When I began making bread - in my early twenties, living in Glasgow, working in an office job that I was growing out of - I was a champion kneader. I took all my stresses out on that ball of dough.
At the same time my Dad was extolling the virtues of a 'no knead' bread that he made every week - it was bread, technically, but it was bread with the texture of a rock. That probably was one of the reasons that I bought into the idea that to have a light, edible, delicious loaf of bread, you needed to knead.
Then, running my own business, baking bread became something that I fitted into the corners of life and I had to simplify the whole process if I was going to do it at all. My children weren't keen on the heaviness of my Dad's brand of bread, and I gradually developed an alternative, cutting down the kneading, ramping up the amount of liquid.
Four years ago I learned how to make sourdough bread with the amazing Kat Goldin at Gartur Stitch Farm, but as bread is the only thing I bake regularly I keenly felt the waste as I discarded the discard. Then sourdough baking became popular and I found I just couldn't bring myself to do it any more - a BIG personality flaw - and my poor starter languished. However, if you want to learn to bake sourdough bread simply - go see Kat!
What the sourdough did demystify for me however was "the Dutch oven' which I had seem mentioned in so many books - I had assumed that it was a rare and specialist piece of equipment. When it actually turned out to be an old lidded pan that could go in the oven that made everything easier - I already had a couple of those, too chipped for regular cooking, hanging around looking burned and taking up space.
So, when I went back to baking with yeast 2 years ago, I spent time honing my technique until it became simpler and simpler, more and more forgiving - stirring rather than kneading.
Now bread making is a ten minute process in total - with some time for the dough to rise (from 3 to 24 hours) and 50 minutes in the oven.
If you fancy having a go here is a video - the only remotely tricky bit is having the courage to leave the dough really wet which is what makes it light.
You can also get a download of the recipe here.
It has been a good year for blackcurrants. I don’t even grow them and I have had a steady supply. Friends who have more than a couple of bushes are unable to keep up with the picking.
I love black currants, the sharp acidy fruitiness, the way they have almost too much flavour as though they are a concentrate - but they can be a bind to prepare. All those tiny bits of stem and flower to remove, the way they go mouldy if you don’t use them fast.
My solution was to try out this ice-cream, custard based for smoothness with a dollop of white miso added to the fruit pulp to round out the flavour.
It worked amazingly - a rich celebration of summer abundance. Like a frozen fruit fool and the most beautiful of colours.
Garlic scapes are one of those ingredients that you really only get if you garden. You can buy scapes from businesses that specifically grow garlic, and in the US they seem to be a regular short season crop available at farmers markets but they are certainly not something you are going to see in every supermarket.
The scape is the flowering shoot of hard necked garlic - they appear, spiralling up like serpents, about two weeks before harvest time. They need to be removed for growing reasons - the shoot takes energy that you want to go into the bulb - so it is a great added boon that they also taste amazing.
My go to way of using scapes is to chop finely, gently cook them in butter and mix with just cooked new potatoes. It is the simplest, most delicious and most obvious way of using them - I mean otherwise why would garlic scapes and the first potatoes be ready at the same time?
But that uses up about 1/10 of my crop so here is another very delicious way to use them up.
In the height of summer there is something wonderful about being able to go out into the garden, pick some ingredients and put together a simple and healthy lunch. It is even better if the ingredients are things that you can't get in the shops and if they are things that are often thought of as 'waste products.
In summer I often put together a version of this dish. It is really just 'something green on toast' and changes according to the week - this week it is a couple of handfuls of broad beans, 3 of the flowering shoots from the hard necked garlic, a tiny onion that won't store and some lettuce leaves that were a bit too battered to make the cut for a green salad.
Gently cooked and piled onto a creamy whipped feta spread they are worthy of any fancy cafe lunch.
You can buy garlic scapes from here if you don't grow them yourself - if this is too many for you they do freeze extremely well - just blanch for a minute of so and then freeze on a flat tray before transferring into a box. They are wonderful mixed with green beans in a tomato sauce.
This drink is the taste of high summer for me. A bright floral scent that fills your mouth, yet it has none of the slightly 'soapy' taste that some floral things can have. The recipe gives you a bottle of syrup which can be mixed with water, tonic water or added to gin and tonics. It can also be used to marinate strawberries - layer them up in a pavlova with rose petals and cream and you will have the summeriest of puddings possible.
You do need lots of flower petals - grown without sprays - so this recipe is something for someone with access to a garden really or it could be expensive to make. The flowers don't have to be perfect, I collected the damaged heads after a rain shower - great blotches on their petals but still otherwise perfect.
I love the way the syrup changes from dull beige to jewel pink when you add the lemon juice.