As you may already know, I am still on a mission to meet the producers from Taunton Farmers Market and this month I had the pleasure of visiting Common Loaf at Stentwood Farm.
First off I’m going to get straight in there with a lesson for all of you wonderful readers…
The Blackdown Hills is a sensational area of outstanding beauty: with rolling hills, luscious greenery for miles around and woodlands straight out of Narnia. It’s nothing but joyous to take a drive on a sunny day and soak up the views, but here’s the lesson bit:
Set up your sat nav when you still have Wi-Fi because up in the Blackdowns there isn’t any…
…no 3G whatsoever.
I naively set out to Common Loaf Bakery at Stentwood Farm with a foolish notion that I knew exactly where I was going. It didn’t look much further that my previous expedition to Wallace’s (read about it here!) so I couldn’t go too far wrong surely? I went very wrong and I’m almost certain I nearly wound up in Cornwall but thankfully after bothering a couple of horse riders and an unsuspecting Van driver, I finally found my destination.
I was immediately smitten with the farm when I parked up facing the hugest pile of logs, probably 10 feet high, and a small county town wide. I’m confident they were destined for the fire, and I pitied the axe bearer. Being something of a fire starter at heart (not in an illegal way, in a fireplace or chiminea kind of way) I felt instantly at home and couldn’t wait to meet the people behind the bread and the log pile.
As a true Brit, I headed straight for the sign which said ‘Tearoom’, it seemed as a good a place to start as any and walked through the door into a large, airy yet cosy, Scandi chalet style room. A roaring fireplace greeted me in one corner, with comfortable seating and a homely atmosphere. Here I met with Shimon and Abraham, two of the Common Loaf bakers who were happy to show me around.
Common Loaf is the bakery from Stentwood Farm, a relatively small faith based community of single people, couples and families, all working and living together in this little piece of Heaven in Devon. There are about 20 people in total who contribute to the bakery, with jobs varying from baking, to packaging and obviously working on the market stalls. Common Loaf attend 6 markets a week, and are proud to have been a part of the Taunton Farmers Market since 2000.
Currently producing a variety of 15 different breads, rolls, cookies and brownies I was really interested to learn that the variety of products available depends on who is within the community at the time. I learnt that Common Loaf no longer baked apple swirls, simply because the champion apple swirl baker had moved away.
Trying to define the ethos of this small cottage industry is tricky, as it is quite unlike a common cottage industry style. Fortunately the Stentwood Farm community have worded it perfectly on their own website:
“The reality behind this bread is that it comes from a people who are learning to love one another”
In keeping with these lifestyle values, Common Loaf breads are baked using traditional recipes, and ingredients that are nutritious and promote healthy digestion. As it states on their own website:
“It is not the cheapest bread, but the best things in life are not cheap”
Whilst chatting with Shimon and Abraham, I was introduced to a steamed sandwich called ‘The Deli Rose’. After confessing that I had never even heard of a steamed sandwich let alone eaten one, I was presented with this plate of yumminess! Let me tell you, I was glad I hadn’t had a big breakfast that morning.
Now I cannot give away the secrets to the steamed sandwich, but it is exactly what it’s called: it’s steamed. I would have thought that it would be soggy and odd, but it was fluffy, warm, gooey and devilishly moreish. Two types of beef with various sauces, provolone cheese and pepperjack cheese in an onion roll.
It so happened that the day I visited was not a big baking day. Market baking tends to happen 3 days throughout the week, although the bakery also provides baked goods for the whole community so I was lucky enough to watch Abraham making some of the onion rolls. They are really really long to start with, so long in fact that Abraham has to use a separate board to ‘extend’ his worktop.
The team were also making these awesome little plaited loaves for their weekly Friday night feast, made from sweet dough packed with olive oil and honey. Not one to be shy, I asked Abraham if he could teach me how to plait the bread..well, you can see my attempts…do you think I have a future in baking? Or should I stick to blogging for now?!
This small community of people greeted me with warm hearts, generous hospitality and some truly delicious treats. The products that you see on the market are baked with so much love and consideration that I think each mouthful should feel like a blessing. I know that alternative, faith based lifestyles don’t float everyone’s boat, but you cannot deny a cracking spelt loaf when you eat one. Look out for the Yellow Deli which they are opening in Honiton, you too could experience the lip-smacking pleasure of a Deli Rose steamed sandwich.
Shimon, Abraham and the rest of the Stentwood family, I’ll be back very soon!
In the meantime, everybody else, get down to Taunton Farmers Market, every Thursday (9am – 3pm) on the High Street and don’t forget your bags of course!