sourdough September

This September is all about bread and sourdough in particular. The Good Bread Campaign wants to get us excited about sourdough.  Buying it and eating it (in my case slathered thickly in so much butter you can leave teeth marks) and even better, getting people to give sourdough making a go at home.

Bruce and Reggie in the Alps

Bruce and Reggie in the Alps

I am still very much a novice sourdough maker. For a while (well, about a year)  I had two bubbling  starters. There was Bruce (all the best starters have names), given to me by my good friend and food writer, Rosie Ramsden. Bruce was a robust teenager of a white and rye sourdough starter, and there was Regginaldough, my own pure white sourdough starter creation. Bruce and Reggie were my constant companions, they travelled with me to the Alps on holiday and up and down the UK, people thought i was completely off my trolley but it was fascinating to watch and taste how they changed with every new location.

Sadly however, in a severe case of neglect on my part, the suffered an early and tragic demise. Something, I consoled myself,  that often happens to new sourdough converts. They do both still exist in some hybrid form in my mum's fridge and the new super Br-eggie is still going strong and is making the most amazing bread though that could be something to do with my mum's amazing skills as a baker.

I think it is about time I get back in the sourdough groove, and rather than taking the easy path of taking some well established starter from home i'm going to have another crack at making one from scratch. If you have never tried sourdough making before then give it a go with me and I will be posting my bread successes, failures, tips and recipes.

Sourdough making is a lot of trial and error and finding out what works for you as a bread maker but once you are hooked - and i promise you will be - you will never look back. Even if there are times when you are without a starter you will always come back to it time and time again. Think of your starter as a pet that need love, attention and understanding.


Beginning a starter is so simple. Start with measuring 75g of unbleached flour into a container then add 75g of water. It is very important to weight the water as you want a perfect ratio of water to flour. Mix together with your fingers rather than a spoon as you have natural yeasts on your skin that will add to a good starter. Cover loosely with the lid without sealing so that the natural yeasts in the air can get to work on your starter, and leave for 12 hours. If it has started to bubble after 12 hours that is great, but if not, don!t panic, it may take up to 36 hours for your starter to get going. If nothing has happened after 36 hours I would say to start again, trying a different flour or putting it in a different place. 

Once your starter is bubbling it is time to feed. add another 75g each flour and water and mix again. leave fur a further 12 -24 hours until it is bubbling again then feed it again. You should find that your starter grows and expands after it has been fed, doubling in size.

Once you have fed it a good three times you need to start discarding (if you don't you will find your whole kitchen is taken over by large amounts of bubbling starter like some kind of bread monster!)

When you are ready to feed again, discard half the starter before adding your 75g flour and water. It may seem wasteful but once your stater is established you will use this to make the base of your bread. You now need to keep feeding your starter in this way every day, discarding half before every feed, until you have a well established starter. Most people recommend that you don't use a starter that is less than a week old to make bread as it is too unstable. it can take a month or more for your starter to reliably double in size between feedings.

My new little guy is bubbling away, i'm not going to name it yet in case i jinx it. Now all I have to do is wait, feed, and hope it survives a short burst of dormancy in the fridge when I go away on holiday. Fingers are crossed for survival.






hedgerow harvests

I know I should probably kick start my new blog with some incredibly on trend topic; something about how Chia seeds are the latest in healthy foods and how to use these strange little, bitter seeds, but I would  really rather kick off with something much more delicious and much closer to my heart... GIN!

Gin is perhaps my favourite of all spirits, nothing is so delicious as a tall glass of ice cold G&T, except perhaps home-made flavoured gins; sloe, mulberry, damson... a little sticky sweet ginn-ish tipple that tastes so much the better because you made it.

I know, I know, there are rules that should be obeyed when picking sloes; wait for the first frost, prick them with needles and all that, but over my many years of sloe picking i've found there is very little difference to be had, once they are ripe they are ready - and these babies were begging to be picked despite it only being the beginning of September! I think the mix of warm weather and a good amount of rain has done wonders for our hedgerow harvests this year.

Picking sloes is a fairly laborious process, as you try and squeeze further and further into the dense thickets of exceedingly spiky blackthorn bushes in search of biggest ripest specimens.  I guess it is understandable, if painful, that the plant wants to protect its bounty with such vicious spines, though don't make the mistake of popping one in your mouth before it has had the gin treatment or you will find all your saliva disappears in a mouth puckeringly bitter way that can only be beaten by eating an olive straight from the branch ( I have watched someone stupid enough do this once, and all I can say is... don't).

I tend to find that once I get picking I just can't make myself stop as there always seem to be just one more branch that must make it into my bag but eventually i'm reminded by my picking partner that we only have 10 ltrs of gin and really we only need 500g of berries per ltr so perhaps i should untangle myself and start turning our haul into the good stuff.

We decide that to mimick the first frost (which supposedly, as with Brussles sprouts, brings out the natural sweetness) we bung them in the freezer until they are solid. This also has the added bonus of meaning you don't need to individually prick them with a pin as the freezing slightly bursts the berries.  Once fruzzed we divide them evenly between bottles and jars (well sterilized if you aren't simply using the bottles the gin comes out of) and top with sugar (half the weight of the sloes) and gin.

Now all you have to do... is wait. Once the sloes have been in their ginny bath for about 3 months it is time to strain them. Don't throw away the booze soaked fruit as this can be turned into other delicious things. They are great served with chocolate brownies and cream or try whizzing them up and folding the puree through softened ice-cream for a sloe ripple.

Your sloe gin is now ready to drink... although there is a strong argument for keeping it for at least a year or two and let it mature and mellow. The best solution is to make a few bottles every year, drinking the ones from a few years previously as you go!


makes 1 ltr

takes 15 minutes plus a lot of months patience

500g sloes

250g caster sugar

1ltr gin

Wash and dry your sloes and pop them into the freezer and freeze overnight until solid.

Tip them into a sterilised kilner jar and add the sugar and gin. Seal and shake gently. Leave for 3 months, turning the jar every day, until you have a deep pinky syrupy gin. Strain the sloes out and pour the gin into pretty bottles and store for at least a year or as long as you can bear to wait!.