Bit of a breakthrough on the sourdough. Can it really be time to reset the propagator?

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I gave the bread 8 hours to mature before I cut it this morning. I was looking for a better structure and a thinner crust and I think I achieved the first aim and I’m on my way to achieving the second, so I thought I’d better make a note of what I did because I’m bound to forget. There are two principal changes. Firstly I diluted the strong flour by substituting 25% organic white soft flour. This was an idea that came from the Shipton Mill website which says that (home) bakers struggle to achieve a good result with because apparently most strong bread flours are all a bit too strong, which seems to suit industrial bakeries but makes such a strong dough that it can’t really expand into the big open textures we all like. The 25% figure was a pure guess and it would be worth experimenting around that percentage and maybe also trying different flours. I addressed the issue of tough crust by giving the loaf a 15 min blast at 220C with maximum steam and then turning it down to 180C (opening the door for a moment to let some of the heat out), for a further 15 minutes and then finishing with five minutes with the oven turned off and the door ajar by a couple of inches. The crust is definitely thinner – still crisp, but not tooth-breaking hard. I think I must have been cooking the loaves too hot. On occasions with wholemeal loaves I’ve had brick hard crust but undercooked crumb at the centre.

65634f2e9f7941a24b0c586094e9f77aMeanwhile the propagator has been brought back into the kitchen and filled with coir pellets sown with winter lettuce, chard and spinach. The coir pellets have been a great success and have enabled us to avoid peat based sowing composts. They’re less messy and even beetroot seems to develop naturally from them. My only misgiving is the material used for the fine netting that surrounds them – is it biodegradable or are we in danger of loading yet more plastic into the earth. A bit of research on the internet suggests that the peat industry is sponsoring a fightback through so-called independent websites, suggesting that the netting surrounding Jiffy 7 pellets doesn’t degrade. There’s a lot of confusion about degradability in any case. The ‘degradable’ bin liners we all use don’t degrade in normal domestic compost heaps but only in commercial high temperature industrial composters and so the many that I’ve used in our heap seem undiminished even when the heap reaches 40C. It’s a fraud on the gullible who hope to save the world by buying something different and the manufacturers are getting away with it. Then there’s a distinction between biodegradable and photo degradable plastics. If the Jiffy 7 netting is only photodegradable it’s never going to decompose while it’s under the soil surface. Coir pellets only need to to be contained until the seedlings are planted out – so maybe five or six weeks maximum – and then they can biodegrade as quickly as possible. Don’t we have any suitable materials to to this? and could we not use a form of woven cotton to achieve the end we all want. The problem I suspect is that the highly compressed pellet (light, robust and cheap to transport} doubles or trebles in size when it’s soaked prior to sowing and so the coating fabric needs to be able to expand accordingly. Some form of extra fine cotton crepe or sheeps’ wool might do it but would probably need developing. As ever it’s cheaper to use weasel words on the packet than to do the research and development. I think this is calling for an experiment. It would cost more than a penny to bury a few pellets and to expose some more to sunlight and weather, and I could find out for myself.

Later we decided not to go to the allotment but to go for a walk along the canal. It was a great decision and we both enjoyed it enormously, especially when the skies cleared a bit and the sun came out just as we came to the refreshment hut above Bath Deep Lock. So we walked up to Sidney Gardens and back along Great Pulteney Steet.

Then home and I made a salad of mango, smoked chicken and a thai style dressing on our own salad leaves. I chucked a few cooked salad potatoes in underneath for a bit of padding but there was ample for both of us. I even managed to use one of the Apache chillies without making th whole thing too fiery.

 

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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