Tuesday 5 January
Four professional bakers leave their modern businesses behind to bake their way through the Victorian era. They set up shop in 1837, when their trade is vital to the survival of the nation. Bread is the mainstay of most people's diets and bakers are at the heart of every community.
A rural bake house has been kitted out exactly as it would have been in the 1830s. The bakers must get to grips with centuries-old methods of bread making - and that means doing absolutely everything by hand.
The first loaves are made with heritage wheat flour and brewers’ yeast in a tiny wood-fired oven. It's bog-standard bread for Victorian rural workers, but to modern palettes it’s an absolute revelation. Fifth-generation baker John Swift gets a taste of the bread his ancestors once made, and artisan baker Duncan is in his element in this unhurried, organic world. There are no shops, so the bakers deliver door-to-door. For industrial baker John Foster who deals with customers as far afield as China, the fixed demand and lack of competition enjoyed by Victorian bakers is an utter joy.
But does the idyll last? As the bakers move into the 1840s poor harvests and an economic downturn see the price of wheat rocket, which means barley bread must be made for the poor. It’s an irony not lost on the bakers that this bread would only sell in the poshest artisan bakeries today. But it’s when they have to turn their hand to making ‘crammings’ - Victorian chicken feed - that their forebears’ role in feeding a starving nation really hits home.
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