Martha and Neil are off to the UK Grain Lab in Nottingham this weekend: “a gathering of farmers, millers, plant breeders, bakers, cooks, scientists and academics promoting the growing and eating of non-commodity grains in the UK”. As we’ve been researching the heritage grain market for our bakery and cookery school, a number of people have recommended this event and this will be our first time.
The conference programme runs the full gamut from the biology of breeding new strains to sustainable farming practices to building new agro-economies. Not to mention making food from it all. There’s also a fringe programme run with the Real Bread Campaign, open to non-delegates.
We’re particularly looking forward to connecting with the folks from the Nottingham Mill Co-op who we helped crowdfund last year and hope to work with in the future.
We were given the recipe for Paska bread by a Ukrainian customer while talking about how we at Loaf can help the relief efforts. Rachel had a go at making them and we sold them on the Saturdays before both western and eastern Easter weekends raising £130 for the DEC appeal.
We were also happy to support the exhibition, We Are Here: From Ukraine, chronicling the experiences of faculty and students of Kyiv University of Technologies and Design who were on an Erasmus exchange in Birmingham when the war broke out. The show runs at Artefact until May 7th – please do check it out and pick up one of their lovely tote bags.
For the last few months we’ve been making tinned sourdough loaves on Saturdays. People are often surprised that they’re sourdoughs as we’ve gotten used to a certain look for the sourdough loaf – round with an arching crest bursting from a blistering crust. These tins look kinda basic by comparison, like you might find in a supermarket.
So what’s good about them? Well, they fit better in the toaster! Not to mention there’s something deeply satisfying about a square sandwich.
It’s also an important part of the Real Bread Campaign to make it clear that “real bread” can look ‘normal’, and that’s OK. We naturally get excited by the aesthetic opportunities available to the artisan baker, the ability to produce something unique that delights the eye as much as the taste buds. But there’s an honest beauty to be found in the tinned loaf: the simple shapes and smooth crust; the form following function. We should embrace and celebrate it.
Our version of the sourdough tin has hidden depths, mixing two very different grains to produce a pretty unique loaf. This is a white wheat loaf made with a rye sourdough starter which gives it some special advantages.
Firstly, we are able to proof the dough at an ambient temperature, meaning it doesn’t take up precious space in the fridges.
Secondly, the rye slows down the ferment while also giving the dough a boost, helping it rise in the tin and producing a lovely smooth, domed crust.
Finally, the whole process fits neatly within our existing baking schedule meaning we can make more bread for you!
And of course all these elements, from the mix of grain to the method of fermentation, produce a texture and taste unique to this loaf.
The last couple of months have been really busy at Loaf and we weren’t able to properly support and promote our nominated charity, Friends of Cotteridge Park. So we’re going to keep them on through to the summer and the annual CoCoMad festival.
You can continue to give donations with your pre-orders and at the counter in store. And as spring turns into summer we’ll be drawing your attention to the many things going on in the park and how you can get involved.
Laurie Ramsell is an artist who works with biological material. Until recently he was a Stirchley resident and became a good friend of Loaf. So when he approached us to be part of his new project we were intrigued and quickly agreed.
BAB Lab 2022 is a series of bio art workshops and talks taking place in Birmingham this August. They will focus on living materials: yeast, flora, clay, fungi, and the human body. The yeast workshop takes place at Loaf and will be our the first time teaching breadmaking as an artistic pursuit!
Laurie is also bringing in practitioners to talk about creative brewing and, most excitingly, using yeast to develop photographic images by selectively exposing them to UV light. You can see some examples of ‘yeastograms’ here.
We’ll have more to share about this nearer the time, but it’s dead exciting. Maybe we’ll be adding yeast art to our courses on offer in the future!
Don’t slice until cool – Tempting though bread fresh from the oven is, it’s best if left to cool before slicing.
Keep wrapped – Once completely cool, put the loaf in a container or bag that will reduce evaporation.
Keep cool – The warmer the environment the faster the evaporation, which speeds up staling, but…
Don’t refrigerate – Starch retrogradation takes place most quickly at fridge temperature, although deep freezing is fine.
You can also resuscitate a loaf that has gone a bit stale by wetting it slightly and popping it in the oven for 20 minutes. It won’t reverse the process but it will make it more flexible and tasty.
And there’s always toast. We’ve found a week-old sourdough makes for marvellous crunchy toast!
Finally you can of course freeze all our bread. Some people like to slice it first and take what they need from the freezer.
For small bakeries like us there’s the No Loaves Lost initiative to help us reduce the amount we throw away. It boils down to three Rs:
Reduce the amount of surplus you generate
Reuse any that you do, or redirect it to people
Repurpose as animal feed, fertiliser or for energy as a last resort
Over the last couple of years we’ve been trying to ensure we always have bread on the shelves when we’re open, as turning away a customer is a great way to ensure they never return. This has meant we usually have a few loaves and buns left on the shelves, so how do we measure up on food waste?
Firstly, we record our daily leftovers along with our sales and use them to inform the bake quantities. This has gotten much more granular since we switched to the epos till and our spreadsheets are things of wonder.
Secondly, we have regular pickups from the B30 Foodbank and Incredible Surplus who take our leftover bread and distribute it to people who need it. This is usually between 10 and 30 loaves each bake day, depending on the weather.
Sales of sticky buns are totally unpredictable in Stirchley. Sometimes they sell out and sometimes we have a disconcerting amount left, so we often take a bag to our friends along the high street. If you see a plate of cinnamon buns in the Wildcat or Artefact, this is why.
Unsold croissants are left to go stale for a day so they’re perfect for rebaking with fillings, be they savoury on weekdays or sweet on Saturday. Pain-au-chocs are frozen until we have enough to re-bake in a croissant pudding.
Thirdly, there’s the waste we can’t prevent. We have a commercial food-waste bin which takes it to an anaerobic digestion site to generate energy. Alongside this is Pete’s compost bin, for any veg matter and bits of stale bread that didn’t make it to the food bank.
We’re pretty pleased with how this is working on the whole. There’s always room for improvement, but we’re baking more bread and feeding more people while our kerbside pickups are significantly lighter. That’s an all-round win.
Our fellow co-operative and good friends at Artefact are firmly back after the pandemic closure with a regular programme of meetups and events. Artefact is run by members of the local community on a mostly voluntary basis and provides a free space for activities that might not fit elsewhere. Alongside this it houses Artefact Projects, an artist community and gallery space that is open to all. Artefact is a vital creative and social presence on our high street and deserves your support!
Marx Book Club (Wednesday 9th March, 7-9pm) The Marx Book Club aka BookMarx has been running at Artefact for many years. Each session they consider a paragraph and discuss Marx’s views on politics and economics.
Role Playing Night (Wednesday 9th March, 7-10pm) A night of traditional and modern table-top role playing games.
Is This Tomorrow? (Thursday 10th March, 7-8pm) The monthly dystopian and speculative bookclub returns. This first session will be to meet, chat over drinks and vote on what you would like the first book to be.
Stirchley Singing Group (Friday 11th March 7.30-9pm) Informal community gathering; every level and experience welcome. Each session will introduce an interesting and obscure piece of music and led by Sarah and Irial we will learn the piece together, just for the sheer fun of it.
Dub Reggae Night (Saturday 12th March, 7-11pm) Revolution Sound System and Ruffer ‘N’ Tuffer Present Dub Reggae Night. Free entry but please bring one item for B30 Foodbank.
Cool Boarders, Games Night! (Thursday 17th March 7.30-11pm) Come along and play board games at Artefact. Open to all.
For(e)ward Poetry Open Mic (Thursday 7rd April 7.30-9pm) Poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry.
Finally, there’s an open call for A Field In Stirchley, the regular field-recording and found-audio exhibition and event on Friday 25th March. The theme this time is Pet Sounds where you are invited to submit a recording of your special animal friend to be featured in the gallery alongside other domesticated and farm animal recordings from around the world.
We want your weird Pet Sounds! Does your cat sound like a claxon? Do your bunnies snort? Does your Giant African snail sound great sliding over a microphone?
If you peer through the shop into the bakery, you might notice a couple of new faces making your bread. Ben and Ian have joined us this year as part-time bakers and we’re in the process of training them in the Loaf way,
The cyclists among you will know Ben from the Birmingham Bike Foundry, our sibling worker co-op at the other end of Stirchley high street. Loaf and the BBF have quite seasonal trading patterns – we’re busy though the winter, especially Christmas, while their season is very much spring into summer.
Last summer, when we were quiet, Phil from Loaf did some shifts with them to help with their busy period, and to learn more about bike maintenance in the process. Ben is a keen baker in his spare time so he’s come the other way for a couple of shifts a week to learn new things and help us out.
Ian is also a keen amateur baker and came to our attention initially through his Instagram where he scientifically notes the specifics of his bakes, which always look amazing. He works as a visual effects programmer for the movies and was looking for a more practical creative outlet away from the screen, so is joining us part-time to see how baking on a larger scale suits him.
This quarter we’re raising money for Friends of Cotteridge Park. FoCP puts on a wide range of events throughout the year which are free to all, ensuring no one in our community is excluded from trying something new that might improve their physical or mental wellbeing.
Loaf customers raised a total of £1,086.50 for Migrant Help in the last quarter of 2021, which is a fantastic sum. Thanks to all of you who were able to donate! The charity sent us the following to pass on:
Please extend our appreciation of support to all your customers. We are really overwhelmed by the generosity of the local community supporting local causes that affect us all locally and nationally.
This kind donation is going to help newly arrived asylum seekers living in initial accommodation who are feeling really isolated, and will go along way in supporting them and putting a lot of smiles on their faces.
We had our big planning meeting last week and working with Migrant Help again in the future is definitely on the cards. Watch this space!
Those of you that queue for your bread and lunches at opening time (and we are so grateful that you think us worthy of queueing!) will have noticed that the wood carving place on the corner has been replaced by a florist.
JoJo and Sean needed more space for their Pathcarvers workshops so they moved to the Old Printworks opposite the baths in Balsall Heath. Happily they still live in Stirchley and often pop in for a snack and a hello.
Their old workshop has been taken on by Hedge, which opened just before Christmas. Dorit is a big fan, often picking up spectacular arrangements on her break. She been chatting to Rachel who runs the place, along with designer and artist Rosie.
Hedge started in Harborne, moved to the Great Western Arcade and when that became a deadzone in lockdown, they found their new home in Stirchley.
Their approach to floristry is similar to our interest in heritage grains, seeking out local and sustainable farms who grow in their crops a biodiverse way. From their website:
We practise eco-friendly floristry and use blooms quite unlike those you find on the high street. When available we only use English garden flowers from small artisan micro farms in the Midlands, grown sustainably and gently.
Join us to help create change. Choose flowers that support biodiversity, that have been grown without chemicals, that have a low carbon footprint, are not wrapped in plastic, that are safe to compost and kinder to the world.
Dorit is a big fan of their flowers and cards. Over Christmas, she was unable to travel home to her family in Germany due to the Omicron outbreak and found herself stranded in Birmingham. Rachel’s flowers went a long way to cheering her up (and Stirchley’s German-speaking community rallied together on Christmas day).
As well as selling fresh flowers and bouquets, Hedge supplies events, runs workshops, and stocks soaps, textiles and an eclectic range of crafts from artists near and far.
Next time you’re in the queue, give them a smile and an wave, and if you’re into your flowers as much as your [ahem] flours, pop in and say hello!
If you live in or near Stirchley, you’ll doubtless be aware of Cotteridge Park, one of the many green gems of suburban Birmingham. But unlike most of our neighbourhood parks, Cotteridge is run by volunteers since being saved by local people from closure in 1997.
Friends of Cotteridge Park is the charitable organisation that runs all the activities and co-ordinates volunteer work at the park, including an annual festival and the new Shed cafe hub.
We asked them to write a bit about what they do:
The volunteers at Cotteridge Park are passionate about our little park in the heart of our community. The Friends of Cotteridge Park work tirelessly to improve the park’s infrastructure, and to provide services and activities that meet the needs of local people.
In any given week you’ll find Tai Chi, arts courses, youth workers, gardening, conservation and walking groups, and much more. The Shed opened in 2020 and is the hub for our activities and a friendly place to grab a cup of coffee too.
Oh, and then there’s CoCoMAD – the best little festival in Birmingham, where we celebrate Music, art, dance and science from our community and beyond.
In order to provide all this, and more, we are constantly fundraising. We have a principle that all our activities are free at the point of delivery so no one is excluded because they can’t afford to attend. This means we need donations to keep us going. We’re truly grateful for anything you can give to support our work.
And if you can give your time – even if it’s just an hour – you would be welcomed with open arms.
As well as being a primo baker, Rachel is a keen geocacher and last year combined her passions in the Loaf Advent Treasure Hunt. It was a tremendous success and so we had to bring it back.
Every day, starting this Wednesday, Rach will hide one of our bread vouchers somewhere near Loaf. It could be on the high street, along the canal, in a park… anywhere at all!
Clues will be posted to the Loaf Instagram stories and the hunt begins – first person to find the voucher gets a free loaf of bread!
But what is a bread voucher, I hear you ask? Can we acquire them without leaving the house? Perhaps in exchange for money?
Why yes! They’re available in packs of 6 and 12 with a couple of postcards and a sticker. They make perfect gifts for that Stirchley-based bread-curious relative or friend who is impossible to buy for. Pick them up in store or order online and we’ll post them out.