Bara Seren

Bara Seren

At home we have a breadmaker machine but there’s no room on Seren and not enough electric power either. Nor is there an oven, just a two burner hob and small grill. Access to decent bread is tricky on a boat trip so I was determined to make my own. And I thought it’d be a good time to experiment with sourdough.

There’s a lot of online advice about sourdough bread making some trying to turn it into an art form and others into a science needing precise measures and good temperature control. But for centuries nomads, migrants and settlers have made bread as they travelled so it can’t be that hard.

If you want to know about creating a sourdough starter, search online, this is about sourdough baking on a small boat. First make your starter at home a couple of weeks before you set off. Once it’s established you can feed once a week and keep it in a fridge. If you have a fridge onboard take the starter with you. If you’re going solo like me take a small amount of starter in a smaller jar than you’d use at home. Mine is 0.5l which seems OK.

To make a batch of dough the starter needs to be warmer than a fridge so early morning take some (about 2-3 tablespoons) and put it in a mug. Add tablespoon of flour and less than a tbsp of water. Stir it and cover it and leave it in the cabin. Replenish the starter with a similar amount to that you’ve removed and put it back in the fridge.

Lunchtime put a cupful of flour and the starter you prepared earlier (called levain or levan in pretentious sourdough circles) in a bowl. Add just enough water to bring it together. Mash it around with a spatula or knife. Cover and leave to work. Have lunch. Have a nap.

About an hour later tip the dough out on a floured table/worksurface. Sprinkle on about ½teaspoon of salt. Add a bit more water or flour to make a nice kneadable dough. Knead it.

In the absence of an oven you can bake bread in a Dutch Oven on the hob. A proper Dutch Oven is a wide, cast iron pan with a lid. For a small loaf a cast iron saucepan with a lid will do. Other pans probably not, they don’t spread the heat around so well.

Leave dough to rise as you travel on

Oil the inside of the pan well to stop the bread sticking. Place the dough in the pan, cover it and leave it while you go on your way.

Several hours later put the pan on the hob and have the gas on high until the outside of the pan is too hot to touch. Turn gas down low and leave it for about 50min – 1 hour.

The top of the loaf should feel springy when cooked, but will look disappointingly pale. Turn it out. If the pale top bothers you and there’s room under the grill then grill the top for a few minutes.

Next up, tonight I’m making sourdough pizza.

Day 2 Old West & Ely Ouse

Day 2 Old West & Ely Ouse

The Great Ouse is known by various names for all sorts of weird historical reasons that are too complicated to go into here. The section from Hermitage Lock at Earith to Popes Corner where the Cam (from Cambridge) joins the Ouse is known as the Old West, from a boating point of view it’s a bit of a drag. Literally a drag because the top is too close to the bottom and even a shallow drafted boat like Seren suffers from drag. Time drags too because there’s a 4mph speed limit and nothing to look at. Much of the river runs between flood banks and unless you have a big cruiser with a flying bridge you can’t see over them.

After Popes Corner the Ely Ouse is wider and deeper and you can go faster, though in my case not much, Seren seems to cruise most happily at about 5-6mph According to my GPS system.

I stopped at Ely to refill the water tank and then ground on to the Denver Sluice. Denver is where the tidal river begins and I need to navigate about ½mile of the tidal section tomorrow before turning into Salters Lode lock, the entry to the fenland drains known as the Middle Level. Tide times dictate when the lock can be used, if the tide is too low you’d be on the mud when the lock opened. It looks like 10.45 tomorrow, so time for laundry and boat cleaning.

Meanwhile, here’s a photo of dinner, all the major food groups covered and only one pan to wash. I cheated by bringing frozen beef stew from home!

I’ve been making bread too, but I’ll tell you about that when I’ve cut it for tomorrow’s lunch…