GEORGE KEREVAN remembers bread from his childhood days…
In the 1950s and 1950s, women were entering the workforce in large numbers after the post-war hiatus had displaced them with men returning from the far-flung battlefronts.
Working mums had no time to bake never mind the fact that a housing scheme like Drumchapel provided little in the way of domestic facilities.
So our daily bread meant a trip down Ladyloan Avenue to the local Co-op where there were exactly two kinds of loaf available. First there was the Pan Loaf, always considered a bit posh – hence the sobriquet of speaking with a “Pan Loaf” accent. Slightly more expensive than the alternative but rougher Plain Loaf, the Pan model was lighter in texture and made for better fried egg pieces (trans. Glaswegian for “sandwiches”)
Both loaves were resolutely white and, if memory serves correct, rather tasteless. The Pan Loaf was so-called because … well, it was baked in a tin pan. Or at least its original domestic model was. I’ve never been sure exactly why a Plain Loaf was plain, except it definitely was devoid of anything definitional except a thicker, browner crust than its rival. Plain had the edge when it came to toast and I coveted the thick exterior slices for a jam piece. Or – heaven – a sugar piece, which consisted of white, granulated sugar sprinkled liberally on think butter.
We knew of other strange and exotic breads, referred to generically as “brown”. But we rarely saw these and they were considered medicinal. Besides, brown loaves were not pre-sliced. Sliced bread was the acme of 1950s modernity.
The point of this meander down memory lane is that bread to my generation was considered a way of “filling up”. We stuffed ourselves with bread but only as a vehicle for other kinds of taste – does anyone remember Heinz sandwich spread – or even know what was in it? Or lemon curd. Or (still a secret desire of mine) Piccalilli. Indeed, I avoided starvation as an impecunious economics undergraduate only because the old Glasgow University refectory allowed one to scoff as many jam pieces as one could, for the price of a mug of coffee.
Bread wise, we live in a different era now – one as far removed as the space age from the horse and cart.
Suddenly, Scotland is awash with bespoke local bakeries in every small town or local community. A generation ago we had the Real Ale revolution. Now we have the Real Bread revolution. Where Bill Gates led, a new generation of baker entrepreneurs has followed.
I was on windy Dunbar High Street on Saturday, on the campaign trail. Constant politicking has a way of disrupting domestic arrangements, so my wife and I nipped into what looked like a promising source of decent bread, to fill up the larder at home – and possibly provide lunch on the hoof.
Twenty minutes later we had not only acquired an armful of sourdoughs and mushroom pasties, baked on the premises from local ingredients. But I had also been persuaded to buy a few share in The Bakery Dunbar – “we want to put the heart back into the loaf and the community”.
The Bakery Dunbar is one of wave of community and bespoke bakeries reinventing Scottish bread-making. The catalyst in Dunbar was the closure in 2008 (due to retirement) of the old Smith family bakery. Rather than see the High Street denuded of a bakery, the local community development trust did some market research, identified a need, and launched Dunbar Community Bakery Limited as a co-operative. Local people – 160 of them – chipped in £17,600 in equity.
The new bread entrepreneurship in Scotland is not restricted to community ventures, but it does share a market focus on quality over mass production. In Edinburgh, the veritable explosion of bakeries (often with satellite cafes) include The Archipelago in Queen Street, Peter’s Yard in the Quartermile, Patisserie Jacob (now expanding out of Gorgie), and the wonderful new Breadshare community bakery in Portobello.
Leader in the field is the eponymous Falko, a Konditormeister from Heilbronn in Germany, who removed to Edinburgh in 1998 because he loved the city. Falko eschews industrial quantities of sugar in his bread and cakes. He also refuses to use a proving machine to speed up the bread-making and insists that sponges are raised by hand in the orthodox Viennese manner by beating air into the eggs, not with the addition of raising agents. You can actually meet the elusive Mr Falko himself once a month at Haddington farmers’ market.
I suspect the ingredients of Scotland’s bread revolution are middle class taste buds and income mixed with green politics and the desire of some to escape the professional rat race in search of a more fulfilling lifestyle. I dare say the economic climate, which has forced many ex-professionals to look for self-employment, also has something to do with it. On the other hand, there is a growing market for bespoke, flavourful foods. Put another way, there’s brass to be made in dough.