Tom Herbert is a fifth generation baker, a TV presenter, writer, and cook. He started out at Hobbs House Bakery, who have recently opened their newest shop on Gloucester Road in Bristol. He is one half of Channel 4’s Fabulous Baker Brothers. Recently he has baked with the Refugee Community Kitchen in Calais, and Ujima Bakehouse in Kenya. He is an ambassador for the development charity Tearfund.
In his new book, Do Wild Baking (an extract and recipe from which we reproduce below), he explores baking and cooking with flame, coal, ash, and smoke. He talks of the simple joy of cooking outdoors. Mountain, forest, river, beach. Eating and sharing and breathing and talking, out in the wilds. With detailed instructions on using open fire, on making your own sourdough starter, and with recipes ranging from flatbreads to sourdough bagels, from simple popcorn to a surf ‘n’ turf of lamb koftas with lobster, it is an entertaining and informative guide; not just to the ‘how’ of wild cooking, but also the ‘why’.
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.
Mussels Baked in Embers
I love mussels. They’re the most carbon-positive form of protein. I’ve tried them every which way, and for me, hands down, this is the best. Seafood doesn’t get simpler than this.
Makes: enough for 2 Takes: 5 minutes Fire: embers Kit: metal tongs
4 big handfuls of mussels, scrubbed
chilled bottle of white wine
Once your campfire has burnt down to its embers, push a handful of mussels, one at a time, hinge side down, halfway into the embers. Within a minute or two the mussels will open and steam cook themselves with the sea brine within, and their own delicious juices. Deftly whip them out using your tongs, add a squeeze of lemon and eat them directly from the fire. Just accompany with chilled white wine.
— Long metal tongs will help prevent you from getting burnt. It is harder though to get them in and out of the embers without losing precious juices.
— If a mussel stays open after you’ve given it a knock (before baking), then it was already dead and too risky to eat. Throw these ones back into the sea.
— If you bake the mussels for too long they become chewy and hard. Not long enough, and they’ll be slimy and cold. With a bit of practice you’ll get it just right.
This is an edited extract from Do Wild Baking by Tom Herbert. Published by the Do Book Company on 14 September 2017, £8.99 paperback, £5.49 ebook.
Also available in all good bookshops.
Photography: Jody Daunton