Into the Woods
Tom Herbert goes in search of food, fire and good times.
Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity, always.
- Henry David Thoreau
For me, wild baking represents freedom. Not in a melodramatic, chest-beating way, but as a break from the routine, a chance to re-engage and connect with nature, food and people.
When you’re really away from it all and the work has been done — the food has been cooked and a bottle opened — you get the deep satisfaction that comes with sharing good food and good conversation around an open fire with people that you love. Even if you don’t rate yourself as a cook, what the world’s top gourmets and chefs know is that nothing in the world compares to food cooked over a fire.
One of the things that I love about baking is that every time we do it we have the opportunity to perfect what we did before. We are always prototyping and striving for perfection — and then eating the evidence. It’s an art and a science and I hope to share with you a bit of both.
Wild baking is more than being outdoors and it’s more than baking. It’s a way of cooking that is somehow more timeless, convivial, nutritious and hugely satisfying. Sometimes we need a taste of the wild but can’t escape to the outdoors. Sometimes our very being yearns for the silence, the open spaces and the change of air that the great outdoors gives us for free. But, we can’t get there. So what can we do? We can look at our calendar and make a commitment to a time in the near future, and meanwhile, we can eat in a wild way closer to home as a covenant to our next adventure. Wild baking is to make your own way. Sure, some inspiration and motivation or a new piece of kit can all get us out the door. And if we are prepared, we can take our time, discover new things: the unexpected, good and bad, all make a good story. We’ll share it if we survive! And this striking out into the wild, whether cooking or bodily, gets deep into the very fibre of who we are. It builds resilience and peacefulness, and this is something we can easily tap into in an urban setting — even if that setting is a park, or a terrace or just leaning out of a window. We can all hold a bowl of steaming, chucked together noodles and howl at the moon.
Regardless, whether you’re up a mountain or in your own backyard, you’ll still be wanting your daily fix of caffeine. Here’s Tom’s recipe, cowboy-style.
I’ve tried to live without it but can’t. Maybe it’s good for us? All things in moderation, eh, and just because there isn’t a coffee shop to hand doesn’t mean we should suffer. Especially if all you need is a pan, a cup or two, some freshly ground coffee, a stick and some water.
Get set up for the pan over a fire. Measure out the water you need using the cup or cups and round it up a bit. Boil up the water, remove from the heat and count to 3. Add 2 tablespoons of freshly ground coffee per person / cup and leave it for 30 seconds before stirring it with a stick. Steep it for a further 2 minutes.
To encourage the grounds to sink to the bottom, flick the surface with some cold water while tapping the sides of the pan. Now carefully pour into the cups and add whatever you like: sugar, cream, whisky, milk, roasted chicory root, melted chocolate. Or just keep it short, black and strong. Wild lore states you should pour the last one for yourself, unless there’s someone that, you know, deserves it more than you.
Tom Herbert is a fifth-generation baker on a mission to revisit the sheer awesomeness of grains when it comes to taste, nutrition and impact. He started baking at the Hobbs House Bakery, and is one half of TV’s Fabulous Baker Brothers. More recently, he has baked with RCK (Refugee Community Kitchen) in Calais and Ujima Bakehouse in Kenya. In addition to baking, he also teaches, writes, speaks, presents and mentors. As an ambassador for the development charity Tearfund, for whom he has baked around the world, Tom helps to give people a hand up by sharing skills and knowledge. He lives in Gloucestershire with his wife Anna and their four children.