Sourdough – the path to enlightenment

A sourdough loaf used to be a luxury that I paid three or four quid for and to be quite frank I couldn’t quite see what all the fuss was about.

But during lockdown I, along with a large number of friends, have been converted to the wonders and delights of sourdough.

No decent bread is to be had from the supermarket and it’s been almost impossible to get to the bakers in Norwich.

That, coupled with a shortage of flour and yeast, has meant many of us turning to sourdough as the  alternative.

I managed to order two sacks of organic flour from Shipton Mill and my friend Jenny supplied me with some of her sourdough starter.

This is the starter to which you add flour and warm water. Left in a warm place it will bubble up and rise. It’s then added as part of the recipe to make the dough.

The first loaf was a near disaster which left me on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

I’m not kidding. It was so stressful.

I followed the recipe and video Jenny supplied.

I love Patrick – the baker/chef in the film – and I found his explanations really comprehensive but in practice the dough was too wet and sticky for me to handle without becoming covered in the stuff.

At one point the ball of dough became an unruly mass that threatened to jump from the work surface to the floor like one of those slinkies we all had as children that had a kinetic energy all of its own.

I was exhausted at the end of it.

I swore never again.

But another friend, Sally, suggested a stretch and fold technique rather than sustained, lengthy kneading.

I also strongly suggest lightly oiling your hands and the work surface instead of using nothing at all before you stretch and fold the dough – I can’t remember where I got this tip from but it’s made all the difference to me and my sourdough experience.

I do use a little flour at the end of the process to shape my loaves and I lightly flour the tea towel I use to line my bowls for the final proof.

I’m going to post the original video here.

I’m also going to share the recipe I’ve ended up using here.

I have started using more wholemeal flour and changed the ratios slightly.

I now make two smaller loaves with these measures. I freeze one and eat the other immediately.

800g strong bread flour (200g wholemeal, 600g white).

250g sourdough starter

500g tepid water

20 – 25g salt

So in summary the video is great for giving you an idea of the whole process but please feel free to use the other recipe and my tips to make life a little easier.

The bread I’ve been making is delicious – it’s light yet slightly chewy with a crumpet-like texture. It freezes well.

Last tip. Please resist the urge to slice the loaf when it’s hot or still warm. It’ll ruin the rest.

If anyone needs some starter rather than making your own please ask and I’ll give you some.

Good luck and happy baking.









Garlic disaster


It turns out it may be isn’t my fault after all – a professional grower friend tells me that my garlic have, most probably, white onion rot.

It’s stays in the soil for up to 20 years…


I’m so disappointed with myself.

I should have harvested my garlic a week or more ago.

Instead I left it and this week watered it along with everything else using the irrigation system because it was so dry – the driest May on record.

Note to self; the irrigation system is indiscriminate and so am I!

I forgot that garlic can succumb to mould in damp conditions, especially at the end of the growing season.

I’d say about two thirds of the crop is ruined for drying and storing.

The garlic on the left has gone mouldy in the ground and is no longer good for drying and storing

I’ll have to chop and freeze it.

I have managed to salvage about a dozen bulbs for drying

The Longor shallots which I had great hopes for are also a disaster.

They’ve dried off at the roots and come loose from the soil.

They’re very small and needed another month or two in the ground before they were ready for picking, drying and storing.

I did sow another shallot called Cuisse de Poulet from seed.

Will they redeem what has so far been a disheartening start to this year’s harvests?






Heritage beans

Today, according to my biodynamic app, is a good day for fruiting plants like beans, peas, squash and courgettes.

I’d been holding off sowing my bean collection for fear of young plants being hit by late frosts in May.

And I’m glad I did as the cold front has arrived with strong winds and plummeting temperatures; they halved in 24 hours.

By sowing in modules inside now, any seedlings won’t need to go outside until the beginning of June when the risk of frost is past. 

Dried Borlotti Pods
Dried Borlotti Pods

I’ve sown borlottis (the climbers not the dwarf variety) that came from the annual Norwich Seed Swap in February.

They are eaten for the beans inside the pod which look like tiny pink and green marbled eggs when fresh.

They can also be dried – as can most beans – to store, rehydrate and eat through the winter.

I’ve also sown Peggy’s Sussex Runner Beans. They’re from seed grown and saved by my friend, Bee Springwood from her Mum’s, Peggy’s, stock.

I thought it was apt that my 83 year old mother, Jan, helped me.

She doesn’t often get involved in the veg side of things but today we spent a pleasant hour sowing them in a warm glasshouse out of the reach of the fierce and chilly north easterlies.

We also sowed my own saved Czar Runner seed, some Violette de Cosse purple french climbing beans from my friends Cilla and Julie, and an unknown green bean that I really haven’t a clue about!

Still to go into the modules filled with homemade compost are a dozen or so black beans from the Elliott’s smallholding in the Waveney valley that I visited with Norfolk Organic Group (NOG) last year – or was it two years ago!?

And last but not least some climbing beans called Jack Edwards that came from Garden Organics Heritage Seed Library via NOG still have to be sown.

They are also known as Yin and Yang beans for obvious reasons. Now I just have to build the wigwams and structures for them to grow up!












The Garden in June

I’ve planted out my squash, courgettes and beans.

A colleague gave me the courgette seeds. He says – despite their ugly appearance – they are the best tasting he’s ever grown. The variety is Rugosa Fruilana.

The winter squash are mainly Uchiki Kuri. These bright orange onion squash are perfect for small families or single people. They also store well.

Japanese Hokkaido Pumpkins
Japanese Hokkaido Pumpkins aka Uchiki Kuri

The other three are leftover seed – Candy Roaster and  Hungarian Blue. They’ve been plonked on the remains of the old compost heap in the far corner of the garden.

I have winter cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli and kaibroc which still need a cage erected to protect them from the pigeons and cabbage white butterflies.

I will also sow some Cavolo Nero/Black Kale soon for winter.

I’ve had amazing 100% germination rates for borlotti beans from seed saved by my friend Di. I’ve also sowed some May Beans that I cadged from the Garden Organic heritage seed library via the Norfolk Organic Group.

Climbing beans ready to be planted out

I’m also growing Violet de cosse, Czar runners and Greek Gigantes beans – all climbers. The first producing purple french beans. The other two mainly butter type beans for drying.

I swore I wouldn’t grow tomatoes this year – too much trouble watering them but somehow I have ended up with a dozen or so – from friends. Green Derby, Roma and Baby Plum. They’ll go outside once the broad beans are finished against the warm wall.

Lemon Verbena, Purple Sage and French Tarragon

My cuttings have done well. Easy if you follow a YouTube video. Next up are pelargoniums.

More ruby chard, parsnip and beetroot seed has been sown.

Celeriac seedlings have gone in.

They’ll need regular watering if they are to come to anything.

The real success story are the globe artichokes – last year they were just getting established and yielded only a few. But they’re prolific right now and quite early. A joy to eat with a thick mustard vinaigrette.


Soon it’ll be time to sow winter veg like endive, mustard greens and lettuce as well as red chicory.Facebooktwitterpinterestmail

Getting to know you

This is the first year I’ve grown turnips.

At first glance they seem rather unglamorous.

But I’ve been making an effort to get to know them.

That’s still an ongoing process but I’m very pleased with the initial results.

The first attempt at a quick turnip pickle was a bit of a disaster – too much salt.

But second time around it worked a treat – the underlying sweetness of the turnip coming to the fore while retaining the bite.

I got the idea from “Japanese Farm Food” by Nancy Singleton Hachisu.

You could use purple topped Milano turnips – as I did. Or daikon radish aka mooli would work equally well. My turnips are still quite small – slightly larger than a golf ball.

The recipe calls for 675g of the topped and tailed vegetable sliced into 3mm rounds or half moons – I used less – but I’ve left the quantities as per the original recipe except for the salt which originally called for 27g!

Save a couple of handfuls of the young greener shoots and leaves in the middle and slice them roughly.

Sprinkle on a little salt (the recipe was too salty for me). I literally took several pinches and then rubbed it into the turnip greens and slices.

Then zest a lemon and slice it into very thin strips. Do the same to some peeled ginger (about a teaspoons worth). Add it to the turnip along with two small dried or fresh chillies.

Mix and leave for ten minutes. Eat alongside your main meal. It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week.

Kabu no shiozuke

To grow turnips, I sow four or five seeds per module and then transplant outside into a vegetable bed that’s been mulched well with about an inch of compost.

They do well in a clump of four or five – a bit like radish and beetroot which I grow the same way.

They’re a good early catch crop – and I may sow some for an autumn harvest or try daikon instead – sowing after the longest day.

When I harvest I take the biggest of the clump near the stem and twist and pull gently – holding the remainder in place with my other hand. They will carry on growing – repeat until you’ve used them all or they’ve gone to seed!

Pigeons like the young tops but I didn’t mind that too much so didn’t bother protecting them.

The greens are nice (as are radish) to eat. They’re slightly peppery and go well in a stir fry or blanched and then cooked with chilli and garlic.

I used this superb recipe.