Wellesbourne White Loaf

Wellesbourne Mill white flourEarlier this week a historic exchange took place, as a miller handed over a sack of white flour to a baker on a normal street in South Birmingham. Nothing extraordinary about that you might think, it’s a transaction that echoes centuries of intertwined relations between these two ancient professions. There was something special about this exchange though – the flour being handed over was the first batch of commercial flour from Wellesbourne watermill since the 1950’s, and the baker (me), runs Birmingham’s first and only community supported bakery. I felt honoured to receive the 25kg sack of white flour from talented traditional millwright Adam Marriot, who together with his wife Vicky have taken on the tenancy of the mill and lovingly restored it back into production. During the exchange, Adam told me of his future plans to restore a threshing machine too, and to rent 40 acres of land so that they can start growing, threshing and milling their wheat all on the same site.

IMG_6006The flour will be put to work over the next two weeks for Loaf’s community bakery, making our white sourdough loaf and being part of the flour in our granary sourdough (the other flour comes from Charlecote Mill a few miles down the road). I couldn’t wait quite that long though to have a play with the flour, so on Tuesday I made a couple of white tin loaves using a basic yeasted bread recipe. I had to go out before they were due in the oven, so the slashing and baking was entrusted to Jane – she did a great job:

Wellesbourne White Tin Loaf
The Wellesbourne White Tin Loaf

In Search of a Local Loaf – Part 2

charlecoteSo about three weeks ago I went to visit the historic Charlecote Mill in Warwickshire, where I had a private tour from John Bedington the Miller. When I got back from holiday I was champing at the bit to try out the wholemeal flour I had taken home, so much so that the sourdough starter was whipped out of the fridge and refreshed before i’d even taken my coat off. I keep a white sourdough starter, and taking John’s advice, I wanted to include a decent percentage of strong white flour to create a light, wholesome loaf. So I made it with a high percentage of sourdough starter (40% of dough weight), but all the remaining flour was Charlecote Mill standard wholemeal flour. A 67% hydration dough and a long, cool, overnight bulk fermentation led to a light, wholesome loaf, full of flavour and a sense of history and place.

That was two weeks back, and since then i’ve managed to organise to get a 32kg sack of flour dropped off this week, so after a little more experimentation I’m hoping to add a local, wholemeal sourdough loaf to the standard loaves I produce for the community bakery every Friday.

In search of a local loaf – Charlecote Mill

As a baker, or even just as a passionate foodie, it’s important to me to get up close and personal with the ingredients that I’m putting into my food and into my mouth. I was delighted therefore to have the opportunity to have a private tour around Charlecote Mill in Warwickshire the other day after a cheeky off-the-cuff phone call to John Beddington, the master miller. I don’t use John’s flour, yet, but nonetheless it is wonderful to see a craftsman at work, turning inedible raw wheat grains into beautiful soft wholemeal flour.

Charelcote Mill signIn a way John’s story is a sad one, and it speaks of this country’s increasing love affair with bad bread over the last few decades. John has been milling at Charlecote for 26 years now, and has leased the building for more than 30. In the first few years John supplied six local bakeries, including the (sadly no longer) Raddlebarn bakery in Selly Oak, Birmingham, but now John only supplies one bakery, and it’s not even that local, down in Oxford. However John is still managing to run his business, and has found an unexpected market for his flour. John principally mills three types of flour at Charlecote. The standard wholemeal flour is made from local Warwickshire wheat and milled to the right grade for chapatti flour, which John sells direct to the Indian and Pakistani community in Coventry, delivering door to door. Charlecote MillHe also sells maize flour to the same community. Being Soil Association certified, John produces an organic wholemeal flour too, which is milled from two local wheats from Warwickshire and Worcestershire, as well as a bit of organic wheat from Kazakhstan, to improve the mix.

Charlecote Mill itself is a charming building, and one that John clearly loves dearly. It is an isolated building, standing on the meandering river Avon between the villages of Hampton Lucy and Charlecote. In it’s current construction it’s been there since 1806, but John believes there was a mill on the spot for several centuries before that. It is driven by two water wheels, which through an impressive network of bone-crunchingly powerful cogs power two stone mills on the first floor of the building, which are making the current batch of wholemeal flour as we visit. Charelcote millstones2Up in the attic of the building John shows us a large grain store, and the pulley system that allows mill operation to be a one man job. Sacks of flour are strewn everywhere on the ground floor, and the chute from the mill upstairs churns out soft wholemeal flour in a steady stream, like it has for hundreds of years. It’s a romantic scene. John sells me a couple of bags of flour, and we bid farewell, for now.

Without my sourdough starter and having been in a poorly equipped holiday cottage kitchen, I haven’t yet used the flour. However i’m envisioning a part wholemeal sourdough loaf, made with a good percentage of white leaven. I’m hoping this will create a light but wholesome loaf, full of flavour, and a sense of history. I’ll be reporting back on my search for a more local loaf in the coming weeks, stay tuned…

Charlecote Mill Flour