Bread of Heron - the bread making group at the Heron Corn Mill in Beetham
PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 April 2019
Flour power has keen bread makers flocking to restored ancient mill on the Lancashire border
IN the days when the poor ate clapbread and the rich preferred wastel, Heron Corn Mill had a major role in feeding the people of the south Lakes. Now, 800 years later it is again playing its part. Every month the mill grinds heritage grains like spelt, wheat and rye to make bread, the staple food of generations, although now the flour is more likely to be used for focaccia and ciabatta than medieval cocket.
A bread making group, the Bread of Heron, set up three years ago is one of the mill’s great success stories – not only is there a waiting list, but more than 50 people who’ve already been have asked if they can attend more. Every week a group crams into a beautifully appointed shepherd’s hut with its own Baby Belling oven, butler sink, fridge and workspaces to bake mostly using heritage grains ground in the Grade II listed mill metres away. The group has been such a success that people are limited to 12 sessions and more classes have been put on.
‘We wanted to create a group to grind the flour here, using bread to create little social groups who have an investment in the place. You can see that in the people who have come to the groups and are now leading them,’ said Audrey Steeley, creative projects manager at the Beetham mill, a registered charity. The people there are as varied as the reasons they have decided to attend, from retired consultant psychiatrists to swim teachers and toy shop owners. Some say they are poor cooks, others are good bakers who want to pick up new skills.
With four course leaders, each one offers different skills from sourdough and world breads to others which wouldn’t look out of place on Great British Bake Off. Each group is asked what they would like to learn to bake and the session leader tries to accommodate them.
There has been a mill on the site since medieval times but the current one was built in 1740. At its height it ground 80-90 tons of flour a week, enough to make 12,000 loaves, but then fell into disuse in the 1950s. In 2013 a £939,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) brought the waterwheel on the River Bela back into action. Miller Stuart Hobbs said: ‘We produce about one and a half tons of flour which we sell through the shop here, although that figure is going up because of how popular the baking days are.’ Stuart does a demonstration on the first Friday of each month from March until December where you can see a process that has hardly changed in 2,000 years. At the sessions Stuart, a former motor mechanic, talks about the grains which are all British and pesticide and herbicide free. He also sources heritage grains with more flavour – wheat comes from a farm in Ormskirk in Lancashire but the rye and spelt can’t be found nearby.
Everyone is asked to make a minimum donation of £6 for each half-day session which includes all the flours, yeast, baking powder and tuition.
Kate and Nell are currently researching medieval baking and will be holding bread demonstrations and tastings on days when there are milling demonstrations. They are also developing a plan for a pudding club in 2020, medieval style. ‘They used a lot of cream and spices and breadcrumbs,’ said Kate, who has been experimenting with an Ember Day Tart filled with curds, raisins, onions and spices so you get sweet and savoury in every mouthful.
Set in the beautiful village of Beetham, the mill is a place full of crafters, bakers, school groups and special one off sessions. If you want to learn to bake bread or grow some free flax seeds, make cakes at one of Kate’s Cake Days or recreate medieval Beetham in Minecraft this is the place to come. Or simply pop into the shop to buy flour milled the traditional way. Heron Corn Mill has once again found its place at the heart of the local community.
USING MY LOAF
On a beautiful January morning, I attended a Bread of Heron session with Kate Maddock to make Cracked Black Pepper and Figgy Bread (utterly delicious, by the way) and a sandwich loaf.
My fellow bakers were Les, 72, whose wife had always cooked but he decided to join to make her some really good teacakes. He was also looking forward to learning about pizza dough as his son and grandchildren were planning to visit from Australia and he jokingly wanted to ‘tell them what they were doing wrong!’ Others, like Lorna who runs a successful swim business in Capernwray wanted to improve her skills. Annette said she was definitely not the ‘housewifey type’, but had decided to have a go. ‘I made some bread at home and I could have built a rockery with it!’ she said.
Bev said she’d made bread before but always with a Kenwood Chef and Linda had baked all her life but wanted to learn to make a really good ciabatta. And Margaret was attending her second term, but said she needed to attend a third as she never remembered anything. A wonderful group of people full of fun and stories and we all left with terrific loaves of bread. No wonder there’s such a long waiting list.