January 21, 2016

21/01/2016: BBC TV history programme inspires modern bread baking

During his involvement in the BBC's new 'Victorian Bakers' television series, 5th generation family and Master Baker John Swift was inspired to create new breads from old ideas.

35-year-old John from Clee Hill in South Shropshire was filming the new three-part series for BBC2 last year and with the help of two programme historians, gained an insight into the world of bread baking in Victorian times. The ingredients and techniques he was learning about were closely replicating those probably used by his Great Aunt Hannah Swift when she set up the family business as a grocery store and Swifts Bakery in 1863.
‘Sponge and dough' breads were prepared using a longer fermentation process that took time to prove and a second stage mix with the final ingredients. This method was used before bread improvers were invented and gave the bread a better taste, texture and chemistry. Taking this knowledge from history and applying the modern techniques of a 21st century bakery, John has created two ‘new' loaves. The Clee Hill Cob is a white seeded loaf sprinkled with wheat flakes and is named after the town in which the family business has operated since the late 1970's. Whilst the Quarry Cob is made using locally-milled Shropshire wholemeal flour and is named after the nearby granite quarries that overlook internationally-known foodie destination, Ludlow.

Great Aunty Harriet Swift - circa 1863
Traditional production methods - dating back more than 150 years, have been brought together with current innovation, as John Swift explains: 

"These ‘sponge and dough' breads were originally produced as a cheap, staple food that would have been essential; especially for the very poor working classes of the Victorian era. I'll always remember the look of 'I've just been to heaven and back' on the face of my fellow Victorian Baker John Foster, when we were filming and he had just smelled the first successful batch of loaves.

"We will respect tradition by using the same long fermentation processes; but I'm sure the newer versions will bring something fresh and appealing to the table for our modern day customer."
John's inspiration is borne of a passion for craft baking, traditional methods and natural ingredients. But filming for the BBC programme also developed a strong desire to have a greater appreciation of how things were for his family in the past.

"My Father Richard and my Grandfather Charles have both inspired me and guided me, but this gave me an opportunity to learn more and feel more closely connected to earlier generations of my family as well. Victorian times were tough compared to our lives now and living conditions were often harsh. The Swift family were providing an essential service to the local villages. I'm now even more determined to blend what was important and good in the past, with what the 21st century wants from a Master Baker."
Visit the Swifts bakery site HERE.

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