Official Bakery Correspondent to the BBC (Ish...!!)


As you may  know, I keep dodgy hours when it comes to my work schedule.  For the past couple of years, I've  religiously been listening to the early morning breakfast show with Chris Hawkins on BBC Radio 6 music, from 5am until 7am.  It's most agreeable on the ears, with back-to-back variety of music, minimal banter, a smattering of routine fun features and zero ads, aside from those promoting truly excellent upcoming music shows and biogs.

 From time to time, the show host, Chris Hawkins (aka the Hawk) will read out a short, yet whimsical update, from one of the regular listeners; there is Pete the Market Trader, Karl the trucker (where is he travelling to today?), the LA correspondent and up until recently, Luke the Baker who was relieved of his duties, owing to his lack of correspondence.    I'd imagine that the show is pretty overwhelmed with baker-listeners, with an eclectic taste in music like mine, however when the post became available, my hands must have been the only ones dough-free when the announcement came over the airways about the position being available.  I jumped at the chance and offered my services, texted in and lo and behold, the job was mine!  I was to submit my first offering for the following morning; "kind of mundane and with a punchline," was my brief.  I passed with flying colours.  I am assuming you get up at a much more respectable hour than I do, so the transcripts are on this blog for you to read at your leisure, although I can thoroughly recommend the show for it's music quality alone, let alone and silliness that I contribute once in a while.

Which way now?

When I first started baking I had no intention of running a business, with accounts, invoicing, rent, weekly flour ordering and staff.  Yet nearly 7 years later, here I am. Not so much staff mind you; but I do have Shirl girl who helps me on Hitchin and Pirton Markets.  I only ever wanted to bake for my own enjoyment and this has been my greatest motivating factor.  
This winter has been particularly harsh, I've never before had to work in zero 
temperatures indoors  - you wouldn't ordinarily expect that in a bakery would you, but before I get heaters on and oven warmed up, that's what I have to do.  Let me tell you that cold dough is no joke when you suffer from Raynaud's disease.  My little bakery is looking tired.  My poor mixer is looking tired.  I am looking tired.  Whilst I am anticipating the onset of warmer weather with the eagerness of a small child waiting for father Christmas on Christmas eve, I am filled with dread when I try and think about how I am going to juggle the amount of loaves that I now have to produce each week in such a teeny tiny workspace when the temperature soars to the heady heights of 35 plus during summer.  Should I just cut and run?  Give it all up and get a 'proper' job with a proper salary?  Should I bite the bullet and find a bigger space, even though it would mean a much bigger rental bill? Should I then look at employing proper staff?  Looking back over the last 7 years, I am reminded that I simply wanted to bake for my own enjoyment and all this should have been just a hobby.  The trouble is, I am now baking between 250-350 loaves a week.  Can I really still call it a hobby?  Do I still want it to be a hobby?  

This morning, I took a phone call from - lets say, an interested party.  I am hoping that they might be able to put a solid option on the table, which means I could carry on baking, possibly at an increased capacity, potentially with assistance and in a new, (and more importantly) larger setting. It might also see me return to teaching baking too.  There will be lots to discover and discuss over the coming weeks, trying to work out practicalities and how it will all work out.  No doubt sleepless nights with its friends Mr Organiser and Mrs Planning will soon make an unwelcome but necessary return to my bedroom...




Going Underground...

Since I last wrote, I think we were approaching winter and all the festivities that go with it.  Some of you may have been aware that I suffered at least two mishaps in the run-up to what is usually my busiest period of the year; the first was managing to slice through my middle digit with a razor blade and had to be bound-up by the lovely "Boris", one of the many assets of our local A & E department here in Luton.  This injury was threatening to halt all baking for at least the following 7 days, if not for a fortnight.

 I was teetering on deciding how capable I could be.  I didn't have to teeter for long; within days of this accident, my back gave way in spectacular fashion as I stepped through my own front door, returning from the school run.  It would be game over.   As luck would have it, I had not one, but two fledgling mini-doctors in the house.  Once they had got over the initial shock of a collapsed grown-up mumma howling like a banshee in pain close to the floor, they rallied round to bring me a chair, some water, my phone and painkillers.  My son and his buddy disappeared for a few moments only to return with a lovely card that they had made me en spec. So there followed a few disappointed customers and a series of trips to my osteopath for treatment.  I managed to squeeze in one more market and get all my Christmas orders fulfilled before my final treatment a couple of days before Yuletide.

Naked Panettones!
 And so, it was with huge relief that I had a brilliant end of year break, with visiting family, friends , far too much food and drink, lots of TV and oodles of sleep which I desperately needed.  As I am the worlds' worst anti-waster (I waste nothing) I have done my best to continue the indulgence theme through the best part January, as with every year, it comes with the promise of no markets until the end of the month, yey! Mind you, not much of an extended break really, given that I am now baking at least 3 times a week to fulfil regular orders.
 Being honest, my 2016 injuries did put a bit of a wobble on as to whether I wanted to continue with my growing business, as there are far easier and less physical ways to make a living - particularly when one is as smart as I am...(Pfnarr!).  But then came a charming message that was send to me a couple of weeks ago from a happy customer and my faith was restored:-

"As we embark on a new year I feel it important to thank the people who provide exceptional services and products. So Jo, I'd like to thank you whole heartily for your amazing sour dough. I ordered three loaves from Sue Lang over Christmas as my son Leo won't eat any other bread,and is disheartened when we run out,(I try and keep one in the freezer at all times). Also your panettone is truly outstanding. I understand how difficult it is to make and how necessary it is to hang upside down after baking. Thank you for your excellent bread." - From a nice chap who shops at the Black Cat Farm Shop, Roxton.

Third time's a Charm?

Wowzers, so I won another award this year - this time is was the Real Bread Award from the Chiltern Society and I won for the Northern Region. Really proud of myself that I am almost up there with Rex Bakery from Little Chalfont, who was the Central and overall winner and who kindly hosted the little award giving soiree on Monday night.  He produces some cracking breads and like me, comes from an academic background and learnt his trade in a relatively short space of time, driven by pure passion for his craft.  He is absolutely flying at what he is does and has very kindly offered to give me a proper tour of his bakery, which I want to do as soon as I can fit it in.

A week or two ago now, saw my debut at the Hitchin Food and Drink Festival.  I was assisted for the first time, by one of my customers who I am delighted to now call a friend and who had never done this sort of thing before.  I had no need to worry, since Gordon is a complete breadhead like myself, he chatted with ease, calmness and knowledge about the Real Bread that I make and why it is the best thing before, during and after the invention of sliced bread.

I had also been asked to do a demonstration/talk on Sourdough, on the main cooking demonstration stage.  Owing to the disgruntled rantings of the wife of one of the chefs, my early slot was pushed back to allow said chef to return home at a reasonable hour and appease his wife.  I was persuaded to take this later slot on the understanding that I would be sharing the stage with none other than Nigel Barden, the celebrity chef who does a slot every Thursday evening on BBC Radio 2, with Simon Mayo.  I was also misled into thinking that if I went on with him, he would take one of my sourdoughs away with him and then use it/mention it on a future show.  So I was all like, "Me? get a mention on Radio 2, my favourite station?!  Yes please!".  Oh, how I regretted that decision when it came to MY slot.  Somehow, the resident compère and said Mr Barden completely misread my pre-stage nerves (understandably) as more debilitating then they actually were and so took it upon themselves to railroad my 15 minutes of fame and continue to present the makings of a sourdough pizza (albeit with my dough).  At one point I was completely cutoff from the presentation and I had to stand there like a lemon whist they went on and on about onions, chorizo and other such toppings.  At one point, internally, I bellowed in my head "SO NIGEL, WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO TELL YOU WHY SOURDOUGH BREAD IS BETTER FOR YOU THAN OTHER BREADS???!!!  Suffice to say, I was not a happy bunny, although in the end, my Dad and step mum said that despite the crappy middle I managed to pull it back at the end.  Note to self: I am more confident about my subject than I thought I was and I can clearly hold my own.  BOOM!

So, going off on a tangent there from my subject header, why 3 times a charm?  Because I have just entered the Tiptree World Bread Awards.  I am hoping to win with one of my 2 entries.  Mind you, I hope for a lot of things.  Wish me luck chums!


Happy Birthday to me!!

My blog is getting a bit like the Four Seasons markets at Potton - only 4 times a year! With all best intentions to keep you posted of news and events and as much as I enjoy having a good ramble on, I find it difficult to make the time.  A whole month and a bit ago (I think it was May) I received a Highly Commended (that's second) from the Bedfordshire Food and Drink awards as a result of all my pleading and begging amongst all my customers to cast their vote for me, so I would like to thank each and everyone of you for doing so, as without your votes, I'd have got nowhere.  My husband took the day off work to accompany me to the ceremony, so it made it worthwhile.  The fact that I had to try and drink my own bodyweight in complimentary wine to cover the fee for us to attend the event, also helped.

Some weeks following this, our son went to his first cub camp - FOR TWO NIGHTS!!!  A great bit of freedom for us there, although It was on a Hitchin Market day, so for a change, I persuaded my hub to come and do the stall with me.  He worked really hard and I don't think I've ever sold so much bread pudding on a stall before.  We had a night out planned later on, although I think the experience exhausted him somewhat.

Last week, I did the biggest event of my bready career, which was the St Albans Country Fair.  I had no idea what to expect, so I made as much bread as I possibly could for the two full-day event and set off, bleary eyed on the Saturday morning to set up shop.  We got there around 8 and had best part of 3 hours to leisurely set out our wares.  Helping me were my two dough nuts, Shirley and mum.  i had no idea what to expect from the event but let me tell you it was very hard work and very hot too!  Most people who attend these events do not come for bread, so we had a huge challenge ahead to pull people in.  It helped that I did a few talks in the cookery demonstration tent as that tended to give us little flurries.  Towards the end of the two days, I did something that I never do - did an offer of 2 for 1 on all remaining loaves.  I work really hard to produce good bread and I know that my loaves are very reasonably priced compared to other bakers and stalls I've come across - and these tend to be the ones with all the equipment, premises and staff! I think out of 291 loaves, After giving a couple to stall holders and to mum and Shirl-girl, I think I took home about 29 small loaves for the freezer, which wasn't too bad in the end.  Never, Never again tho.

And so to this week.  On this this day, 5 years ago, Jo's Loaves was born as my little hobby business.  Who knew I'd make 5  years!! Certainly not me, but I am very proud at what I have achieved and I hope to do more in the next 5 years.

Pause for thought...

My Son's favourite - Picky Tea!
Joyce and her baps
So, did we all have a good Easter?  I'm guessing most little terrors have since returned to school by now, although my dude went back last week, so normal service has well and truly resumed in our household and the chocolate mountain, a fond and distant memory.  Tuesday was the first day of the "anti-holiday" and I had organised a final (possibly) baking course for 4 wonderful individuals in my kitchen. 


I have to say, that although I enjoyed it immensely it was mentally exhausting; there is no way you could run one of these courses without vigorous planning and organising and I do find them more labour intensive than baking for a weekend market.  (I expect I'll eat those words in July, when I've a two-day event..).  Hopefully, my student bakers don't notice that I get the most fun out of it, although judging by the feedback and the happy faces at the end of the day we are probably even stevens.
And Relax!

This week is a rare market-free week, with time, yes, TIME to plan things to do and to do things that I've planned.  (tick in the box for writing my blog there then..). It's a sad fact that as a small business owner I still have to spend a lot of time in front of a computer and today in particular, has been no exception. Still, I know I am lucky and I get to immerse myself in something that I love most of the time.  I have a couple of things on the back burner and I hope to be able to bring you some news about that soon.  In the meantime, TOMORROW is the 21st April and that's the day that Hertfordshire Life is published;  I think there is an article regarding Real Bread inside and I hoping I am in it! 

Right, I best crack on, or we'll end up with no dinner tonight - just time to point you to my new page Recipe of the Moment  - check out what I made for lunch last Saturday, it was inspired!




In the Kitchen before Hitchin!

This week, I am returning to the pretty village of Pirton, just outside Hitchin to attend   the Farmers' market there, which takes place on the last Friday of the month and annoyingly, it's the day before Hitchin Farmers' and Craft market, which happens on Saturday.  So, whenever I have a 'doubler' such as this, I always try and make sure I have the opportunity to relax a bit before the chaos and mayhem begins, as once Thursday evening hits, there is not much chance for a break for me until Saturday afternoon, when I sell my last few loaves.


This Thursday (today) has been no exception, Thursdays generally start with the school run at 8am, followed by the first of two stints at the bakery, where all my different doughs are mixed and proving baskets and tins are prepared. Owing to the volume of loaves that I bake for the Pirton & Hitchin combi, I also had the added challenge of trying to squeeze six 25kg sacks of flour into my teeny tiny bakery;  Ok, I confess, I did have help this morning from Shirl-girl. (My lovely neighbour).  We managed to finish in record time, just shy or 12.30, which means I have an extended 'afternoon off..'  This generally consists of a nice lunch, (The Cheese Teller 'best Camembert EVER' and toasted 5-seeded) and a bit of tele, in the hope that I might nod off for a bit.  I think I managed a couple of winks, before the fact that I'd not prepared anything for tea tonight started to niggle at me. What's to do?? Not much in the fridge other than a few 'mature' veggies, half a small loaf of white sourdough and absolutely NO desire to go to Asda. Well, it just so happens I am a magician when it comes to conjuring up tasty and balanced meals from a crumb and a lemon.  So now, as I type, it's all ready to cook for 5.45, when my boys come home - I just need a wok, some boiling water for pasta et voila! as my littlest man likes to say.  Check out my RECIPE OF THE MOMENT! page  - just click the highlighted link if you can't see it at the top.