Community Steam - Bake & Blend Workshop
Stamford Hill Community Garden

Tuesday 11.08.15

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On a balmy May afternoon, I strolled up a garden path in North London. This particular garden was quite completely and overwhelmingly full - there was barely a patch of earth that didn’t have something growing out of it. Wooden boxes, crates, tyres, glass containers, plastic tubs were everywhere, full of herbs and flowers and vegetables and fruit… There was an elderly, Irish man resting by a shed, talking to the two (I assumed Turkish) women, who couldn’t speak any English but seemed to find most things hilarious. A young boy was reaping the leafy rewards of his very own patch of soil. A man further up the garden path was tending to the largest chard I’ve ever seen and a second man was giving everyone ice cream. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the Stamford Hill Estate’s community garden - friendly, busy, full and industrious. As a child, I was always fascinated by Stamford Hill. We would drive through every other Sunday on our way to visit my grandparents and I would look out the car window at the parade of Orthodox Jews, looking dapper in their smart black suits with their hair perfectly curled, walking alongside the processions of Africans dressed in explosions and rolls of colourful fabric, heading to church. It was so starkly London to me – people who were so completely opposite (though equally as god fearing perhaps) living quite happily alongside one another and going about their own business peacefully. Built by the will power of the residents in collaboration with the charity, Groundwork, The Stamford Hill Estate embodies this diversity and also illustrates the idea of everyone happily getting on with it, regardless of differences in culture or appearance or age.

A month later, I returned to the garden alongside herb experts, Hackney Herbal - an initiative that aims to connect people and herbs in Hackney - to run a workshop. At the moment, the kids at H.H are running a scheme to harvest herbs from various community gardens and create locally grown tea blends and we thought it might be a nice idea to put our heads together to run a bread-making and tea-blending session at the Estate. The drizzly June morning didn’t seem to deter a handful of Estaters. We huffed and puffed the Bread Companion into the newly launched Peace Garden (the second community garden for hanging out in rather than growing stuff) and got baking. A large focaccia, some lavender bread and a few lemon thyme biscuits later, the rain had abated and we sat in the garden, residents, herbalists and baker eating doughnuts and the tea that we had just blended. We then spent the afternoon making our very own tea bags to take home. I was so very impressed by the community garden. I was impressed by its fullness and that it was being tended to so seriously but also with so much experimentation, especially by some of the younger growers. When we grow things, we feel better. When we are outside, we feel better (even if we do have to look straight out onto a busy North London road). If everyone in London could grow just one thing, maybe a little bean or the odd pea, I think it would solve a lot of problems. But, sadly, it is a bit of a privilege in London to be able to have access to a patch of outdoor earth. It shouldn’t be, but it is. However, the fact that it has taken a handful of very different people to get something so rare in London started is commendable and I hope it inspires other communities to get digging. If you’re ever in Stamford Hill, stick your head round the metaphorical door and say hello to the folks, busy as bees, tending to their broccoli with some elbow grease and a good bit of healthy, community steam. If the weather’s nice, there might even be an ice cream in it for you.

Writing by Julia Georgallis
Images by Stamford Hill Estate Residents

*Our next Bake & Blend workshop with Hackney Herbal will be on Sunday September 13th in London Fields. Book here*

An Uphill Start
Stroud International Textile Fair

Sunday 31.05.15

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It took four months, nine people, about a million loaves of bread, several favors, a man called Dave and a mini to launch The Bread Companion. As always, things went wrong and took far longer than I thought they would. Just a month ago, the idea of finally pushing the project out the door was a terrifying prospect. I suppose the beginning of anything is always the hardest part – even getting the smallest of tasks going can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle. The topic of ‘uphill’ is pretty fitting for my bread oven’s first journey out of town to a hilly, bumpy, winding and pot-holey Stroud. On a drizzly Friday afternoon, still freshly welded together, my trailer finally made its way out of London’s stratosphere, precariously towed by my mini. In the front seat of the car, I drove for two and a half hours with all my extremities crossed, accompanied by good friend Lauren of HEKA. And of course, we did make it, trailer in one piece and car still functioning, to bake our little hearts out at The Bread Companion’s first public event.

I was in Stroud for two Saturdays in May, running drop in bread making workshop as part of an exhibition called ‘Concerning Plants’. Curated by textile designer and Royal College friend of mine, Gemma Waggett, the exhibition was part of Stroud’s annual International Textile fair. Each participant’s ( Katherine May , BRUTES , Gemma Waggett, Marcin Rusak and Hazel Stark ) work explored how nature influenced their practice.

The Bread Companion’s take on celebrating plants was to look at its roots (pun absolutely intended), something that I have touched on in my last couple of posts. Bread was one of the first things that our ancestors made by altering the nature of plants. I thought it would be interesting to teach one of the first leavened bread recipes during my first workshop – Beer Bread, which is quick easy and most importantly, tasty. We used flour from Shipton Mill – which is just up the road from Stroud in Tetbury and, wonderfully enough, beer from the East London Brewing Company, one of whose founders is from Stroud.

Happily, we had a warm reception by Strouders and all went well, minus a few burnt flatbreads. Stroud is teeming with creative life – it is full of studios run by artists and designers, but it isn’t over saturated and still has the vibe left over from a mass hippy exodus from London in the 60’s. I have to say, it wasn’t really what I was expecting. I’d never travelled to the Cotswalds before, and I was sort of expecting flat caps and riding crops, Hunter wellies and labradors. But actually, Stroud is artsy without being pretentious and pretty without being twee. I liked the look of the Saturday’s farmers market complete with accordions and people playing double bass (I also thoroughly enjoyed the couple walking their ferrets). Taking part in the textile festival was just the right push that The Bread Companion needed, and we look forward to heading up again in the future for a bit more baking.

Writing & Images by Julia Georgallis
*A massive thanks to Lauren who helped me on the first weekend and Steve, Mike, Hannah, Rob and Helen who gave me a big push on the second. Thanks to Gemma for inviting me and Neil for letting my oven spend the week on holiday in the Stroud Goods Shed*