The last few days I seem to have spent either all my time in the middle of a hedge getting stung to high heaven by the most pernicious nettles or in the kitten baking bread and making jellies. While the weather is fine I’m getting out before the fruit spoils and generally as long as I’ve gotten up early I can prepare the starter for bread so I can juggle baking and foraging quite happily.
This is the latest bread, I’m finding scoring the dough with a star helps it to rise more evenly (it also has the bonus of looking pretty).
I keep my starter in the bottom of the fridge, and tend to take it out a couple of hours before I use it so it has a chance to come up to room temperature.
My recipe for bread has become much less strict since using the natural starter though I measure out the ingredients at the start it’s all pretty flexible…
125 – 150 g of bread flour (I always use flour from Shipton Mill)
100 – 125 g of oats (rolled or a mix of rolled and giant)
a dollop of honey straight form the jar
200 g of natural starter
just under 400 ml of warm water
a grated apple (a medium baking apple is good but I’ve used granny smith sized apples from the garden too)
then I add a small teaspoon of dry yeast as I find this makes for a better crumb and although I know this means I’m not making a proper sourdough, I don’t think the bread police are going to come round and take the bread away…my boyfriend likes it this way and as far as I’m concerned that’s what counts.
After those ingredients have been mixed, I’ll cover the bowl with a cloth and just leave it to bubble away and do it’s thing. Over time I’ve experimented a bit and have found it likes being left alone…this is when I can go out with my basket and forage.
Once the starter has bubbled up nicely and has become a sponge (I’ll have left it between 2 and 3 hours so can get on with other things) I add other ingredients to make the bread dough. I used to just throw in a handful of seeds but I’ve since read that it’s better if you grind them, you can absorb more from the seeds if they are broken down. I bought a sesame seed grinder some years ago from a local health food store and it doesn’t take long for the seeds to break down against the ridges on the inside of the bowl, and become like a thick flour. Sesame and sunflower are the seeds I tend to add the most.
Then I just add a handful of flour, a good pinch of sea salt, and a glug of oil, and just begin working the sponge into a dough, adding more flour while it’s so sticky, first off with a spatula and then once the dough comes together then it’s turned out on a work surface where I’ll knead it til it feels ready.
I find it likes another 2 to 3 hours for rising, sometimes a bit more if it’s overcast then once it’s doubled in size, I gently knock it back and wrap it in a floured muslin cloth and place it in a proving basket on top of the oven for 40 minutes before turning the oven on and letting that hat up before turning out the bread on a baking tray, scoring the top and baking it for however long it needs between 50 – 55 minutes)…
It all sounds like a palaver as I can start the sponge around 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning and not take the finished loaf out the oven til sometime 8.30 in the evening but it’s actually very easy and relaxing to make, and I quite like planning out my time on a bread day.
All around the village where we live are hedgerows which are scattered with crab apples and wildlings, this tree is just near the local school and with the assistance of an old crocked walking stick I bought the other year from a charity shop, I was able to reach the higher branches where the bigger sized apples were to be found. They’re a bit tart for eating as is, but I’m thinking to slice one with a bramley for a crumble for his pudding tomorrow (the weather is meant to be rotten so I’m thinking a hot pudding will be appreciated.) The tree was surrounded by fierce little nettles and my ankles are still all tingley some days later.
And just under the wildling is everything else you need for a hedgerow jam, fat purple sloes and red haws. The haws tend to be more suitable for a savory jelly, or fruit cheese to have alongside cheese or cold cuts , however as they’re full of pectin, a couple of handfuls thrown in amongst other berries will help a jam to set.
I read a brilliant piece by Alys Fowler a while back about using them in a ketchup and I’m quite tempted as the hedgerows around here are just full of bright red haws.
We also have a fair few guelder rose trees out on the marshes but I know well enough to leave those alone. When we were out the other weekend picking blackberries we saw a squirrel guarding his guelder rose tree, he really chittered down at us while he held the biggest cluster of berries between his little hands.
In between bread doughs rising and apple jellies setting I’ve been knitting up a dish cloth for one of my sisters….it’s a pattern that I wrote a couple of years ago and is so easy that even I can knit it (though I have to write out which row I’m on or I confuse myself and need to use a handful of stitch markers or I’d be purling when I’m meant to be knitting and vice versa…)
It’s a combination of garter stitch and stockingette stitch with a little heart motif in the centre made with moss stitch.
Normally I just use a ball of craft cotton from Christine’s knitting stall on Norwich Market (stalls 130/131/144/145) or one of those reels of kitchen string from a local ironmongers, but a while back I found this giant size ball of string in a charity shop for pence so thought I’d give it a home as it’s perfect for dish cloths. (I’ve already made one from it and think I’ll get another three from it.)
I know it seems daft to knit dish cloths but I’m not a very confident knitter so knitting these helps me practice my stitches even though I know I am very very slow and I dread to think how long it would take me to knit up anything more substantial. I’d knitted just up to the motif then had forgotten about it but while writing out the answers and questions for the Liebster award nomination (thank you again Zeens and Roger) I remembered it and thought how that jumper will only ever remain a dream unless if I practice more.