The Wisley Loaf

A unique new bread is born, and it all started out in the garden...

For some months I’ve wanted to create a loaf of bread unique to Wisley. We have baked here for years of course and, from time to time, created special loaves for seasonal events. But I dreamed of something more meaningful than, say, simply folding herbs from the garden through basic bread dough.

I wanted to grow a sourdough culture from a cutting of one of the fruits for which Wisley is famed. For a while I toyed with the idea of grapes, particularly the ‘Muscat of Alexandria’, which tastes divine, but I would need to wait until it was ripe and I didn’t want to wait that long!

Then I thought of rhubarb – not strictly a fruit of course – but the Wisley Rhubarb Collection is spectacular. Rhubarb felt more British, more right.

So one day, I was walking up the Glasshouse Borders, past the Fruit Mount, and right in front of me was the rhubarb. I looked round for the gardeners and asked if I could take a cutting. It took us a bit of time to find the right plant – the gardeners suggested a Champagne variety but then we saw ‘Grandad’s Favorite’ AGM, and I thought: ‘That sounds perfect!’

The renowned bread from Fergus Henderson’s St John Restaurant in London is made with rhubarb-based starter. I checked his recipe book ‘Beyond Nose to Tail’ (written with celebrity baker Justin Gellatly) and roughly replicated the steps, using rye flour. It was fascinating to watch the starter come to life; it’s rather like when a seed becomes a shoot, which never ceases to amaze me.