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Local Heroes – Companions Real Bread

Local Heroes – Companions Real Bread

Friends often ask me if there is any food I miss when I’m in Spain and am usually pretty stumped by this question (I admit to stashing the odd jar of marmite in my luggage), but over the last couple of years I have become seriously addicted to the sourdough from Companions and have found nothing similar on my travels (thus far)….
I first became aware of this local bakery several years ago, whilst living in Spain and I avidly watched its progress via Facebook. On returning to Bedford, I was straight into their premises, which at that time was The Old Fire Station on Mill Street. Not only did I want to sample the genuine sourdough bread, but to see how I could get involved in this project.

What particularly appealed to me about this Community Interest Company is the combination of producing great, healthy real food, coupled with the far- reaching social aims, namely, of reducing the social costs of reoffending, by teaching ex-offenders a valuable trade. Thus, reducing people’s barriers to employment and reducing social isolation. If this isn’t a win-win situation, then I have no idea what is….
So to start with, I set about volunteering in the café and bakery. I then moved onto helping at events, helping with deliveries, even a spot of fundraising.

Of course, I learnt a lot about the process of making the bread. From making the starter, to proving, air kneading and all sorts of other magical processes and techniques. I was by no means a natural, but could happily get lost in the process for a few hours! The joy of slowly creating a loaf from start to finish from 3 basic ingredients (organic flour, salt and water), is really something to behold.

Along with the practical skills I learnt, I felt privileged to become part of the Companions community; attending training and social events. Working alongside people from all different walks of life is both valuable and rewarding. I am proud to count some of the people I met amongst my friends.
The bakery is now going from strength, to strength and has relocated to a commercial premises behind the lovely Gallery café (itself, part of the lovely Art Centre in Howard Street, Bedford). You can call in to the café to buy a loaf, or you can sample their wares in house, in the form of a nutritious sourdough sandwich or something tasty from the brunch menu.

You can also help this project in its vital work, whilst learning baking techniques, by attending a one day in house baking course (usually on a Saturday and lasting from 10am – 4pm). You will learn to bake a wide range of products from sourdough to croissants and Russian style rye bread. (See the website for details re dates, etc)
The bread is now for sale at various locations including The Barn at Cardington and The Ampthill Deli. There are also various pick up points for pre orders in Brickhilll, Kempston, Cranfield and Bedford (see the Companions website for up to date info).

Try this delicious and nutritious real bread and it’s hard to imagine ever going back to the “other” stuff. Watch out though, you may like me end up with a serious addiction to it!
Several interesting points to note are; that the flavour of sourdough bread continues to develop after baking and it must be kept in polythene (or Tupperware) in order to keep it fresh (air dries it out really quickly, so paper wrapping is not sufficient).
It freezes excellently, particularly practical in its sliced form, where you can just take out what you need, as and when required.
Although the sourdough does contain gluten, some people who struggle with an intolerance to gluten can manage with this bread, because the long fermentation process, has caused some of the breaking down to have already been done.

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