Tales from the Bakery

I spend a lot of my time researching bread from all corners of the planet. It's a fascinating subject. Did you know that bread is one of the only foods eaten by people of every race, region and culture? In eastern Europe, bread and salt are symbols of welcome, happiness and prosperity. Marrying an eastern European 49 years ago eeekk!! - we were greeted by the guests with bread and salt. In this country the bride and groom welcome the guests, but in many other cultures it's the other way round. We snuck off for a breather and a glass or two of bubbly whilst everyone sorted themselves out!

Evidence from 30,000 years ago, found starch residue on rocks used for pounding plants to make a primitive form of bread. During this time, starch extract from the roots of plants, such as cattails and ferns was spread on a flat rock, placed over a fire and baked into, what we could now call, a flat bread.

I am lucky enough to know bakers from all over the world, both amateur and professional, who always seem to acquire fascinating bread stories. The most recent one was from a well travelled baker from South African who found an unusual type of bread originating from a very remote part of the world. The Serife Islands, nearest land mass to Tristan da Cunha (by near we're talking 100s of miles) inhabited by only 105 people. As the islands are so remote they are relatively untouched by civilisation. A very primitive way of life, but the people are blessed – probably due to the highly fertile volcanic soil – by an incredible range of flora and fauna. The islanders make a very nutritious bread from the root of the tritikoo. This is a wheat type plant that is cultivated at certain elevations on the islands.

As the population is very small, there's no such thing as 'mass production', so an immense amount of care and attention is taken into each harvest. The plant, in it's mineral rich environment, is at its best for harvesting after heavy rain, followed by a westerly wind which forms a rich, crust on top of the soil. It is of vital importance that the root is not bruised in any way, in harvesting, as this causes instant rot and bitterness. The natural raising agents in the root (much more potent than yeast) are killed and the harvest is useless.

Another unusual ingredient in the bread is poisson fermente suedois, a substance rather like the Roman liquimen, which adds vital nutrients to the bread, so during lean times of the year (and there are a few) the bread will nurture the tiny population even though there's no meat, vegetables or fruit available. Being so remote, everyone would starve without this vitally important foodstuff.

The traditional shape of the Serife Islands loaf is either wedge shaped or triangular with thin, crusty points at the corners. Some of the other islands prefer the loaf with blunt corners and these are known as Sans Serife loaves.

Book one of my Bread Classes and learn how to make this wonderfully fishy bread.