“BAKING slows you down,” says Yo Tozer-Loft.
Quietly reading the papers and drinking coffee may have been unlikely in the lunch hall of the building formerly known as Sharrow Junior School in the past.
The school building is now a community space, however, and on the last Saturday morning of the month, the lunch hall and its kitchen is host to the Blend Baking Club.
“It’s restful for someone else to organise it all for you,” says Yo.
“Here you’ve got all the ingredients together, so it frees me up to enjoy time with the kids, without having to tidy up and all that horrible stuff.”
“I do make bread every now and then at home, but the problem is the lack of time,” says Simon Ellis. “At home you might bake bread, but you’d do a million and one other jobs at the same time.”
The Baking Club is part of the Blend community food project which organises a range of food based activities for adults and families, at present mostly in the Sharrow area, funded by the NHS, the council’s central assembly and Sharrow Community Forum. The events are often run by volunteers with support from Sharrow Shipshape and the Creative Action Network.
“Blend and the Baking Club are not just about cooking, it’s about the community and people getting to know other people,” says Joy Allen, chief baker for the day on Saturday.
“It’s about health and lifestyle and doing things together with your kids that are fun. Sharrow is a great place to live and it’s a nice thing to do to come to and get to know each other.”
The club costs £2.50 per adult (with children taking part for free) with participants taking home their home-made bread at the end.
Coffee, newspapers and advice are at hand, and so far the club has dabbled in foccacia, bagels, caramelised onions, apple bread and more.
“It’s a way of making time for the family for a few hours,” says Ian James. “They can play when we read the papers. Last time we made bagels and went into town and bought some cream cheese then sat and ate the bagels in the Winter Garden.”
The idea of the event is partly educational, to show people that making your own bread is not that difficult and you could do it at home, says Joy Allen.
It seems baking bread is part of a general desire to take more time over things with the family and to encourage more children to pick up the basic skills learned at grandmother’s knee in generations past.
Perhaps, say participants, it’s also part of a rejection of an industrial bread-making process, designed 50 years ago to make bread quicker and cheaper. There are national campaigns to ‘retire’ the old mechanised fat, water and salt-based process by which the majority of British bread is produced.
“I enjoyed making bread with my mum so I wanted to do it with my kids, so it’s like a heritage thing for me,” says Yo Tozer-Loft.
“My favourite bit is kneading,” says her son Reuben, aged 11. “You get to push and pull the bread, and it’s like the bread’s alive. Instead of just walking down to the shop to buy it, you know you’ve worked to make it, and it tastes better because you’ve made it yourself.”
“I didn’t know how you made it before, it’s harder than you think, but it was fun too,” says Sophia James, ten.
The process seems to work very well for families: a bit of intense kneading, a touch of creative apple chopping and arranging, then coffee and papers while the yeast does its work and the kids play.
“It’s nice to come and bake with other people,” says Naomi Hinch. “The children always ask if they can bring a friend, so they must enjoy it.
You can make more mess here too, because we don’t have a big kitchen at home so we can all get stuck in together.”
Part of the interest in baking comes from economic reasons, say the bakers: if you get organised you can make better bread cheaper than you’d pay in the shops.
“When people are feeling the pinch this is a way to get back to basics,” says Naomi Hinch. “When you don’t have enough disposable income for other things, it doesn’t take a lot of money to bake.
“I’d encourage people to give it a go. I’d like to see baking clubs across the city.”
lStudents rise to challenge, page 26