Monday, 19 July 2010

Let them eat bread

The baguette is a bit bent as I made them too long for the Aga!

Neighbours and customers
When I was a child, I loved to play shops. I'd set up business, make a little display, in my bedroom doorway, selling my toys and 'crafts' such as a paper folding game. Footfall was poor in the vicinity, the only passersby were my brother, sister and mum. I'd wait patiently for what seemed like hours; sometimes my mum would take pity on me and 'buy' something.My great grandmother Nanny Savino had a shop in her Holloway council flat. I loved visiting her, the hallways were lined with bottles of Tizer and R White's lemonade, the bathtub with pickled pigs trotters, the kitchen provided toffee apples and apple fritters and most excitingly, under her enormous cast iron bed, were rustling brown boxes with the illicit earthy smell of tobacco: Woodbines, Players, Weights, cigarettes and matches. People would come to the door and ask to buy cheap fags from 'Mary'. Her real name was Assunta but no one could pronounce it. She came to Britain at the age of 16, before the first World War, from the small town of Minori, south of Naples. During the second World War, the Italians were our enemies and her radio was confiscated. She wasn't put in a camp, several of her sons were in the British army. I never met my great grandad, but from family stories he seemed to be a skinny man, under the iron fist of my enormous black-clad nan. They started small businesses: a home-made ice cream cart, selling in the streets of Islington, then an Italian café. Even at the age of 80, infirm with arthritis, nan was doing business from her house. It's the Neapolitan way, even today there are individual street sellers in Naples.
Yesterday, no doubt channelling something from Nanny Savino, I put into practice an idea I talked about a few weeks ago on Twitter. There are few bakeries in Britain; they tend to be one extreme or another; white bloomers and luridly iced buns from Greggs or chichi little artisanal bakers or cupcake shops, that tend to be in expensive bourgeois areas. Every high street should have a good organic baker.
In a time of rising unemployment, I feel the government should come up with some creative and non-punitive ideas to improve the lot of the unemployed and of society. How about free flour and yeast for unemployed people to bake bread in their kitchens? Which they could then sell from their houses?
I got this idea when I was travelling in South America. In Chile, after a random meeting at a bus stop, I was invited to stay with a Chilean family who came from a seaside village. One morning, the husband baked bread. He put a noticed in his window 'Hay pan'. Neighbours came over and bought his warm rolls.

So yesterday I put up a notice in my window, saying the bread would be ready at 4pm. I waited. No one came. I decided to take to the street and stood outside my gate with a large basket of hot bread.
"Hello!" I waved to the few passersby "I've just made some bread in my Aga, do you want to buy some"
The first few people rushed by, their heads down, muttering no, as if I were a beggar. They didn't even ask why I was selling bread in a residential London street.
But things started to turn around. A rather shabbily dressed man ambled past, I doubted that he'd be interested but I launched into my pitch. It turned out he was rather a foodie and that he would definitely buy some bread next time. A blind man and his helper came down the street, they agreed to buy a loaf! My first customer! £3 for a rye and hazelnut loaf!
I sold to several neighbours that I had never met before. They all said if I put advance notices then they'd come to buy bread. It was getting hot, so I got out the bottles of my home-made ginger beer and sold one. Some neighbours had heard of me and The Underground Restaurant but hadn't dared to come yet.
All in all, it was about 4 to 5 hours work and I made £25. I want to start doing this regularly and I'd love it if other people did too. My next baking day will be Saturday 14th of August. If there are any bakers out there who want to help, please get in touch.


  1. Homebakeries rule! Let us know how you get on.


  2. Great idea! I too thought about door to door selling just up the road: even wondered about branching out into homemade ready meals such as lamb stew too, but think I'll try the bread first! See how I get on!

    Merlotti x

  3. Oh brilliant, well done you. I bet that will really take off big time. The bread sounds really delicious too I'd buy some if I saw something similar. I'd even think of doing it myself if I didn't live on a really busy main road where I can't hear myself think.

  4. AMAZING! You're such a trail blazer. I am making my own bread now, and felt pretty adventurous just buying yeast, but selling it - what a brilliant idea, everyone loves fresh bread! X

  5. Brilliant idea, hope the next one goes well, bread is one of the most satisfying things to make, and eat, lucky neighbours! Would you mind sharing your ginger beer recipe, I am onto my third attempt, I either get explosive (glass all over the dining room) or no fizz at all.......?

  6. Chris: thanks and will do. Am big fan of the Real Bread campaign.
    Merlotti: let me know what happens
    Choclette: I think that'd work too. Imagine walking past all these different places in the UK and seeing little notices where they sell bread. Clandestine baking!
    Canal explorer: fabulous. If you'd come round on Sunday you could have shared! I hope you will do a demo on vegan chocolates at the underground farmers market and develop some foodie vegan products.
    Plum: the glass bottles I use are swing top and I leave a space at the top for the gas to expand.
    My recipe is this: a few inches of peeled ginger, depending on how strong you like your beer.
    One lemon cut up.
    300g sugar.
    I boil the crushed ginger, lemon, sugar in 750ml of water. Then I take it off the heat, add 1.5 litres of cold water, and then add a pinch of yeast.I leave it covered for a day in a warm place then fill my bottles. If the weather is hot then after two days I put it in the fridge. It's really fizzy.
    the fridge slows down the fermenting so it doesn't explode.
    Otherwise put the ginger beer in plastic fizzy water bottles, leaving a space at the top.
    Good luck! x

  7. Thanks so much, making Moscow mules for Sat. supperclub, thought homemade Ginger beer and a splash of tamarillo syrup would get things off to a good start.....cheers x

  8. You're always coming up with some good ideas,and importantly, giving them a try. There's nothing nicer than the smell of freshly baked bread. I like the idea of a clandestine bread movement, count me in on that one.

  9. I love this idea, I have often thought about doing bread to sell with my curd. I may follow your lead one weekend in August.


  10. I want to help! And let me know if you would like to borrow a couple of samovars for you Russian supper in November

  11. Hi Sasha, fantastic! And I like the way almost nobody got sick last time you cooked ;)
    email me

    And yes the samovars would be great!

    Bakelady and Violet: Let me know if you do it! Home bakeries everywhere!

  12. Love the story about your Nan and how you set up your own shops as a child. Reminded me of Caravan holidays in North Wales where I'd spend hours sticking seashells to matchboxes and then trying to flog them on an table outside our caravan. No one bought one. I was about 7.

    Anyway I love your venture into selling bread from home. Hope you get some good sales next time. Once people have tried I'm sure they'll be back :-)

  13. I would like to help.I am a chef ,I make my own sausages from scratch ,have made bread which is the new rock and roll.This sounds great fun selling outside the front door to the great british public.
    Jon crooks

  14. Sounds great fun .i would love to help you with your bread-making.I am a resting chef currently looking after a sick wife .Recently started making hand ground and filled sausages and sold out twice .I told my brother that bread should be our next venture.Our local produce market has an opening for bread.

  15. Hi Jonathan
    Email me at the above address and we'll sort out a date. Thanks!

  16. What a cool idea! Love it! Glad you got some success! Keep us posted on how it goes! xxx

  17. Wonderful stuff. You are a true Italiana. I love the idea, but in America you would have the health dept on your doorstep as soon as those loaves popped out of the oven. They would stand there with their tin clipboard checking off boxes for violations.

    What has our world come to?

  18. This is fantastic! Brilliant Idea! In time like these, good idea such as yours is an inspiration. If you wont mind I'd love to guide Foodista readers to your post. Just add the foodista widget to the end of this post so it will appear in the Foodista pages and it's all set, Thanks!

  19. Wonderful idea! Wish someone near me would do this, I'm a useless bread maker. If I had the energy I might try it with my cakes though. That is, until someone from the council nabs me!


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