As the children grew bigger and I started taking them to playgroups and toddler mornings, I was lucky enough to find the most wonderful Parent and Child group at the local Steiner School. Going to this group has had such a positive effect on my life, and on the lives of my three children, in so many ways.
An important part of the group was preparing food and eating together – all of us, the children and adults. The meal always consisted of freshly baked bread and jam to begin with and then a healthy soup or stew and vegetables/fruit and cake if someone had been kind/organised enough to bake at home. The ethos was very much healthy and homemade.
And this is where my love of sourdough first began. The bread was always sourdough. Now I am not sure if that is always the case at Steiner schools and whether there is some connection but they do like to promote homemade lots of things! Lovely Melanie, the grandmotherly figure and trained Steiner teacher, who ran the group (and who indeed is still there today) would bring out her bowl of already bubbling sourdough dough and it had such an air of mystique around it.
What was this strange mixture? How did she do it? What kind of flour did she use? How long do you leave it to ferment? What do you do next with it? How much flour did she use?…. so many questions! And Melanie, with her usual calm demeanor, just quietly explained and I was totally baffled by it all!
She gave me a starter (simply a small piece of the final dough) in a jam jar and I took it home with slight trepidation and a head swirling with instructions. I don’t remember exactly what I did but I do know it did indeed work and I managed to make some sourdough bread. The only thing was I forgot to save some of the dough back to be the ‘yeast’/starter/sourdough for next time! And so back to the group the next week and asked for some more.
Eventually I remembered to save it back but the next time I forgot and didn’t dare ask again I decided to look further into the mysterious world of sourdough and make my own starter. Again the Real Bread Campaign led me to a lot of information. They have a great website and a bi-monthly magazine if you are a member. I attended a very informative gathering that they had organised at the very posh School of Artisan Food up in Welbeck. It turned out to be a family event. My Dad drove me there with my few week old third and youngest child. My eldest boy (as featured in previous blog) then came with me to a great talk/demonstration specifically on Sourdough there. Funnily enough he does not like the ‘sour’ taste of sourdough. Many children are the same but last year the starter that I had going for some reason did not make really sour sourdough which was great from my point of view. Personally I like the sour taste but its not for everyone. Andrew Whitley writes about this in his other book
A really lovely thing that they do at the Steiner group, and which left a lasting impression on me, was the singing of lovely old fashioned songs while they did anything, especially tasks. So there was a tidying up song, goodbye song, washing hands songs and of course a baking song. They were always really gentle songs to guide the children smoothly from doing one thing to the task in hand. There was never any real commotion or silly, loud nursey rhymes like you get in the conventional toddler groups. This all really appealed to my love of traditional folk songs.
And so I was well on the way to combining baking and singing……