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  • Writer's pictureMartin Castle

Good Friday

For many, today is a day for reflection - something that probably escaped us in our previously too busy lives. This newly acquired skill has become the norm for me and in the quiet setting on NN it is perhaps something that comes easily. I am sure for others, time to think calls up angst and frustration. When I was little, "There's always someone worse off than you," was used to quell a moment when I was being awkward. It is, of course a truth and in the present time I hope that you can join me in supporting others for whom their current circumstance is a cross to bear, even if only with your thoughts and prayers.

Today should have seen a performance of Sir John Stainer's The Crucifixion at St Margaret of Antioch Church, Thorpe Market. This has been an annual event for over 20 years - but not this. There is, however, a virtual come & sing at St Edmundsbury Cathedral can be found at:

My non-singing contribution to this event has been to provide bread, cheese and soup for the singers between rehearsal and performance. Today's recipes are what I would have provided for them - usually around 40 singers. The first soup is a favourite of mine and has been well-received in the past (and even requested). The second is a non-meat option and a good strong cheddar goes with either like Morecombe goes with Wise or kiss goes with cuddle. Finally, there is the bread recipe that many of you have asked for - indeed, there is the smell of today's' wafting my way as I type.

Celeriac & Bacon Soup

Serves 4

Don't be put off by their alien looks - they come in peace.


50g/2oz butter

2 onions,chopped

675g/1½lb of celeriac roughly diced – be careful they can be tough to cut

450g/1lb potatoes, peeled and roughly diced

1.2l/2pts/5 cups best quality vegetable stock you can afford

150ml/1¼pts/⅔cup of single (light) cream

175g/6oz rindless streaky (fatty) bacon

1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped very small - I use Katayoun’s grandmother’s hachoir

Salt & ground black pepper


1. In a large pan melt the butter and add the onions and cook for 4-5 minutes until softened. Add the celeriac, put on a lid and cook gently for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the potatoes and stock and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes by which time the vegetables should be very tender.

3. Meanwhile, fry the bacon with a little ground pepper and the crushed thyme until golden and just becoming crispy. Set aside when done.

4. Leave to cool slightly and with a slotted spoon remove about ¼ of the celeriac and potatoes and set aside.

5. Puree the remainder of the soup in a blender still smooth then return to the rinsed out pan along with the reserved vegetables and bacon. Season to taste.

6. Return to the heat and bring to just below a simmer, allow to cool and add the cream before serving.

This ingredients can be easily increased to make a bucket-load.

Tomato, chickpea & cumin soup

Serves 8

Rather an elegant little thing!


280g sundried tomatoes in olive oil

2 medium red onions finely chopped

2 tbsp of cumin seeds, crushed

4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

2 tbsp chopped lemon thyme, plus extra for garnish

560g passata

1l vegetable stock

410g can chick peas, rinsed

(Crème fraiche or soured cream to serve)


1. Drain the tomatoes, reserving the oil, and roughly chop.

2. Heat ½ the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onions for 6-8 minutes until brown.

3. Add the cumin, garlic & thyme and fry for a further 3-4 minutes until the garlic is just beginning to colour.

4. Add the passata, stock, chick peas, chopped tomatoes and the remaining oil and bring slowly to the boil.

5. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

6. Liquidize with a hand held blender or by transferring ½ to a liquidizer (alternatively mash the chickpeas and finely dice the onions and tomatoes before you add them).

7. Season to taste and serve with crème fraiche or soured cream, thyme leaves and a twist of black pepper.

From Five Minute Bread by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoë François published in 2010 by the Ebury Press ISBN 978-0-09-193894-9

The Master Recipe

Makes 2 x 450g/1lb loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.


750ml / 1¼ pints lukewarm water

1½tbsp granulated yeast

1½ tbsp coarse grain salt (decrease according to taste)

900g / 2lb unsifted unbleached strong white bread flour (we use French flour from F W Matthews

Parchment paper


1. Warm the water slightly, just a little warmer than body temperature at about 38°c. Warm water will raise the dough to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. You can use cold water and get the same result but in 3 to 4 hours.

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5 litre / 8¾ pint re-sealable lidded but not airtight plastic container. We use a small plastic crate. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve. 3. Add all the flour at once and mix with a wooden spoon or a food processor/mixer fitted with the dough hook until the mixture is uniform. Do not knead it. Your finished when everything is uniformly moist without dry patches. The dough will be wet and loose enough to take the shape of the container.

4. Cover with a lid, not airtight, that fits well. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours, depending on the temperature of the room and the original water. Longer rising times, up to 5 hours, will not harm the result.

5. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this. Fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and easier to work so best refrigerate overnight (or for at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf. Don’t worry about doubling or tripling in size.

6. We use a large enamel casserole with the bottom liberally dusted with flour.

7. Pull up and cut off a 450g/1lb (grapefruit-sized) piece of dough with floured hands and gently stretch the surface of the dough round to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive.

8. Allow the dough to rest between 40 minutes to an hour. No need to cover but we use a shower cap!

9. 30 minutes before baking, pre-heat the oven to 220°c/450°f/gasmark 8.

10. When the dough is ready to bake, dust the top of the dough liberally with flour and slash a 5mm/¼ inch deep cross, scallop or criss-cross patter into the top of the , using a serrated knife.

11. In the bottom of the oven pour 250ml/8fl oz hot water from the tap into a hot tray in the oven. Place the loaf, still in its casserole dish in the oven and shut the door trapping the steam.

12. Bake for about 30-35 mins at 220°c/450°f (fan oven) or until the crust is nicely browned and firm.

13. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack for best flavour, texture and slicing. The perfect crust may initially soften but firm up with cooling.

Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...

  1. "cantilevered - a structure, situation or person extended out over a void; held in place and kept aloft by support that can scarcely be seen; hanging on despite the downward draw."

Troltunga / the Toll's Tongue, Vestland, Norway

Whilst we are thinking about words, recently we watched The Professor and the Madman - a film about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It is based on the book The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester. The film has a strong cast, led by Mel Gibson, and tells a strange story. The book is a great read and you may also like his The Map that Changed the World.


"Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." - St. Francis of Assisi

“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. - Julian of Norwich

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