It all began when we suddenly and abruptly found ourselves at home a lot more than ever before in March last year. Initially it all felt like an indefinitely extended snow day but with immeasurably better weather! Those days seemed simpler and Covid seemed so far away, at least far enough not to permeate our cell walls. So those of us lucky enough to have a patch of outside space began digging for victory. A few tomato seeds made their way into rich soil, followed by some cut-and-come again salad leaves and a handful of radish seeds planted way too close together. We watered, fed and chased squirrels away with maniacal obsession until mustardy leaves unfurled and shiny green fruit developed from fuzzy yellow flowers.
It was not only my garden that was reaching for apical dominance, photographs of beans, peas and flowers and even a balcony jungle of courgettes from our kitchen team were daily reminders that we cared about each other and missed cooking and sharing produce together. And that is where the sharing began. We shared pictures of the food we were growing to check on each other, so even though we could not physically share a meal it was still pulling us together. We all started realizing that this was perhaps going to continue slightly longer than anticipated and that we were all in it together, equally and squarely.
Over the next few weeks six tomato vines produced a glut of shiny beefsteak, cherry and plum tomatoes that we simply couldn`t get through, even if we shared with the squirrels. Suddenly the effortless solution became the kindness and generosity of sharing food, not only to ease our own abundance but as a way of neighbourly doorstep to doorstep conversation to see how others were doing.
Fragrant tomatoes, salad leaves and radishes were shared as frequently as the plentiful weekly harvest, with the garden bounty placed on a magic shelf outside the front door, followed by a phone message saying to go and have a look. Amazingly, they always disappeared to a grateful home and sometimes a photograph would ping back to show what meal had been produced with the tasty leaves. Repayment would take the form of warm date and orange scones, fresh just-churned soft scoop raspberry ice cream or walnut and banana muffins with the instruction not to be shy with the butter! Clearly we were still getting to know each other….
As the Corona tentacles gain a tighter grasp and further reach, the need for people to reach out and connect through food and community has become even more pronounced. A dynamic neighbour has taken up the reigns and set up a community food giving box for families affected by the economic implications of the virus. Every week, a boot full of non-perishables goes off to a hub to make their way to struggling families. Enabled by generosity from all my neighbours and our crusade leader! Fundamentally food generosity unifies us as well as keeps us in touch with our community. Last week there was a full days’ worth of running commentary on our WhatsApp group talking about supporting restaurants in our area with a takeaway that evening. There were recommendations and even menu suggestions all day as the pangs grew louder and at 6:30 there was a procession of delivery bikes up and down our street. What followed were pictures of empanadas and messages of people dreaming of a street party when we could all socialise like the good old days.
Christmas was a trying time for all with many plans suddenly halted. Suddenly some people had a turkey to share between two and others needed to go shopping urgently! Once again community support and food sharing prevailed and I found myself sharing my Christmas lunch by dishing an extra plate for a neighbour that had fantastic Christmas travel plans cancelled at the last minute. Once again shared from the magic shelf! I am sure that we were not alone in sharing and I saw it firsthand again with plates being offered on the trusty community group. And the best Christmas food barter was two star anise pods for a cup of mulled wine in return! Good deal if you ask me, but I got the wine.
Somewhere along the Corona timeline the thought of not being able to make and share meals with family and friends began to sink in with some reacting with revolutionary-esque acts of defiance. My friend who lives locally one day declared we were starting a food share that was based on returning a enamel pie dish full of whatever we fancied cooking and she was kicking it off by making cassoulet! I think she may have been waving her hand in the air at the time. We both have two member households so cooking something special most times includes leftovers going into the fridge. So, after what seemed like days of soaking beans and salting duck legs, food share day finally came. The cassoulet was delivered complete with heating instructions and a crumb topping, delivered to my doorstep. The best takeaway ever. Since then, we have met at a bench neatly between our homes, a 2 minute walk for each of us and have swopped the most amazing array of food. We have shared tandoori lamb, Indonesian curried lamb shanks and even swopped homemade mustard, green elderberry capers, pickled green tomatoes and beer! We may not have been sitting next to our friends, but our hearts were warmed.
During the first lockdown, people began stockpiling flour and when they realised that the bread supply was not going to dry up, suddenly needed to start baking. I was one of them. Baking a cake, with most people now finding themselves at home, became easy to dole out, passed across fences and sent across the road. My favourite bake by far was a Swedish cinnamon bread that is affectionately nicknamed as a Cinnamon social slice. You won`t have to look too far for takers to share this one! And it uses up stockpiled bread flour!
Cinnamon Social Slice
For the dough:
- 75g unsalted butter
- 1 cup of milk
- 3 ½ cups of bread flour
- 2 ¼ teaspoons of dried yeast
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
- ¼ cup of caster sugar
- 1 egg
For the filling:
- ½ cup of light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 3 tablespoons of softened butter
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
For the decoration:
- 1 egg for glazing
- 4 tablespoons of apricot jam mixed with 1 tablespoon of warm water
- ½ cup of icing sugar
- 2 tablespoons of water or orange juice
Method for the dough
Melt the butter with the milk in a saucepan and allow to cool to a temperature of approximateley 35°C
In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour and yeast together and then add the salt, ground cardamom and caster sugar into the flour.
Mixing on an electric mixer on a low speed with a hook attachment, pour in the egg and half of the milk mixture and gradually add the rest until a soft dough forms and the sides of the bowl are clean. The dough should form a ball and be elastic yet slightly sticky.
Place into a large bowl that has been lightly oiled and cover with clingfilm. Place in a warm place and allow to double in size, it will take approximately 1 hour to an hour and a half.
Method for the filling
- Cream together the softened butter and vanilla extract and set aside.
- Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and cardamom and set aside for shaping.
Shaping the dough and baking
- Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment
- Knock the dough back by punching it down and place it onto a lightly floured surface.
- Roll it out with a rolling pin into a large rectangle, about 12 by 16 inches.
- Spread the vanilla butter evenly over the dough and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar
- Start rolling it up from the edge closest to you, trying to roll as tightly as you can (the finished roll will be 16 inches)
- Pinch the seam closed and place it onto the baking sheet with the seam at the bottom
- Using a sharp, clean pair of kitchen scissors, snip the log every inch, cutting it most of the way through but is still attached. Pull the slices out to alternating sides.
- Cover with lightly oiled cling film and allow to rise again for another half hour. Preheat the oven to 200°C
- Bake it in the middle of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, if after 10 minutes the bread is getting too dark, cover it with tin foil over the top for the rest of the bake.
- Once baked, placed it onto a wire rack to cool completely
- Sift the icing sugar and mix in the 2 Tablespoons of water or orange juice to make a smooth pourable icing sugar paste.
- Brush the apricot jam onto the cinnamon loaf and then drizzle evenly with the icing sugar paste
Enjoy sharing the loaf as it yields a generous number of slices. The recipe seems quite a long process but is brilliant at fitting into a busy day if the method is broken up into steps and slotted in between teams’ meetings or homeschooling. Food sharing for me may have started with tomatoes but certainly does not end there. Long may the sharing continue from the community helping families in need, baking a cake to share as an excuse to check on a neighbour or even a friend dropping a lovely meal at your doorstep by way of saying we all miss each other.