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You would think that slow-fermented breads, tempting Eccles cakes, good coffee, pecan tarts and homemade croissants would be a welcome addition to any British village. Today, father-and-daughter team Chris and Joanna Brennan certainly make the trade in these moreish goods look easy at their exquisitely designed Pump Street Bakery. But when they first applied for planning permission to open in Orford, Suffolk three years ago they were met with 87 objections in a village of 690 residents. On top of this, changing the empty building’s usage meant that an £8,000 grease disposal system that would have been more at home in a chippy than an upmarket bakery had to be installed to meet with local health and safety regulations.
Joanna understood a lot of the anxiety that accompanied the bakery’s arrival: “Some people were worried about the parking implications and others the risk of us failing and a take-away opening in our place. I think it was hard for the community to foresee what the bakery would actually be like.”
The Brennans had otherwise chosen a good spot. There are few areas in Britain that boast such intertwined food stories as Suffolk. Orford, a sleepy, beautiful village on the coast, was an important market town throughout the Middle Ages, enjoying a healthy trade in oysters and fishing. After a period of decline in the Victorian era, it was revived in the 1950s by the passion of a Londoner, Richard Pinney, who resurrected Orford’s ancient oyster beds with Portuguese rock oysters and opened a smokehouse where fish were hot-smoked over whole oak logs. This traditional method continues today, still run by the Pinney family, who smoke only what they catch and harvest themselves. Their restaurant, The Butley Orford Oysterage, a delightfully archaic-looking place in the village square, is supplied with rich pickings: cod’s roe purée full of smoky character; griddled squid charred to perfection and, of course, oysters.
Orford houses another smoker and a smart village shop selling artisan cheeses from Suffolk and beyond, but it was the story of the bakery that really fascinated me. Chris, a Jamaican-born retired IBM executive, had been seduced on a trip to Paris by a baguette of such fine crumb that he determined to recreate it at home. He cleared his garage, installed a half-deck commercial bread oven and got down to the task. Within a year he had perfected his baguette.
Chris found a pitch for his bread at the local market, and as it began to sell out quickly each week Joanna offered to give up her job to help him open a full-time enterprise. One of his subsequent training “stages” was at St. John’s Bakery in London, famous in foodie circles for producing some of the best bread (and Eccles cakes) in London. “It was a privilege to observe experienced bakers there,” Chris says. “The baking community is small and generous with their time and knowledge, and it’s something we like to do now too – welcome other bakers to come and bake with us.”
The Eccles cakes on display in the Pump Street Bakery’s old Citroën van (which tours the nearby markets) will be the unmissable part of my annual pilgrimage to the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival at the end of this month: flaky, buttery, caramelised pastry and cinnamon-scented, dense raisin filling – these are buns that are hard to put down. Pump Street also shows how the food scene here is brimming with connections: some of the loaves are baked from organic flour made by another local food star, William Kendall, of Maple Farm, Kelsale. Kendall, who turned around the Covent Garden Soup Company and then Green & Black’s, first switched the farm over to organic farming.
However, he was so irritated by the pitiful prices he was paid for his wheat that he decided to add value to it, producing his own flour with a stone mill sourced in Austria: “Milling our first flour was about as exciting a moment as I can remember,” Kendall says.
Thanks in part to the work of campaigner Caroline Cranbrook, president of the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival, this eastern parcel of Suffolk has an increasing number of producers. “The festival’s success has played its part in making Suffolk a food destination, which in turn is encouraging start-up food businesses and shops,” says Cranbrook. “Since last year, four new food markets, one new greengrocer, one deli, one village shop and four bakers have opened – and this is just in East Suffolk.”
It is a true virtuous circle, encouraging the production and consumption of good food and drink, while bringing great economic benefit. This year I go back to the festival with a whetted appetite, not least for the chocolate that Chris Brennan was perfecting on my last visit; a blend of cacao beans that he was importing from Ecuador, Madagascar and Venezuela and roasting and grinding himself to make the first bars of Pump Street’s dark chocolate.
Once faced with its fair share of obstacles, the business now has a concession in the food shop in nearby Snape Maltings, in addition to the café and touring Citroën van. And, at last count, it employed 20 locals. Happy is the place with a Pump Street Bakery in it.
Pump Street’s tomato, goat’s curd and basil sourdough bruschetta
This is one of our favourite late-summer café dishes. It showcases our sourdough, while using the most vibrant, multi-toned cherry tomatoes grown locally at Newbourne Farm, and excellent goat’s curd from Neal’s Yard Dairy. If you can get ahold of young, tender basil shoots, they look best, but chopped larger leaves will taste just as good.
2 slices of Vermont sourdough, or other open textured white sourdough
300 g mixed cherry tomatoes (at room temperature)
1 clove garlic, cut in half
a generous sprinkling of sea salt
175 g goat’s curd (or substitute ricotta)
small handful of basil leaves
1. Wash, dry and halve the cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and a glug of olive oil. They should be verging on salty at this stage, but the seasoning will all balance out later.
2. Lightly toast the sourdough. While it’s still piping hot, rub the garlic over the surface of the bread. It will smell quite strong initially. Put it on a plate and drizzle with olive oil.
3. Spread the tomatoes out over the bread, half on each, making sure to drip over any of the juices that have gathered at the bottom of the tomatoes.
4. Put half of the goat’s curd on top of each piece of sourdough. Scatter basil leaves on top. Serve immediately.
Pump Street Bakery is running a “How to Start and Maintain a Sourdough Starter” workshop September 28-29 at the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival “Bread Zone”; www.aldeburghfoodanddrink.co.uk