Blackberry and Apple Sourdough Loaf
Late summer afternoons I take the dogs, my children and a colander to my favourite patch in the fields surrounding the village to pick blackberries and crab apples. I’ve been blackberries picking all my life; it is romantic. The children laugh and squabble and eat more then they pick, and in the evening the resulting pies fill the house with the most delicious smells. They always taste sweeter for the effort. Ignoring the occasional tears from nettle stings, blackberrying is a joy and very much part of the rhythm of living in the countryside.
Now is the time to pick blackberries. As the summer evenings draw in, September sees the apples ripen and the fields sway gently with golden with sun-ripened wheat… no... hang on… that is not quite right… the fields are not completely golden. This years summer rain means that although the blackberries are extra plump, the fields are actually patchy, with some ripe, and semi ripening green wheat, and having escaped from the surrounding hedgerows wild self seeded plants and the dreaded villain of farmers, black grass pepper the crop. Weeds reduce yield, as does unripe wheat and so the conventional approach to harvesting means that the wheat, and by default the surrounding hedges, is sprayed off with glyphosate, a herbicide which brings forward harvest by stressing the plants, and so speeds up combining.
Known as Roundup, (note the familiar friendly farming terminology name,) the harvest literature from the manufacturer states that a preharvest weed control application is “an excellent management strategy to not only control perennial weeds, but to facilitate harvest management and get a head start on next year’s crop.” There is significant literature, written in simple friendly terms, extolling the virtues of this weedkiller as a preharvest application that increases seed yield, seed quality and baking quality of wheat. Monsanto, the giant American chemical conglomerate that manufactures Roundup has a powerful PR team that enforces a consistent message that this weedkiller is a safe, non toxic essential product. This message has worked as figures show that use of glyphosate on our crops has increased by 400% in the last 20 years. It how now become almost standard practice to use this as an aid to farming... which is extremely disturbing, given that earlier this year the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency stated the glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
The use of Roundup means that almost a third of the UK cereal crops grown in the UK were sprayed with glyphosate in 2013. As a baker, the fact that I found most disturbing is that glyphosate carries over into the bread we eat. A study in 2013 by Pan UK that found that 63% of the loaves they analysed contained traces of at least one pesticide and this year tests by the Defra committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) have reported that up to 30% of UK bread contains glyphosate.
If this chemical were being added to our food by a foreign force, and not our farmers, we’d universally agree that we were under attack. Our most basic food, bread, contains traces of a potentially carcinogenic weedkiller. Suddenly a slice of toast has a 1 in 3 chance of being a contributory factor to a devastating disease that, according to Cancer Research UK, causes more than one in four of all deaths in the UK. So this year I will not be picking blackberries. Instead I wander through the field with the feeling that there is something seriously wrong with our food system.
The question is what can we do? The answer is a lot. The first place to start is by supporting the organic spoil association campaign actively seeking out products that are made using organically produced cereals, because buying organically is the only truly guaranteed way to avoid Glyphosate. Many artisan bakers also use local organically produced flour and have a unique relationship with both their local mill and the local organic farmers so it is worth seeking out your local baker and asking about the flour they use. Last, but not least, is taking control of your own bread and baking your own organic sourdough, using local organic flour, which means that your daily bread is good not just for you and your family, but for the wildlife and the health of the planet too.
Organic blackberry and apple sourdough loaf
A traditional sourdough boule, with autumn apples and blackberries. Allow about 3 –4 hours for the dough to be mixed, folded and shaped ready to place in the coldest part of the fridge to prove overnight.(If you are new to bread making, you can, instead of shaping the dough and putting it into a banneton, grease a 2lb bread tin liberally with butter and dust with flour and then allow the dough rise in it overnight in the fridge and then bake as per the recipe instructions below.)
- A large mixing bowl
- A round cane banneton
- 2 clean tea towels
- A baking stone or a Dutch oven or La Cloche
- A large heatproof pan, a sharp knife or ‘lame’ to slash the dough with
- 300g water
- 100g sourdough leaven (‘starter’)*
- 100g of stoneground organic wholemeal flour
- 400g organic strong white flour
- 10g fine sea salt
- An organic Apple cored and sliced into thin slices
- A large handful of organic blackberries
- 25g rice flour mixed with 25g of stone ground white flour (for dusting your banneton)
- Semolina to dust the bottom of the baking surface
Makes 1 loaf
- In a large bowl whisk your water and starter and mix well. Add all the flour and salt and mix until all the ingredients come together into a large ball.
- Cover with a clean damp cloth and let the dough rest in a cool environment for 2 hours – what bakers sometimes call Autolyse
- Lift and fold your dough over, do a quarter turn of your bowl and repeat three more times. Repeat 3 times at 15 minute intervals with a final 15 minute rest at the end. The third fold add the apple slices and the blackberries.
- Shape the dough lightly into a ball, ensuring that the fruit is tucked inside the loaf as much as possible to prevent it catching and burning in the oven. Then place into a round banneton that has been liberally dusted with flour (If you don’t have a banneton then use a clean old tea towel dusted with flour inside a colander – please note that blackberries can stain). Dust the top with flour, then cover with a damp tea-towel.
- Leave your dough to one side for an hour then transfer to the fridge (about 10.30 – 11pm), and leave to prove there for 8 – 12 hours.
Bake (between 7:00 and 11:00am)
- The next morning preheat your oven to 220°C for at least 30 minutes before you are ready to bake. Place your baking stone in the oven and a large pan of boiling water underneath (or use a Dutch oven). The hydration helps form a beautiful crust.
- Once the oven is up to temperature, carefully remove the baking stone from the oven, taking care not to burn yourself dust with a fine layer of semolina, which stops the bread sticking, then put your dough onto the baking stone and slash the top with your blade. This decides where the bread will tear as it rises. Bake for 40 minutes.
- Turn the heat down to 180°C (and remove the lid if you are using a Dutch oven) and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes. You need to choose just how dark you like your crust but I suggest that you bake until it is a dark brown – it tastes much better.
- Sourdough is really best left to cool completely before slicing and is even better if left for a day to let the full flavour develop.
- Once your sourdough has cooled, store in a linen or cotton bread bag, or wrapped in a clean tea towel.
Note: if you don’t want a crunchy crust on your sourdough bread, simply wrap your bread in a clean tea towel whilst it is still warm.