few months due to the plethora of information, and a little over zealousness, I got quite a few things wrong but had a few lucky and addictive moments a long the way. However, since learning the basics properly and getting to grips with some simple rules and understanding the management of a sourdough culture it has been a fantastic learning journey of baking real bread.

Sourdough bread is special, in simple terms it tastes incredible and it is bread that has a story far from supermarket bread. Imagine bread that has a full-bodied texture, a crumb which is soft and chewy and a crust that crackles loudly. Sourdough bread has its own character, it has an identity and each loaf from a bakery or a home is different in its own special way, it becomes part of the environment it has come from and the hands it has been made with.

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A lot of people who try sourdough bread baking place it in a  landscape of mythical magic. To be blunt, it is none of these. It just takes time, a little science and a bit of practice. When I make a good loaf of bread it creates in me an internal emotional reaction of pride and ability but also I feel safe in the knowledge I am being kind to my body, avoiding the countless additives and scary E numbers whilst also respecting the world by using organic flours, non chemical salt and fresh water.

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Like all good hobbies, researching and testing out ideas as well as enjoying the process of learning is important in bread baking. I am keen to upload a few recipes or things to try but at the moment I feel it is worth offering some advice and information on what helped me gather my own knowledge. There are some excellent websites, books and courses that have helped me, reflecting back they continue to be gold mines of information. If you do want to know more below are some recommendations on resources that I feel have been invaluable to my sourdough bread making process.

River Cottage Handbook – Bread

Written by River Cottage HQ baker Dan Stevens this book examines the ingredients and equipment needed to make bread, it explains the bread making process and also teaches you how to bake different types of breads including sourdough. What I found most valuable was the breakdown and steps of the bread baking task and the explanations of shaping and dough management. I used this book for months on end to make bread which was mainly with shop bought yeast but the lessons of bread science were invaluable. I always refer people to this book if they want to learn to bake bread, quite honestly it was a game changer for my kitchen, allowing me to understand bread baking and why it is so important.

Weekend Bakery Website

When I got to the point where I needed to stop making just OK sourdough bread I found The Weekend Bakery website through a recommendation on twitter, similar to the River Cottage handbook this website teaches the keen baker on improving their skills and developing as a home baker. Weekend Bakery refers to being ‘serious about artisan bread making. We have our own ‘at home micro bakery’. Making bread in small quantities with time and attention will deliver great and rewarding results’. I have never had an issue or problem with the WCB sourdough pain naturel bread recipe and I feel this is due to recipe instructions being clear and easy to understand without technical lingo. The website also has excellent photos, videos and a great comments section which is useful to gather a further understanding and sharing of information. I’d also recommend the rye starter plan and tips, I have followed the initial measurements with my own wheat starter which has kept it bubbling away nicely.

Andrew Whitley – Bread Matters: Why and How to Make Your Own

Andrew Whitley is a real bread evangelist, hero and campaigner. He teaches the reader about bread in its current state in the world but also flips that information to how the reader can make healthy and nutritious bread at home. 25 years of baking has led him to sharing his skills with passion and authority. He explains the science and offers a large amount of recipes, rye breads, sourdough, festive breads and also enriched bread too.

Real Bread Campaign

I love the Real Bread website it is a vessel of information. I love their page on what is real bread especially. It has information on baking groups, recipes and also a real bread bakery finder map. I would also urge membership subscription if possible.

Learn to bake Real Bread on a course

I have attended 2 bread baking courses, both of which were invaluable to understand the basics and understand what is needed to make bread well. Being taught from a baker in a group setting and learning the skills with a hands on approach (some of which are generations old) to bake bread helped me develop confidence to bake at home, going on a sourdough baking course taught me the finer details as well as the importance of understanding skills like water temperature management and starter maintenance.  If I can make only one recommendation for learning this  I feel would be the most useful.

I am keen to hear from other people who are interested in baking sourdough bread, to answer any questions/share tips, or just to chat to people who are baking bread too. Have you made sourdough bread, do you have any tips for readers or information to share ?

Welcome

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22/04/2015

Welcome to my new blog, this blog has been set up as an online diary and ode to my exploration of self-sufficiency, my love of real food, gardening, growing and my learning about all of this. I live in a small mid terrace in South Birmingham with my girlfriend Becky, we moved in to this house 14 months ago and inherited an unused vegetable patch, some ragged fruit trees and a lawn.

Since then we have placed 2 chickens on that lawn, nourished the soil accordingly and last year had our first growing season with some great results. We are aiming towards developing the house and garden which can support our kitchen with delicious food and improve our knowledge to support our ideas of working towards a more sustainable home which is simplified in living and shows respect towards low impact life. Cutting down food miles, reducing wasteful processes and enjoying it along the way can’t be a bad thing.

I hope this blog will give some order to my learning, every journey has a start and I hope this will show as time goes on that its worth doing these things, ideas become solutions and solutions can become positive to the world around us.

That is it for now, my first awkward blog post done, back soon with updates.

Tom