Life can be all Rush! Hurry! Quick! How lovely it is to be slow. Making slow bread forces me to calm down, step out of the moment, take my time.
It also tastes particularly good.
I baked my first loaf when I was seventeen. It probably wasn’t very good.
I had a big, thick, general cookbook – I wish I still had it! Purnell’s Complete Cookery.
I really wanted to learn to cook. I genuinely didn’t have a clue. Someday I’ll tell you that story. Why I became interested in the bread chapter, I do not know. It jumped out at me so I gave it a go.
Now these were ancient times, also known as the late 1970s. Possibly dried yeast was available in specialist shops on fancy city streets. Not in the industrial West of Scotland. So I did as my book instructed. I went to the bakery.
That’s the actual bakery. Not the shop where I bought German Biscuits and Sugared Rolls. No, round the back where the bread and rolls were baked.
A block of yeast in a twist of greaseproof paper cost pennies. I became a regular customer at the bakery close to my work.
I have no idea where I bought bread flour. Strange to think how unusual such a product was. There was a Fine Fare near my office. (That was a supermarket) Since Fine Fare was the first place I ever saw aubergines, courgettes, peppers, maybe they had bread flour.
Anyway, home I went to bake my bread.
I liked the sound of a brown loaf that included treacle.
From the start I thought it couldn’t be right. Quite a few tablespoons of treacle. The dough was dark, dark brown and very sticky. Having no experience of bread making, I followed the recipe nonetheless. It baked into a nice little loaf, but so very sweet and dense. More like a cake.
I made the same loaf many times with only a little treacle!
Very soon I had bought more cookbooks and tried many recipes. Then a new book was published.
My education in bread making began the day I bought it.
It’s beside my bed now, as I wanted to re read it before baking bread to sell.
And this is what I learned from Elizabeth David: slow bread can be the best bread. Less yeast is required, and you get such good results.
It’s a lesson I have to re learn periodically. Many times I have rushed home from work, mixed the ingredients and left my dough to rise. As I grow more and more tired, I get angry at the dough for not rising quickly. I’ll be up all night! I must add more yeast! The bowl is going on the radiator!
When I get annoyed with a bowl of bread dough, I remind myself that the best place for it to rise is the fridge; and the best time for it to be baked is the following day. Perhaps the following evening!
There’s a time and place for speedy cooking and baking. But it’s not compulsory.
Slow bread is flavoursome bread.
Thank you for reading my blog. Please comment, especially if you have a bread making story.
Everything up till then, captivating. Then downhill all the way. Including “Reader, I married him.” I didn’t even notice the iconic ending when I was twelve. My memory of Jane Eyre is much darker.
The Aunt; the school; the Red Room.
Mainly the Red Room.
Oh, and I adored Blanche. I wanted to be Blanche.
Anyway, the Red Room. I’ve seen films and television adaptations of Jane Eyre. They must’ve depicted it. But the most horrific, the darkest, most troubling Red Room was in my mind.
The Aunt made me angry; the school made my spine tense. But nothing came close to the horror of the Red Room.
Blanche was perfect. I didn’t read the book in the way I would later, as an adult. I read it in pure black and white, as children do. I didn’t see Blanche as opportunistic; I didn’t realise her dislike of Jane came about because she was beggin’ of her, please don’t steal my man.
Blanche was beautiful, as were her clothes. Abusive partner Mr R was used to telling pretty women what to do. We found out what happened to his previous partner once she ceased to be Eye Candy.
The wedding, the brother in law (an actual hero, sticking up for his sister) interested me. Tense and excruciating. Then Jane ran away, and the story ended.
Except it didn’t.
Jane found a family, inherited money, and returned to her abusive boyfriend. Nah! It didn’t work for twelve year old me.
Jane Eyre affected me. I only loved half of it, but that half is perfect.
It’s a reasonable question, and the answer is Partly, yes. They had borrowed it from a friend, and taped it onto our family’s reel to reel recorder. Thereafter it was mine.
So after school I walked home with some friends. It was late November and I was having a birthday party. They weren’t organised, expensive celebrations back then. Basically, school friends came to your house, ate whatever food your mum gave them, played with your toys then went home.
It’s worth mentioning here that I didn’t like many of those “school friends”. I preferred the girls who lived in our street. But the unwritten rule was, invite children who score roughly the same marks in exams as yourself.
So we ate our food, then my school friends wanted my toys. I had a better idea. I fetched the reel to reel tape recorder and played The Paul Simon Songbook.
Probably several times.
My school friends found my toys. They ignored me; I ignored them. Bliss.
This week I heard someone on the radio asking what songs are helping us through lockdown. I’m a cynical woman, so I rolled my eyes.
“Hiding in my room, safe within my womb, I touch no-one and no-one touches me”
A hundred and one memories of playing my favourite childhood song, “I Am A Rock”, from my favourite childhood album, “The Paul Simon Songbook“, flooded my mind. It was part of me, a little girl who liked her own company, had no confidence, but loved music and lyrics so much.
Years later the album was rereleased as a CD. I bought it.
It’s 2020, we’re in lockdown due to COVID19, and Paul Simon’s youthful lyrics feel meaningful once again.
Anne: Are there aspects of the lockdown that are better than you thought?
Isla: This whole situation we are in is so strange and as a teenager myself I am finding it hard.
Are there aspects that are worse than you thought?
It’s a shock from being able to go out with your friends and be free to have fun, to be in what feels like prison.
When lockdown first was put in place, I did panic and worried about what I would do with all this time, but now more so about my exams.
Do you organise your day, or just deal with what turns up?
After a few days I started to relax as it’s out of my control on what’s happening. But I was still finding it hard to keep busy as there was little to do.
About a week in I decided to try and get back into art, so I designed my own unique pair of jeans and then tried some painting designs that I had never done before.
Do you feel more or less anxious than you did when the lockdown started?
At the current moment in time I am actually okay, obviously I’m bored but its manageable. There are some downsides though, for example siblings.
Being stuck with a 6 year old 24/7 really gets to you. Currently we can’t seem to last more than 20 minutes together without arguing.
Have some of your friends lost their jobs?
It’s also very annoying that for many adults there are aspects of work they can do from home, but for most teenagers they can’t do that and many have lost thier jobs as businesses can’t now afford young, less experienced people to be working for them.
Thanks Isla. I’m always interested in your point of view. It helps to see things from a totally different angle.
Self catering holidays when my children were young could have been seriously exhausting. To see me through a fortnight of family life up close, I always took my Enamelware Coffee Pot.
Since we have become so used to filter machines, drip pots, espresso makers and French presses, have we forgotten the simplest method? A jug. So simple you can make coffee anywhere. Even by a campfire.
I love enamelware. I’ve been making coffee in enamelware pots since I was a teenager. It’s so easy, and you need no specialist equipment. If you have ground coffee, boiling water, a pot, and a little bit of patience, you can make delicious coffee any place, any time.
You don’t even need an enamelware pot. An old teapot, a charity shop china coffee pot, even a saucepan with a lid will do. But I’ll always opt for an enamel pot.
Here’s my infallible method:
Put the kettle on to boil. To warm the pot, put a little hot water in it, or run it under the hot tap. At very least don’t use it stone cold. Enamelware will lose heat, so there’s no point in being part of the problem.
Put ground coffee in the pot. Any grind will do. No need to worry – use what you have. Even if it’s very fine or course, we’ll make it work in your pot. If you grind your own coffee, or have the choice when buying it, take a medium grind. The amount of coffee is up to you. First time you make it use the recommended measure. Next time you can add more or less.
Pour almost boiling water over the coffee, but only to just below the spout. Don’t be tempted to add more at this stage. You’ll need space for Step 5. The water should be “off the boil”, that’s to say, not bubbling. So boil the kettle as you gather together what you need. It will be perfect when you use it.
Put the lid on, cover the pot with a tea cosy or a folded tea towel (that’s what I use) and leave for about 5 minutes. Don’t cheat. Listen to a couple of songs, read a short article, chop some vegetables. If you think you’ll get distracted, set a timer. More than five minutes is fine, but if you completely forget about the coffee it will go cold.
Now you have to do some work. You’ll need more boiling water soon, so have that ready. Stir the coffee for a full 2 minutes. It will seem like a long time but keep going. It’s worth the effort. You will see and feel the grains sinking, and the liquid will begin to look clearer. When you’ve stirred all you can, fill the pot to the brim with boiling water, put the lid on, cover, and leave for a few minutes.
Take the lid off and stir again, briefly. Cover and leave for a few more minutes. If you have stirred as instructed, you won’t even need to strain the coffee. Handy if you can’t find that strainer you thought was at the back of a drawer! However if you don’t want to risk the occasional piece of ground coffee sneaking into your cup, strain.
I’m seeing more of my human family than usual – they call it Lockdown. Thank goodness they’re leaving my hair alone!
My favourite thing ever is sitting outdoors in a breeze. I love to feel the wind in my hair. Don’t humans know that cutting my hair = ruining my life? They have zero empathy. I tell them clearly to leave me alone, but do they listen?
Let me keep my fuzzy ears and crinkly beard forever.