This Suffolk farm's growing its own bread
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022
We all have pivotal moments in life. Moments when we stop, take a step back and realise we need to make a change.
For chef and baker Henrietta Inman, her clarion call came in mid-2020, just before the Covid pandemic would sweep the globe.
Returning to her home county of Suffolk from a professional kitchen in London, Henrietta had been invited to visit Wakelyns Agroforestry in Fressingfield.
An interest in traceable eating and the environment led her to use the farm’s YQ flour in her bread and pastries, and she was keen to meet the people behind the product. To see exactly where it came from.
And from the moment she set foot on the farm, she was in love. With the ethos of the place. The harmony between nature and agriculture. The vision of David Wolfe (who co-owns Wakelyns with brother Toby and runs it with his partner Amanda) to work with nature, not against it. To promote short food chains and sustainability.
Henrietta took a tour. Picked apples and quinces from the farm to take back to London. And listened, ears pricked, as the concept of a bakery was tossed about. Anyone who watched Jeremy Clarkson’s hilarious but insightful series, Clarkson’s Farm, will understand there’s little money to be had in the industry these days, with diversification and ‘adding value’ key to making a living.
Could a bakery, one selling food crafted from the fat of the land, one that offered courses melding together education, advice and hands-on teaching, help ensure the ongoing success and growth of Wakelyns?
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Henrietta and the Wakelyns team thought so. And just months later (April 2021) was on site alongside fellow baker Maisie Dyvig, surrounded by a doorstep larder that included not only grain, but lentils, cherries, apples, plums and walnuts.
What makes Wakelyns Bakery so special, and so unique in the baking world is its ready access to the YQ population wheat, grown both on the farm, and by other farmers in the UK who share the Wakelyns vision.
The story of YQ population wheat (we’ll call it YQ for short, which stands for yield and quality) is a fascinating one.
Around 30 years ago the farm was bought by Martin and Ann Wolfe. Martin had been a plant scientist for much of his professional life, working with government and plant breeding institutes, largely for the benefit of conventional farming systems.
In retirement, it was Martin’s dream to implement more sustainable ways of growing food. To breed and raise plants less reliant on chemical fertilisers.
And this led him to research agroforestry – whereby trees are interplanted between crops. “This is incredibly biodiverse,” says Henrietta. “It’s therefore a very resilient farming system because you’ve got the tree roots which are surrounded by mycorrhiza fungi, bringing life to the soil. The trees provide food and shelter for wildlife. The leaves of the trees fall to the soil to make mulch and leaf litter. It’s brilliant.”
As well as experimenting with agroforestry, Martin was keen to explore the world of wheat. Most modern wheats are hybrids. Could he, by crossbreeding, create a type of wheat that would be fit for the modern world?
“Martin worked with the Organic Research Centre here and developed what we came to know as YQ,” says Henrietta. YQ was bred by making 190 crosses among 20 different parent varieties of wheat. This increased genetic diversity makes the wheat more efficient, and gives it more resistance to pests and disease. Each field contains millions of distinct wheat plants.
“Diversity is a fact of nature,” says Henrietta. “Nature doesn’t like uniformity.”
Once cured and left to rest, grain from Wakelyns is milled both by Henrietta and Maisie on the farm, and over at Hodmedod’s, with the baker in the unique position of being able to talk to the millers about what they need when it comes to the grind and finesse of the finished product.
The bakery’s supply is supplemented by YQ grown in Grantham. “It will grow in lots of other places,” says Henrietta. “It adapts to other landscapes and is being grown everywhere from Nottingham to Scotland [where it’s been championed by Andrew Whitley of the Real Bread Campaign]. YQ is a symbol of resilience in diversity. We need more small local grain economies and to shine light on the importance of using UK grains rather than imported commodity grain from conventional farming.”
Henrietta mills up to two weeks’ worth of YQ flour at a time, using the stone milling process, enabling the grain to retain its vast nutritional qualities, from protein and fibre to vitamins and minerals.
“The process is incredibly satisfying. It’s a great way of re-establishing a connection with what we eat. I read an article recently on Eater about the differences between white flour and wholewheat flour. It talked about how lots of us don’t know what a wheat kernel looks like, let alone an ear of wheat in a field.
“You get white flour on the shelf at the supermarket, and don’t think much more about it. But the grain is the seed that’s then planted again. In that grain there’s a whole life. It’s really wonderful to have that connection, with the wheat growing, letting it rest, milling and then baking with it. We’ve learnt so much and we’re learning more and more all the time.
“When I first started using the YQ are year or so ago it was coarsely milled and my loaves were a lot more dense. But I’ve learnt that more finely milled flour will give a lighter loaf. It’s great to talk to our millers at Hodmedod’s and have conversations with them that inform their milling. Keith from Hodmedod’s came and did baking with us with flour he’d made and could see the results, which helped his work. Often we forget all the processes in food. It takes time and a lot of love to make real food.”
YQ flour has a protein level of around 12 per cent (four per cent lower than your generic strong white bread flour). How does that affect its use in the bakery kitchen?
“It’s classed as a biscuit wheat,” says Henrietta. “It’s so nice to work with - like a cross between bread and cake flour, lovely and soft. Kimberley Bell, a friend who has a bakery in Nottingham, who was the first baker to use the YQ, did loads of experiments and realised it needed a lot cooler water when making bread, so we mix the dough with water at 21C and try to keep the dough around that temperature.
“It’s quite a fragile dough and it likes to be treated with care and a bit more gently really.”
And Henrietta and Maisie use the flour for everything.
“We bake our signature wholegrain tin loaf. We do stencils on top. Lots of symbols of different things to bring our customers joy, art and beauty. We use exactly the same recipe for our freeform loaf, then use the same base dough and add seeds or some porridge, or walnuts, things like that for variation.”
Then there are genoise sponges made with honey and turned into layered cakes, Swiss rolls or tiramisu, sweet pastries, savoury pastries such as deep-filled quiches made with vegetables grown on the farm by a community agriculture scheme.
“It’s such a wonderful flour to work with,” beams the baker. “And we only use it in wholegrain form. Our bakery is 100 per cent sourdough wholegrain. All the flour is organic and from Wakelyns or Grantham. We know where all the ingredients in the bakery come from and who’s grown them. That's really important to us. It’s the foundation of everything we do.”
Does YQ taste different?
“It’s just full of flavour,” Henrietta explains. “When bread comes out of the oven it smells like honey. It’s quite malty and earthy. It’s just such an incredible product compared to eating a plain white loaf from a factory. It’s beautiful. And it’s not empty calories. One slice of our bread will keep you going for ages.”
It’s not only the taste and origins of the flour that have Henrietta so enamoured, it’s the fact it can, she says, be seen as a symbol of sustainability for the future. “We have to think about how we as bakers, cooks and eaters eat, especially as we face climate crisis.
“A lot of the bread flour available is brought in from Canada, or Russia...we need to learn to cook and eat what surrounds us. Here, we’ve adapted ourselves to this grain and are able to bake really well with it. It gives us so much more fulfilment and purpose knowing we have that story, that we’re keeping food miles low and that we’re making something nourishing.”
Wakelyns is predominately a wholesale bakery, supplying a variety of shops in the area, but also operates a bread club, with subscribers paying a monthly standing order for delivery or pick up of a loaf of bread every week, with some exciting loaves on the horizon in 2022.
“We grew a few other grains last year we’re going to be using in our bread this year,” Henrietta reveals, rattling off names such as the intriguing sounding purple naked spelt!
“Other farmers have been inspired by the work Martin and the Organic Research Centre did here and a friend, Ed Dick, has been working on his own population wheat, so we’ll use some of that as well. We’re going to do three six week blocks of breads on rotation so customers might have a YQ tin loaf one week, a freeform loaf, and something else made with other grains, such as rye we’re getting from our friend Helen Holmes. We want to show people how delicious diversity is.”
If you’re inspired to learn more, Wakelyns runs bakery courses. “One’s called Baking Biodiversity and the Wholegrain. It’s about using YQ but also other grains we have, and showing bakers and cooks it’s possible to use different grains, not high protein flours more suited to Canada or wherever they’re grown.
“And we’ll have a Field to Fork course, starting in the morning, picking seasonal vegetables, bringing them back into the kitchen and showing people how to incorporate them into their baking.”
It’s all about, says Henrietta, giving people the skills to be more creative and imaginative, to reach beyond ingredients that are familiar to them.
“Farmers are under a lot of pressure to change the way they grow our food, but we’ve got to adapt ourselves. We’ve got to know how to, and we’ve got to want to, use these new grains.
“We’re delighted to guide people on our courses and show them just how exciting products like YQ are.”
Buy YQ flour at hodmedods.co.uk and find out more about Wakelyns Bakery’s courses, where to buy the bread, and how to be a subscriber at wakelyns.co.uk/bakery