Same as Thursday and Friday.
Today was a very different experience from the one I had on Friday when I taught the 10 year olds at East Sheen Primary School in what will be the first of a year’s programme of monthly baking sessions there. Friday was definately more chaotic, noisier, and much more challenging than today in lots of ways: the questions were different, the attention spans were shorter, the mess was total and complete. But then, they were ten. Today I did the first of what will be a year’s programme of montly baking sessions at The Clink which is a restaurant in High Down prison in Sutton, Surrey, just south of London. For those of you who are not familiar with the reasoning behind these sessions please click here to learn more. In summarised form it is because I believe that if we eat good bread we are more likely to contribute positively to society and the environment than be a drain on it. Better nutrition, higher self esteem, participating and sharing in acts of creation, being more self sufficient….all of these are excellent reasons to make and eat good bread. Virtuousbread.com wants to bake in prisons for those reasons and also because there will be someone somewhere who will put his or her hands in dough and think, “That’s it. I need to bake for a living.” Sometimes you don’t know what you want to do or need to do until you do it and if you grew up in a rough area in a broken home with few opportunities to experience much beyond your neighbourhood how would you know? How would you know that you can be a rope maker or rig boats or blow glass or garden or make bread if you have never been introduced to the idea that these are things that people do to earn a living and satisfy themselves at a profound level? You wouldn’t. Hence, the baking.
The prisoners at The Clink are Category B prisoners. They have committed horrible crimes but they are humans and they will be released one day. Treating them with humanity and helping them readjust to the outside world is one of the keys to ensuring that they don’t reoffend. The Clink was set up to enable prisoners to learn vital skills, gain real world experience, develop self esteem and team working abilities. As these are some of the same reasons Virtuousbread.com was established, it is a natural place for us to work. We covered a lot of ground yesterday and I am sure the cooks felt that they had drunk from a fire hose. Because yeast is a controlled substance we worked without it, using only sourdough, specifially the 1857 wheat sourdough thatI brought from home and The Clink rye sourdough that they had been brewing over the past week according to the instructions I sent to Al, their head chef and the man who made The Clink happen. I made sure to take some refreshed rye, some rye pre-dough, and some wheat pre-dough so that we could actually achieve something whilst I was there. We made a 100% rye loaf, a rye sourdough and wheat loaf with pine nuts, and a wheat sourdough with wheat and honey. When I left the 100% rye was proofing in a tin in the fridge (there was only dark rye flour so it will take ages to rise), the wheat sourdough was proofing in a plastic box in the fridge (fold fold fold), and the rye and wheat was baking. The visitors all had to leave before the bread was done – I wonder how it was?
The cooks were curious and keen. They asked highly intelligent questions and it was clear they were slotting this new found knowledge away into their own personal filing systems – categorising the knowledge and making connections between it and what they already knew. Some of the ones I taught have clear aptitudes for baking and all of them like bread – so that’s an excellent start. Over the next 12 months I will go down one day per month to really get The Clink’s bread menu off the ground. They will need to find a rythm that works for them regarding refreshing the dough and getting the proofing timing right given their own restrictions – and by that I mean when they are allowed out of their cells in the morning and when they have to go back into them at night.
I have no romantic illusions about these men. I do, however, hope that even one of them will put his hands in the dough and come out clean.