The Staff of Life

Heritage wheat seed-saving at Ardross

As the seasons unfold, different delicacies take to the fore: artisan cheese after summer grazing; new season’s crab; North Ronaldsay sheep come new year and strawberries in June. For now, it’s the turn of grains and breads to do a desk takeover chez nous as Andrew Whitley and I plan next February’s Scottish Bread Championship at Bowhouse and elsewhere in Scotland, the Edinburgh Bakers Trustees soon assemble to review their latest round of Grant Applicants. The harvest is gathered in and threshing continues with milling and baking to follow in due course. Pockets of heritage grain continue to flourish around Scotland with the level of interest increasing annually. There are community bakers and world class sourdough specialists; some are charities and others thriving enterprises but there’s not one I know that isn’t a real asset to their local community to be celebrated and supported.

Over in Sweden, Slow Food Scania’s autumn adventure was a grand day out starting with a walking tour around independent delicatessens in Lund, a university town well endowed with impressive Jugend-style architecture (a counterpart to Art Nouveau). We then car-shared to Håkan Rasmusson’s farm at Värpinge where this enterprising organic farmer is famous for his heritage grains (Dala wheat, rye, naked barley, emmer and spelt).

He has created fruit orchards and grows smaller acreages of mustard seed, cumin, garlic, lupin and puy lentils. A segment of his farm has been transformed into a very popular golf course – also organic – where sheep graze the rough and orchards intersperse the fairways. Intercropping systems, we are informed, known affectionately as the three sisters, usually entail a maize crop with beans to fertilise, climbing the corn for support, and broad-leaved ground-cover vegetables such as gourds beneath – Håkan’s version of three sisters is grain, golfers and apples. Now that’s farm diversification for you.

We sat at a long table for a fascinating presentation on his range of pure heritage grains; their uses and characteristics. Wild cumin thrives in Scandinavia and is used in Norwegian Pultost, so it was a joy to buy a jar at the place where it had grown. Skåne is also famous for its mustard and his son uses this mill to prepare the seeds.

The group from Slow Food Scania
Håkan demonstrating one of his mills

Håkan is devoted and full of energy in equal measures. He strives to find environmental solutions and has a wind turbine for all his needs. We were invited to see the whole grain procedure, from field to sack with our tour ending at his lovely farm shop.

I particularly liked the way Håkan has restored the old stable block, with each horse box transformed into an enclosed unit for the various stages of grain production, all painted Falun röd, looking bright and smart: neat as a pin with an organised flow. He takes a real pride in all aspects of the process to ensure pure flavours in the final products.

Bread has come a long way since the fertile crescent with a few major setbacks along the way however I am delighted to report the tide is turning and we agreed an increasing number of bakers are seriously interested in heritage grains and flours with their own distinctive flavours and properties. Scotland’s go-to grains are wheat and rye from Scotland The Bread and Orkney Bere from Barony Mill, who will also supply your oatmeal needs. Bosse’s heritage seed saving at Ardross is progressing well as is John Castley’s schools project over at Comrie Primary.

This particular selection is from Wild Hearth

Scottish Food Guide already collaborates with and supports a range of terrific bakers, some traditional whilst others are new to the breadboard. Spread across Scotland, here they are, in alphabetical order…

Campbells of Crieff & Comrie, 9th generation bakers & home to the only Selkirk Bannock on Slow Food International’s Ark of Taste

Christie’s, traditional, family bakers Airdrie, Coatbridge & Whitburn plus World Champion Scotch Pie Award Winner

Company Bakery, past Winner of Scottish Bread Championship   

Dainty Monkey , a wonderful micro-bakery in Trinity

Firebrick for those in Border country, based in Lauder

Heritage Bakehouse, with Oban School of Sourdough & Artisan Bread

Mhor Bread from Tom Lewis who is also now running tutorials too

Old Quay Bakehouse plus sourdough pizzas to go

Orkney Sourdough in Kirkwall bringing a taste of Sweden to the Orkneys with great success.

Sunrise Bakehouse in Burntisland with a queue outside the door it’s so appreciated

Wild Hearth, past Winner of Scottish Bread Championship  

Also a mention to members who bake their own such as…

Craigie’s , Eusebi’s , Loch Arthur Farm shop , Othin House , Valvona & Crolla

…whilst others like Post & Pantry receive deliveries from Wild Hearth and Sunrise. Combined, all offer more opportunities for consumers to enjoy high quality fresh bread. Whilst many chefs and cooks bake their own bread, a significant number entrust the task to these marvellous exponents of the craft. Skills I can only dream of.

Many of these bakers have already received Gold, Silver and/or Bronze Awards at Scottish Bread Championship 2023 and we hope more will enter the 2024 Championship where we have lots planned to showcase, entertain and educate – more details to follow in due course but save the dates, the Championship will be on Friday 23rd & the Festival on Saturday 24th February. By bringing the two events to consecutive days it is hoped many will stay over and enjoy the occasion. After all sharing bread is all about conviviality and flavours, good health and skills.

For those of you considering a bread project, perhaps increasing your skills and linking to your local community education in some way, or delving into local grain culture, there is funding available from the Edinburgh Bakers Trust that is well worth looking into. Trustees will award the next tranche early November so you need your application in THIS WEEK AT THE ABSOLUTE LATEST to be in with a chance. Here is the link.

Last but by no means least, before the month is o’er I must raise my glass to Jock Gibson of Macbeths who supported my cookery demos at this year’s Smallholders Festival, held at Ingliston. It was a really terrific event and congratulations to Martin Beard and his team. Jock donated meats from Elchies goat, Orkney Boreray mutton, Parkhill Oxford & Sandy Black pork and his own Edinvale Highland beef. We had a full house and the meats were very much appreciated.

Returning from Taste of Shetland, look forward to next month’s newsletter where we shall share Shetland’s landscape, food, producers and chefs with you. Until then, stay safe, warm and dry.

A preview of Shetland to whet your appetite: the Scalloway shoreline

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