Wallarobba to Werribee - the tour so far

The daily routine on the road has kept me away from the keys this past few weeks. And before that, well, I was building the trailer. Not to mention putting the bakery and household into storage for a while whilst I go on this mad adventure. Time, it seems, has been spent on these things, rather than 'telling the story' of these things.

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Now I'm settling into life as a traveller, the time to write has become a bit more possible, so here's an update. It's too daunting to play too much catchup at once; so much has happened already, so expect a few chapters of this story to appear over coming months.

While I was working on the Bush Bakery Mk II, the weather was fine most days. The trailer was safely housed in an old dairy shed at the Miller farm in Wallarobba; it had a roof over its head, and while cold nights were beginning to set in, the days were hot, particularly under the dairy shed's tin roof. There was a smidgin of rain at the farm while I was building the trailer, but I was able to ignore it, due to the dry dairy shed the trailer was housed in. Thus, water and cold were not so much in my face. I managed to waterproof the roof of the trailer; it was a token effort at best - and I barely considered the fact that I was heading south, towards the polar winds driven from the Antarctic, in the middle of winter.  

But, as I hit the road, so too did two weeks of heavy rain; the rain swept the entire east of the continent right at the start of my journey. I was taught a lesson in planning and design in the most awkward of circumstances. After the first three Bush Baking workshops being held in pouring rain, I began to sell my wares as the 'Bringer of Rain'. There had to be a positive spin for this, I reasoned.

The Bush Bakery had some major design flaws - it was barely waterproof, and after a couple of weeks of receiving the worst of the elements, the entire thing (made mostly of wood) began to look like it would fall apart at the first decent blast of sub artic wind (which came, soon afterwards). 

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There were 17 people at the Berry workshop, who braved the weather for an overnight bake. Somehow, we managed to get some half decent bread out of the oven, but afterwards I had to spend a couple of days dealing with emergency waterproofing while still parked in what was rapidly becoming a muddy quagmire at Berry B & B. I was able to do some running repairs to the wooden structure in the pouring rain, but it was pretty dodgy.

Somehow, I got the Bush Bakery to Murrumbateman in one piece, though I have to say it was extremely waterlogged, and could well have come apart with a decent bump. In addition, all my bedding and clothes got completely soaked. Before I left Berry, I spent a couple of days tucked into one of the cabins at the B & B, drying stuff in front of the open fire. Happy days. Thanks Peter and Mandy, the owners and friends of mine; without your generosity I may well have been forced to call the whole trip off!

Fortunately, I had reluctantly invested in some decent tarpaulins while at Berry; I dried out much of my gear, and could at least prevent more rain from finding its way into the very delicate wet underbelly of the Bush Bakery Mk II.

The workshop at Murrumbateman ran more smoothly, though Bev (a past student and keen baker and oven builder herself) helped me get through the workshop with a degree of dignity still intact. Another trip to Bunnings before I left, and the trailer was ready to travel again - albeit still vulnerable to the ravages of rain. Cold had been temporarily abated by the loan of Bev's serious doona - thanx Bev!

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Next, I arrived in Harcourt, at the Blumes Historic Bakery site. Jodie and Dave have been ultra busy, resurrecting the old Scotch oven and bakery, over the past 9 months since they attended a Masterbaker session at my old place in the Hunter Valley last year.

These guys describe themselves as 'serial renovators', and this became apparent very quickly, as their setup was nothing short of incredible. The scotch oven, almost exactly 100 years old, had been refloored and reflued; Dave had the good sense to add some under floor temperature sensors to the 72 tonne beast as well. The bakery itself had been refurbished beautifully, as well as the grounds and various buildings.

They found a space in the large woodshed for me and the Bush Bakery, so while it rained regularly, I was dry and had a chance to work on my cold weather setup while we worked on the various pre production processes in anticipation of the Blumes bakery re- opening - only months away. Their efforts inspired me to improve the trailer, which took the form of the addition of some old corrugatred iron on the wings. Dave donated some old iron, and helped me put it on. Gotta say, the trailer feels so much more solid now that it's coated in a layer of (recycled) steel!

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The workshop went fabulously well, with a bunch of locals coming along for the day, making some great bread in the Bush Oven.  The proofer worked well too, powered by my butane gas burner and some terracotta 'heat amplifiers' which I've been using lately. These 'heat amplifiers' work to consolidate the diffusion of small amounts of heat in a small space. Thus, they are like mini 'mass heaters'; perfect for heating a bedroom or small kitchen, and I intend to cover their design and use in a future article. 

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Jodie and Dave are 'heart' people - like me, I guess - and observing their process was illuminating. I can tell you that when these two get their bakery up and running over the coming months, it will be worth checking them out. I can see that it will be extraordinary, and that they will quickly make a name for themselves, as they approach things with a degree of thoroughness that is essential when you are trying to do something special. In short, I see them as 'up for the task'. We worked on their strategic vision, and then got stuck into the detail of how the proposed bakery would actually operate at a certain scale.

This is an exercise I really enjoy doing with first time bakeries - it means they get a handle on exactly what they need to get for their setup, as well as which suppliers they need to be talking to, what their production schedule might look like, and so on. We decided also to run a couple of trial bakes through the heated Scotch oven as well. These were pretty woeful affairs - just working out the variables in a virgin bakery is a pretty tricky undertaking, let alone actually get everything through an untried woodfired oven! By the second attempt, though, we had figured out lots, and had a markedly better result. Still not to commercial standard, but not far off. The oven itself is a gem - totally even, and very easy to work - once you get the hang of using a twelve foot long peel.

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So Harcourt was a powerful experience for me. Here was a 100 year old piece of simple technology which was both efficient and accurate. The heat the oven was achieving was amazing - totally even, and totally strong. The bread which will soon be coming out of that oven will be nothing short of amazing - and I will be part of it, which makes me very proud!

My journey continued - Melbourne beckoned, and my youngest daughter was having a birthday. She's been southside for a good many years now, and visiting has always been tricky. This time, I had my whole kit and kaboodle - my dog, Pippa, my cat Mishka, and the Bush Bakery. No more airline mentality - this time we could check out her world properly, without the constraints of airline schedules to limit us. In addition, the Melbourne workshop was fast approaching. 

Finding a dog friendly caravan park was tricky - I ended up in Werribee South, on the edge of the bay, getting blasted by sub zero Arctic winds and a kind of feral stench created by the sewage plant at Cocoroc, where all Melbourne city's shit gets dealt with. Despite this, it was a really good spot to be. I was amazed by the size of the market gardens surrounding the suburb - it seemed like the cabbage capital of the southern hemisphere!

My organic brain was thinking of the natural synergy here. I know human excrement should not be used to grow human food - but hey, cabbages and poo both stink. Poo is basically nitrogen, and that's exactly what is needed to grow cabbages!

Being in zero degree nights near the bay also refined my camping set up - my trailer is half classroom/bakery, half 'boudoir' - so I spent a bit of time sorting out living with really cold weather.  By the time I left there I had created double insulated canvas walled sections under the wing of the boudoir - and had figured out the basic tarp system to keep me dry. 

I even prepped dough by hand in the trailer while the chill winds from the Anarctic were at my back. Really felt like I was starting to get the hang of this mobile baking routine. I haven't managed to build the bakers' trough, so I'm using my plastic tubs from the bakery. These are prooving to be perfect for the task. I haven't 'kneaded' the baker's trough as yet...but this will happen, as I eventually will 'knead' more capacity. At this time, it isn't really required - the dough tubs work with 10 kg each, and I find them very easy to use in the existing technique. This will change, but for now, it doesn't knead fixing (there I go again).

Thus prepped, I headed off to the Melbourne Workshop. Which will be the next chapter. Keep you posted!