I grew up eating sourdough, and sourdough rye. It was pretty much the only type of bread we ate in my family. In my early school years I used to squirm every time I opened my lunchbox. Other kids got sliced Tip Top white bread with vegemite or honey, maybe even with hundreds and thousands on it. I always got sourdough rye with prosciutto, or salami, or some strain of German pâté. And I was feeling pretty hard done by. These days I look back and realise what I determined as ‘hard done by’ was in fact an extremely blessed childhood.
Wonderfully, since then, sourdough has become quite fashionable and where previously you would have to search long and hard to find a good loaf, a resurgence in traditional baking methods means that good sourdough is more accessible than ever.
Having said that, there is ‘sourdough’ and there is ‘sourdough’. I am particularly interested in the spelt sourdoughs, which is exactly where local artisan bakers, Ten Acres’, focus is as well.
Spelt is an ancient grain dating back in excess of 5,000 years. I was surprised to find that spelt is actually an ancient hybridisation between bread wheat and emmer wheat, another ancient grain. But then the ancient bread wheat would have been nothing like it is today. Genetics and human tinkering with the natural DNA of wheat has left it a shadow of its former self, which is where spelt has really come to the fore; it is pretty much as it was.
The process of a creating a good sourdough, is an interesting, albeit, a laborious one. It is based around a good starter culture, which for many bakers is quite often nurtured through generations of family baking.
Essentially a starter is just flour and water that is left to ferment and develop a natural yeast. After the fermentation process begins, it is ‘fed’ daily to keep the ‘cultures’ alive. This is the laborious bit… as this never stops! To keep the starter alive, it has to be continually fed… ALL. THE. TIME!
Come holiday time, it is not like a pet that you can take to a boarding kennel; you have to entrust it with someone who understands the importance of the dietary regime of this hungry little family member – and it’s not even cute!
Over the years, my father has started up many sourdough starters, only to go on holiday and then have to start the whole process over again, upon his return home. So alas… I do not have a family starter culture to boast of just yet, but I am working on it.
It is however, not all doom and gloom – Melody assures me that it is not as labour intensive once the starter culture is established. Starters can be rested, frozen and even dehydrated, but don’t ask me about that, as I have no successful stories to refer to at this stage!
And why would I, when I can buy perfectly good spelt sourdough bread from bakers like Jamie and Melody Flood, who are the passion behind the Ten Acres artisan bakery.
Jamie and Melody had long held the passion to create a sustainable farm business, so when a 10 acre property became available at Ninderry on the Sunshine Coast, it was all the impetus they needed to make the move.
Jamie had been working at Tanglewood Bakery, learning the artisanal skills involved in baking and the many secrets that sourdough baking holds. It made sense to use these skills to create the groundwork for their own bakery, which they have built on their property amongst an orchard of oranges and mandarins, as well as a plot of garlic.
Organic, sustainable and local ingredients that support environmental sustainability, has become the foundation of their baking and farming principles. Bread is baked for the markets, as well as local wholefood retailers, oranges and mandarins are used to make their delicious (award winning) marmalades, and the seasonal garlic is sold at the markets as well.
Wandering amongst the orange groves in the morning, appreciating their rural setting, a family of kangaroos hold court under the canopy of the trees, the chickens say ‘hi’, the garlic is looking happy and healthy, and I feel the magic that draws people to life on the land – giving the illusion that it is all roses and sunshine.
But make no mistake, for us to enjoy sourdough bread, it is insanely hard work.
I have determined I would be a hopeless baker. I would be hard pressed keeping my starter alive let alone keeping the mechanics of the bakery going! I’m not good with early mornings… and Jamies’ early morning usually starts like.., really early.
The baking schedule goes like this…
Monday night the starter culture gets started off for the bake.
Tuesday Jamie mixes the dough which is then bulk fermented, then it is handcut into pieces and rested on the bench until it is ready to put into little baskets (bannetons) where it continues its ferment.
The baskets are then placed in the cold room for a while where they continue to cold ferment until they are finally baked on Tuesday night… through the night, ready for the markets in the morning
Once the loaves are baked, it is Melody’s turn, who is up early to go to the markets – Eumundi (Wednesday).
Then it all starts again in preparation for Saturday’s markets – Eumundi and Kawana Farmers’ Market.
Sunday – is a day of rest, but I imagine they both just fall in a heap from exhaustion!
And then the merry-go-round begins again. It doesn’t stop. And they love the life that they have chosen – most days.
I watched silently as Jamie worked the dough. There is something quite mesmerising about the whole process and the smell of the natural yeast is just divine.
Jamie has also just started working with emmer wheat, that other ancient grain. Both emmer wheat and spelt, possibly because they are ancient/unaltered grains, have earned the reputation of being a little more ‘gut friendly’ to those with dietary issues in relation to grain. The fermentation process that sourdough undergoes adds to the list of merits. It still has gluten, but the gluten is water-soluble and degraded by heat, so can be easier to digest than other grains.
And well, I think Ten Acres bread tastes amazing… I am a little bit in love with the charcoal activated sourdough. I know, I know. I love a good fad. Whenever I mention activated charcoal, there is always someone that poo-poos it. I don’t care. It tastes great, and I like it – it’s pretty! And I am not alone.
If activated charcoal is not your thing, that’s fine as Ten Acres bakes many fabulous loaves – 10 acres farm loaf, a porridge, linseed and molasses loaf, a raisin, fennel and orange loaf, khorasan (another ancient grain), 100% spelt loaf AND their pastries and croissants are just sensational.
In the meantime, I have my little sourdough starter, struggling its way through its infancy of life, allowing me plenty of time to reflect on the whole bread making process and what it actually takes for true artisan bakers to get a loaf of traditional sourdough onto our tables. It is an arduous process and there is a bit of humour in encouraging would-be home bakers to give it a try. There are some of you that would excel and produce fabulous homemade loaves alongside a family pet for life. And the rest of you… you will never complain about what you pay for a loaf of sourdough bread again! I am just glad there are bakers that are honouring these traditions and sharing the spoils of their passion with us.
A big thanks to Jamie and Melody for generously sharing your time. Love what you do!
This story was written by Petra Hughes – Pebbles + Pomegranate Seeds
Photographs by Petra Hughes – © Copyright 2018 – All rights reserved. Images may not be reproduced, downloaded or used without written permission from the copyright holder.