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Farmer Sarah Hunt goes back to basics with bread-making at Tatchbury Manor Farm

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A NEW Forest farmer has returned to the traditional ways of baking with the addition of a wood-fired oven at her farm shop.

Sarah Hunt, who runs Tatchbury Manor Farm in Winsor, had talked for years with her late husband Roy about opening a bakery, but their plans were shelved when he was diagnosed with cancer.

“He was going to build the oven, but never got the chance to,” she said. “Roy died in December 2020 and I realised that if I wanted to keep the farm going, I needed to make some decisions about what I was going to do.

The oven takes around three hours to heat up
The oven takes around three hours to heat up

“I sat down with my accountant and we drew up a business plan to see if a bakery was viable, and it was. I also have a mobile home on the farm that was used by family, and I turned it into an Airbnb.”

Sarah’s bread is made the old fashioned way with a long and slow fermentation process that mellows the gluten in the dough and makes it more digestible.

This is how bread was traditionally made, but in the last 50 years or so this process has been fast-tracked for commercial gain and cheaper products.

“The oven takes around three hours to heat up so I have to get up at 3am to light up,” she said. “My baker, who has been in the trade for 28 years and has trained with Richard Bertinet, is a marvel and is producing the best bread and pastries I have tasted in years.

“He makes a whole range of breads, including granary, traditional white loaves, ciabatta, focaccia, brioche and sourdough.

“We also do cherry and almond Danish pastries, chocolate orange croissants, Belgian buns, cinnamon buns and iced finger buns.

“The oven cooks everything more slowly so the bread gets a really good rise and an amazing crust on it. We also cook our pies and sausage rolls in there, and the pastry doesn’t dry out.”

Another significant factor in Sarah’s decision to buy a wood-fired oven was fuel costs.

“My electricity bill was £1,000 a month,” she said. “I needed to reduce that. But a big part of it was about bringing back that village tradition of buying bread daily from a working bakery that uses a slow proving method.

“When we were kids we had bread and butter with every meal. We never had masses of food on our plate but we’d use the bread to mop up.

The wood-fired oven cuts down on fuel costs
The wood-fired oven cuts down on fuel costs

“With more people trying to keep their costs down I think we may go back to that.

“We’ve been led to believe too much bread is bad for us, but when it’s baked properly it’s not at all hard to digest.”

Sarah’s new venture has won her the Diversified Rural Business Award from the New Forest National Park Authority and Country Landowner’s Association, which was presented to her at last week’s New Forest Show.

Another new addition to the farm is a fruit orchard: Sarah has planted 40 trees which will produce greengages, apples, pears and plums for her cakes and pastries.

“It’s been a tough few years and it’s not going to get any easier,” she said. “But it’s a way of life and you either choose that or you move on.

“Roy’s family has been on this farm for over 100 years. When I met Roy and moved here, we opened up the shop.

“We couldn’t rely on agriculture alone because the farm doesn’t have the acreage to make it pay. I worked for New Forest Marque, and when I was made redundant I thought I would give it a go making pies.

“I keep pigs on the farm along with cows and sheep, and I use the pork for my pies and sausage rolls.”

Tatchbury Manor’s farm shop sells a wide range of local produce, including Goodall’s Strawberries, New Forest honey, Lyburn cheese, vegetables from D. and J. Hayward Growers, and preserves from the Real Jam and Chutney Company.

“I want to go back to selling seasonal produce in the shop,” said Sarah. “The community should be supporting little farms in the same way they supported local people during the pandemic.”

The shop is open from Tuesday to Saturday.

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