There is a movement to celebrate ‘Real Bread’. It is encouraging people to buy bread from a local, traditional master baker that bakes real bread or even for people to make their own bread. For those interested, you can find out more from the Real Bread Campaign.
Making your own bread is easy. People often think it’s very time consuming, but that’s mostly the time needed for proving the dough. Basically that’s when you leave the dough to do its own thing, rising in a warm, humid place.
I’ve been making bread since I was 19 years old. I spent the year before I went to university employed in the labs attached to a flour mill and part of my work schedule was to bake bread three times a week.
Over the years I have experimented more and more, and, I as I like nuts there have been more and more nutty loaves of various shapes and flavours.
And, of course, I can’t finish without mentioning the influence of the Great British Bake Off, along with judge Paul Hollywood, which has done so much to promote yeast cookery for the home baker. I would never have ventured into Italian breads without seeing it on the GBBO and it has been well worth it. Olive breadsticks are a bit tricky (and sticky) but absolutely delicious and well worth the effort every time.
Celebrating Saint Valentine’s Eve – a new idea perhaps, but not so, in fact an old local Norwich jollification. During the evening of February 13th wrapped gifts labelled with ‘Good Morrow Valentine’ were left on doorsteps all over the city. Anonymous admirers then knocked on front doors and hastily retreated. In 1862 one local resident Helen Downes commented,
‘We do not here content ourselves with lace-cut papers, but everybody sends everybody real presents anonymously; and, as on all gift-bestowing occasions, the children come in for the lion-share.’
During the Victorian times in Norwich the weeks before Valentine’s Eve found the shops so busy with extra trade that additional temporary sales assistants were hired. The folks of Norwich were shopping for Valentine’s gifts. The grander gifts on offer included workboxes, vases, tea caddies and umbrellas or for a very lucky lady a ‘Norwich Shawl’.
However, the most typical gifts were gloves and perfume together with the familiar Valentine’s day card. Victorian Valentine’s cards were elaborate affairs with embossing, paper lace, feathers and even hand stitching.
Antique Valentine’s card from The Jewel Mystique’
Antique Valentine’s card from Moon Maiden Emporium.
According to the information at Norwich’s Bridewell Museum both young and old took part in celebrating St Valentine’s Eve. The museum is dedicated to the history of Norwich and as part of displays showing the story of local commerce it has a superb collection of high quality Victorian hand stitched Valentine’s card. Similar examples are sometimes sold nowadays by antique dealers and I’ve also found a few vintage survivors (pictured above and below) on Etsy from Moon Maiden Emporium, The Jewel Mystique and SCDVintage.
Antique Valentine’s card from SCD Vintage. Pop up forget-me-nots circa 1900.
Verse inside reads At morn, at noon, at night, Thy form in fancy still I see; In gloomy shade, in blaze of light, My thoughts are ever turned to thee: Bright as the stars my love shall shine If you will be my Valentine.
I couldn’t help but think how we so often assume we are living in the most consumer conscious times, but nothing is new and the Victorian Norwich shopkeepers obviously spotted a lucrative opportunity over a hundred years ago. Of course, you could just have a go at making your own version! (Sorry no delicate sewing with silk and lace trim just wrapping paper, doilies and reproduction Victorian scraps.)
Every year during January and February Seville oranges (Bitter oranges) arrive in our local fruit shops and supermarkets. I’m not sure if it’s because I recently saw the film ‘Paddington’ (and he does love his marmalade sandwiches), but this year I decided to make some marmalade.
Of course, alternatively it could be having all the glamour of the Tudors every where you look, that I unconsciously made a few connections – Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots – marmalade! It’s one of those English things we were told at school that the word marmalade comes from Mary Queen of Scots when a French cook concocted a preserve from Seville oranges for a sickly Mary – ‘Marie est malade’. Not true, (doesn’t surprise me) a far more accurate history of marmalade suggests Henry VIII would have known the preserve which was imported from Portugal and made from quinces. Then it appears that gradually this recipe was adapted to use other fruit including bitter oranges.
I used a BBC Good Food marmalade recipe which I’ve made before. And, in for a penny in for a pound I found an interesting recipe for ‘marmalade’ teacakes (light yeasted buns with dried fruit). It was really a basic teacake recipe with 150 grams of HOMEMADE marmalade dissolved in the milk that is added to the flour to make the dough. The finished teacakes looked nice and were pleasant when toasted and buttered, but I couldn’t specifically taste the marmalade flavour unless a bite included a chunk of shredded peel. Well, you know, why not spread with extra marmalade!
Last night it was GBBO’s ‘bread week’. What? Well, for the uninitiated GBBO is the BBC’s unexpected hit show the ‘Great British Bake Off’ which is now on its fifth series. It is simply a baking competition where contestants bake each week, but somehow it is more than just a ‘competitive’ cooking programme.
I’m not a big telly person, but this is my guilty secret not least as I love baking cakes and, well, anything sweet! Sweet, yeasty breads such as Chelsea buns, cinnamon brioche and stollen are all personal favourites, but last night only one person made a sweetened showstopper loaf. I guess with all the recent fuss about sugar being so bad for your health savoury breads were considered the safer option. Anyway, following a batch of chocolate hazelnut cookies last week I have restrained myself and baked a few granary rolls.