We write monthly for the magazine Bridport Times. To see this article as originally published, view the pages on Issue.
Written by Rosie Gilchrist
If you were to wander into elevenses at Tamarisk Farm there is a fairly high chance you’d encounter some home-made bread being eaten, with some accompanying ‘bread chat’. The chat arises because once you start baking ‘real bread’ it can get pretty geeky; every loaf can be analysed and deliberated over. It also turns out that, in growing several good grains and processing them here on the farm, we are doing something quite uncommon. It attracts a small but keen community of bakers and bread and grain enthusiasts. We grow well-chosen, mostly old, varieties that have not been over- bred for the modern baking industry, mill them on an old stone mill here at the farm, and sell directly to loyal customers at the farm shop and a few other locations.
We first got whiff of this celebration in 2016, after Adam came back inspired from a conference, ‘Farm to Loaf ’. Always keen to add more activity that helps people understand the farm, Adam and I leapt at the opportunity to find a way for Tamarisk to engage with a cause we support fervently. So, braving the February cold, we turned up to Bridport’s Saturday market with flour and bread for sale, bread recipes and jars of sourdough starter to give away, and plenty of reading material for passers-by to peruse. And, of course, ready to natter with fellow bread enthusiasts.
It turns out that getting one’s hands on heritage, wholemeal, unbleached, organic, stone-ground flour is remarkably tricky. As we’ve met more and more people keen to be baking with some of our flour, it’s become apparent that there is something special here to talk more widely about. And that’s how we’ve ended up as Real Bread Week supporters and why you’ll see us with a stall at Bridport’s Saturday market during Real Bread Week.
In order to understand what makes Tamarisk flour different and why it’s well suited to this odd-sounding entity ‘real bread’, it might be helpful to briefly explain what wrapped sliced bread is. Now, this ‘ordinary’ bread isn’t as basic as it might sound; it actually undergoes pretty technical manufacturing called the Chorleywood process. Devised in the 1960s to radically increase the speed of bread production in the UK, this industrial process gives us our common loaf: white, light, squidgy, long-lasting and bland. Hidden in that fluffy cuboid, however, is a whole host of things never before encountered in bread.
In brief, non-technical terms, without the E-numbers and chemical jargon, here are some of the unknowns in this relatively new kind of bread that wouldn’t have been found pre-1960’s and won’t be found in the current wave of real bread. Fat is added to improve loaf volume, crumb softness and help bread last longer. Minerals and vitamins are added to replace those removed in processing. Several flour treatment agents are added including: bleach, which makes white flour whiter, oxidising agents which retain gas in the loaf, reducing agents which make dough stretchier, emulsifiers to control the size of gas bubbles and enable the dough to hold more gas and therefore grow bigger, and preservatives to extend shelf life.
There is definitely something going for bread made in this way: lots of it can be produced at a low price and it has a longer ‘sell-by’ period in the supermarket. These make it accessible and affordable. The team behind the Real Bread Campaign have been getting the message out about bread made without the use of processing aids or any other artificial additives, bread which they call ‘real’ bread. They say it is better for us, for our communities and for our planet. Oh, and it tastes better too!
And this is where the flour grown and milled at Tamarisk Farm comes into the picture. The campaign advocates bread made using wholemeal or less refined flours. Such flours, with the bran still present, have retained much more nutritional goodness. This includes fibre and a range of vitamins and minerals. The campaign proposes that it should be stone-ground because stones mill the grain more slowly, hence the process does not overly heat the resulting flour. Modern industrial-scale metal roller-mills generate heat so the fat in the germ of the grain oxidises, leading to the flour becoming rancid and much of the vitamin content being destroyed. The campaign also suggests using certified organic flour because they recognise the benefits of grain grown without a plethora of chemicals, whether that’s herbicides, fungicides, pesticides or petrochemical-based fertilisers. This description matches our flour neatly. Finally, they encourage bread to be made with a long fermentation process, preferably with sourdough culture, making it more digestible and probably less allergenic.
Having understood all this, it is easy to see why we’re keen to chat about what we do, to share the knowledge, skills and ingredients with as many as we can. And, just to be clear, whilst it’s fun once a year to give it a go for the Real Bread Week we don’t generally bake bread commercially; we sell it to you in kit form and encourage you to make your own. The rest of the year, wedged in around the multitude of other tasks that keep farmers busy, you’ll find us pottering around in our kitchens, feeding sourdough starters, soaking grains, experimenting with different flour proportions and sampling each other’s loaves. We do it because we love it, because it is totally delicious, and because it is really important to be baking the staff of life, a mainstay of our diet, in a way that is unquestionably better for us and for our planet.