Dough for Maggie’s

Illustration by Suzy Varty

It started in March. As lockdown started and panic began to take hold, I could not get flour anywhere. Every supermarket had been stripped clean, no wholemeal, no rye, no plain white, nothing.

I have always made bread for my family in a bread machine (which, by the way, is awesome and nothing to be ashamed of in our busy lives). I used about 1.5kg of flour a week. When flour became scarce, and my stockpile started to run out I had to search for an alternative source. I trawled the internet for mills that could deliver but they too were struggling with demand. I finally I found Shipton Mill who had a clever system that if you could book a delivery slot you could order up-to 100kg of flour. It took two weeks to get a delivery slot. Two weeks of visiting their site every day and almost every hour. When I finally got a slot my community spirit kicked in. I thought I only need a few kilograms, perhaps there are other people in my community who need flour, so I advertised my delivery slot locally and within hours was inundated with orders. A week later 100kg of flour arrived at my door.

I’m sure it was all very mysterious to outside observers. People came to my door and while socially distanced took a bag of white powder away. All very clandestine and shady.

Now the trouble with bread machines is that you need yeast and as my flour distribution system was kicking in, I realised my next issue would be yeast. The supermarkets were bare. The internet gave 2-3 month delivery dates. It was looking hopeless. So, I started asking everyone who came to the door if they had a source. 

It was on one of these clandestine doorstep visits that I had my damascene experience. Brogan, who came to collect 15kg of flour, just said “I don’t use yeast I make sourdough bread” and then he said those fatal words, “would you like some starter”. He was all innocent as if he didn’t know the tortuous path he was setting me off down.

Now I’m always up for a challenge, so when he came round the next day with a small jam jar with 30 grams of starter, I took to it like a brick to water. Jumping in with both feet and forgetting I could not swim. I fed the little blighter, who I christened Son of Brogan, until I could decide what to do. Son of Brogan became fat quickly, so I started to bake with no equipment and even less talent. My first bread was not great but thanks to lockdown I did have lots of time.

A jar of Sourdough starter
Son of Brogan is a beast that now that makes 6 loaves a day.
Photo: David Hardman

I watched loads of videos and read lots of conflicting guides on getting the best sourdough loaf. They all told me it was a lot of work but worth it. I experimented and made edible but very flat and unimpressive loaves. I tried again and by my 6th or 7th loaf I was getting the hang of it. Son of Brogan was beginning to get a very fat because I had fed it so much.

To solve my problem with Son of Brogan, I started to bake two loaves a day giving one to neighbours. My community spirit had taken over again, but my community had other ideas. They started to request loaves and they offered to pay. I was flattered and my habit was beginning to get expensive. I’d received 250kg of flour from Shipton by this time and while I’d distributed a lot of it, much more had been baked in my oven than I ever expected. I thought about it and decided that I wasn’t a baker, but I was a fundraiser. Combining two passions seemed a logical conclusion.

I have cancer and so over the last two years have been through a lot. Maggie’s Centre at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle has been a saviour to me. They are a wonderful team in a little oasis, for people learning to live with cancer. I decided it was time for me to give a little back. So, I am now baking bread in my community to raise funds for the Maggie’s Centre. It’s a hobby that will keep me busy in my extended lockdown and it’s good to know I’m doing something that will help other cancer sufferers. 

Each of us has dealt with Lockdown in different ways and what started as a good deed ended in an obsession to help me get through. I am now baking up to 6 sourdough loaves a day to raise funds for Maggie’s Centre Newcastle. Wonderful bread for a fantastic charity.

If you want to bake your own Sourdough loaf then you can follow my recipe guide here but remember that no one’s guide is perfect. You have to experiment with different methods and adjust your recipe to fit your life.

I have set up a Facebook page to make it easier for my friends to buy my loaves.

Since I wrote this article I have baked over 400 loaves and raised £533 for the Maggie’s Centre in Newcastle. Everybody’s generosity has been fantastic. Thank you!

If you would like to sample one of my loaves you can now purchase them on Wednesdays and Sundays at the wonderful cheese shop, grate in Newcastle who are selling my loaves in support of Maggie’s.

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