he pub was where I realised it: with just over 100 days to go, I am on a crash course for relearning patience. Perhaps not relearning; perhaps stretching through deep breaths and pressing outwards, like yoga. 100 days until the referendum, I mean, of course. Referendum debate is unavoidable now, whether it’s through facebook — oh god, facebook — or thrust into your actual face by a man waving The Sun, in a strangely accusatory manner, in a south London boozer.
Because that’s how the conversations start. Not through a natural topic change, but as a result of one person brandishing their opinion, treating their anecdotes like knuckledusters, as if when they hit you enough, they’ll win.
It won’t relent over the next three months; the same old arguments will continue to be trotted out by the same people, often unprompted, and unnecessary when we both know neither will change their mind. And I will be there thinking, “We could be talking about books right now, or food, or anything, honestly anything, else.” So we breathe, and we press at the barriers of our tolerance, feeling them expand, and we let these next few months run their course.
This bread, too, requires patience, and the ability to know when it’s time to walk away and let things play out. All the grinding and rising and warming and soaking and blitzing that has to be done before you can enjoy the waft of butter and spice from the oven.
ears ago, there was a bakery back home that has since become the stuff of legends for those of us lucky enough to grow up with it in the village. The building is a pizza place now, but during my childhood it was a sugar-laden Aladdin’s cave of cakes and pastry and huge triangle slices of the best caramel shortbread I’ve ever had. I mourn for what used to be whenever I walk past now and the street smells of grease rather than sugar and butter.
Perched beside the pavement, roughly at the halfway point on the walk to school, the village bakery smelt so good it was basically impossible to stroll past without at the very least slowing down to take in the aromas of fresh bread, cheese straws, and a plethora of biscuits. A tiny room, there was only just enough space for a small round table and two chairs, tucked underneath a pin board that covered all aspects of village life: craft fairs, church services dance classes. It was old-fashioned, without the pretense you get these days in bakeries that declare themselves “artisanal”; all crisp paper bags and motherly staff.
The loaves of bread I used to buy most mornings on the way to high school for about a year – I was chubby for a reason – were still warm at 8am, and perfect on their own. The marshmallow cones were a regular childhood treat, and those caramel shortbreads were out of this world. But for true decadence, it was all about the date slice.
Don’t get me wrong, the dates slices weren’t a sophisticated affair. A hefty slab, they were essentially two hunks of shortbread sandwiched together with a thick, sticky date puree, and sprinkled with sugar. Healthy? No. Delicious? Yes.
Years on, it’s up to us to recreate the treats from our childhoods. Here, the humble date slice is tarted up a bit, making the most of the end of Bramley apple season and taking on a flapjack-y twist with the addition of oats. Read More