What would a freezing cold January day, (6 hours outside…) working with a group of young people who aren’t in education, employment or training look like? This was Friday.
I regularly work with groups of young people in North Solihull on community gardening projects, teaching basic gardening and growing skills, but most importantly, getting everyone involved and doing it for themselves.
It can be a little frustrating, the thought of dirt in their acrylic nails and that it’s not cool and pointless seem to be overriding thoughts, but once overcome, they get stuck in. It’s extremely rewarding to see how much can be learnt skills wise and in wellbeing through spending time outdoors in the garden, working the ground and providing for yourself and the community.
The "I can do it" attitude sets in and they are eager for new challenges, more responsibility and we can achieve an incredible amount as a team.
A day which starts off well below zero can be off putting for the most hardy individual, of which I would not class myself! Wrapped up in as many layers as I could manage, 6 hours outside seemed a daunting space to fill.
With the ground too hard to dig, most of the winter tidying tasks already carried out, I turned my mind to cooking. What could we cook out in the garden without the warmth and gadgets of a fully equipped kitchen? What is going to be of interest and use to a group of 16-19 year olds?
With my pop up equipment we assembled a small soup making station and with the earth oven in the community garden we had all we needed to make some delicious fresh bread to go with it.
The group had never made a bread dough before and were honest in saying what was the point when you can get bread from the supermarket? It’s a fair question when you are thinking about convenience – time, effort and a good introduction into what actually goes into the food we buy from the shops, the added artificial ingredients to preserve food.
Deciding it was worth trying (success) I quickly realised that we had to have a basic introduction of baking, covering the essentials of how to weigh out, what the ingredients gave to the recipe and how they worked e.g yeast. Enforcing all the more that we need to address cooking with children from an early age, making it fun, informative and worthwhile to share in. The group with me today were almost ready to go off into the world, to get jobs, live alone or with friends. What is their lifestyle going to look like without the ability to cook simple healthy meals for themselves? I could write about this for days and no doubt it will appear in many more blogs to come.
With the bread dough underway, we used the basic recipe below, it was time to turn the attention back to the soup.
Working with the seasonal produce from the garden, we decided on celeriac and apple, not a classic combination for a group of young people!
None of the group had tried or come across the magnificent celeriac before and were quite put off by its nobbly, wrinkly medusa style appearance. Looks can be deceiving is something to overcome in most young people’s cookery classes!
Although the flavours weren’t fully enjoyed (celeriac is an acquired taste), the process of making the soup in our pop up way was hugely worthwhile for everyone.
Introducing new vegetables, cooking techniques and preparation methods left the group feel satisfied and actually rather proud, they had accomplished and created a simple meal for themselves which they agreed they could recreate at home with flavours the family would enjoy.
With comments of “this is the best bread I’ve ever tasted” resounding around the garden, the feeling we’d all lost in our toes and fingers from the icy day didn’t matter. They were off home to show off their achievements whilst I work out what we can cook next time on hopefully a warmer pop up cookery class!
[It didn't take us 6 hours to make soup and bread - we filled our outdoor day with creating water walls to take to schools as pop up sensory gardens for disabled children]
Basic Bread Recipe
500g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting (can use a mix of wholemeal and white flour if preferred)
2 tsp salt
7g fast-action yeast
3 tbsp olive oil
300ml tepid water (finger warm)
Measure out the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Then add the oil and water mixing well with a fork.
The flour will absorb different amounts of liquid so If the dough seems a little stiff, add 1-2 tbsp water, if it's a little sticky then sprinkle on a little more flour. Mix well then tip onto a lightly floured work surface or flat board and knead.
The dough will start to come together quite quickly and turn from a bobbly ball into a lovely smooth ball. Once it is springy back when pressed, place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Leave to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Because we were working outside we borrowed a cupboard in the community centre which was a warmer spot for our dough.
Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Knock back the dough (taking the air out of it), then gently mould the dough into a ball. We chose to make our dough into rolls as it was easier for us to cook in the earth oven. 500g of flour should make about 12 rolls.
Place it on the baking parchment and cover with clingfilm, to prove for a further hour until doubled in size.
Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Dust the loaf with flour if desired and bake for 25-30 mins until golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack.
We cooked ours in the earth oven for our cookery class so cooking times varied depending on the heat of the flames.
Fresh bread is delicious warm and I think spread with butter, but enjoy it how you please!