Thursday, 11 April 2013

bread and silk

First, to deal with the bread.  I set my alarm for seven so that I'd have time to cook it before going out, or if it could not be detached from the tea towel leave a note for the Systems Administrator promising to sort out the wreckage when I got back.  The bread had not risen any more in the night, but neither had it collapsed.  The top had formed a very slight dry crust, which had developed a faintly crackled appearance.  When I moved the bowl containing the dough in its improvised proving basket it quivered very faintly, like the surface of a bog warning you not to walk further in that direction.

I spread a piece of baking parchment on a heavy tray and tipped the bread out, then peeled away the tea towel.  Reader, it parted company from the dough with no resistance.  I had been expecting to have to prise it loose with the spatula.  I am therefore glad I reconsidered my initial rash, theatrical impulse to offer to eat the tea towel.

The bread spread out somewhat on the parchment, like a toad crouching down.  I was fairly sure it wasn't supposed to do that, but having come this far I was going to cook it, and gave it twenty minutes in the middle of the top oven, since the book said to start it at 220 degrees C.  Twenty minutes was too long and it caught, but reading the book again I see it should have had only ten minutes before I reduced the heat.  When I moved it down in the oven I turned it upside down at the same time, to give the bottom a chance to catch up with the top.

The bread spread out more during cooking, and then distorted after being turned over, so I ended up with a roughly lens shaped loaf that had burnt slightly on one side, heavily dusted with flour, also slightly burnt in places.  The Systems Administrator on inspecting it this evening said that it looked very artisanal, which it does, but not in a good way.  I would not pay £3.50 for it in Borough Market.

Having eaten a slice I can report the following.  The flavour of the rye starter comes through quite strongly, more so than the book led me to expect, and if I persist with sourdough I shall need a wheat based leaven.  The dough was definitely too wet, hence my difficulties in handling and the poor shape of the loaf.  The crust was too tough, which may be down to the wet dough, or the night spent uncooked in the fridge, or both.  However, the taste was quite good, albeit distinctly rye flavoured, and the inside of the loaf had the big, irregular holes you would expect with a sourdough. If I had read the cooking instructions properly I needn't have burned it, and having seen the size of the dough last night and this morning and the holiness of the cooked loaf, I reckon it was ready to cook last night.  The improvised proving basket works fine, so I don't have to buy one.

Preliminary conclusions: This loaf will probably end up being eaten largely by the chickens, and I will probably switch to a wheat based starter.  Sourdough does seem more trouble than yeast based bread, not least because the stages in total take so much longer that it would be more difficult to fit into a busy day.  But it is potentially interesting, especially if I could learn to make bread like they serve in Moro, instead of a burnt inflated rye-flavoured frisbee.

Now to the silk.  Months ago I bought a couple of tickets for an Art Fund trip to see Braintree's silk museum.  This area used to have a big textile industry, indeed Courtaulds hails from these parts. Warner and Sons in Braintree produced mostly furnishing fabrics for the top end of the market, weaving silk and later printing on cotton.  Their archives have fortunately survived, and ended up as part of Braintree museum.  Once a week, on a Wednesday, you can go and visit a small silk museum, and by special arrangement as part of an organised group you can get access to the archives as well.  I've been determined to see the archive ever since discovering it existed.  I didn't think any group I belonged to was at all likely to organise a trip, so when I saw that the Suffolk supporters of the Art Fund were doing one I jumped at it.  For good measure I invited a friend who is a skilled craftswoman, and I thought would like to see a textile archive.

The museum and archive live in a fine, early nineteenth century mill which fortunately escaped being demolished to create an inner bypass, as was seriously considered at one point in the latter part of the last century.  The museum is not very big, but the displays tell of the history of the firm, and some samples of fabric are on show, together with some of the company's collection of tribal artefacts, collected to provide inspiration to their designers.  In the twentieth century some unexpected people worked for them.  Edward Bawden I can understand, since he worked as a designer as well as a fine artist, lived nearby, and was indeed born in Braintree.  But I was surprised to find a design of very conventional roses by Graham Sutherland.  The rent must have been due.  I wished for a moment that they could get a grant to digitise the whole archive and put it on line, then realised that since their future financial survival will depend on their success in licencing designs in the archive commercially, they will never do that, because of piracy.  As it is you are forbidden to take photos in the museum, though they do sell an extremely nice range of cards.

The tour of the archive was in fact a lecture in the archive.  Tall, enticing stacks were filled with hundreds of cardboard boxes, but we were forbidden to touch anything.  Instead two knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers, one of whom had once worked in the factory, showed us printed and woven fabrics from the past hundred and fifty years, plus printing blocks.  It was all extremely interesting, though I would have liked to see more samples of the actual fabrics.  We were only ever going to see a tiny proportion of what they have, because it is the second largest collection of flat textiles in Europe.

After lunch, which was not laid on as part of the trip, we went to the Braintree museum.  This is more focused than some small museums, with an emphasis on local history, including the firms of Courtauld and Crittall windows as well as Warners, plus John Ray, the seventeenth century naturalist, and of course the Great Bardfield artists. It was quite educational.  I have something of a weakness for the arbitrary collections of donated stuff you get in some small regional museums, where military trophies, tortoiseshell fans, childrens' shoes, cuttings from local newspapers about disasters of fifty years ago, milk churns, menus from retirement dinners held before the war and a vintage bicycle mingle cheek by jowl, but they are very much a dying breed, and apart from reminding you how odd and various human existence is they don't tell you very much. I would put Braintree museum on a par with Wymondham, sound and informative, though lacking the bonkers charm of Whitby (apart from the booklet in the museum shop on Crittall Bus Shelters of Braintree and Bocking.  You can't get much more bonkers and charming than that).

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