Tracebridge Sourdough

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This story is number 8 on our list of Most Popular Stories of 2013.

When Katie Venner and Gordon Woodcock bought a rundown cottage in a wooded west Somerset village in England, they had no idea what a community hot spot it would become. Over the next few months, they built a wood-fired oven in a clearing in the woods and before long the first few golden sourdough loaves emerged from within.

After an evening proudly sitting around the new masonry furnace, savoring a pizza with a group of friends, the idea for Tracebridge Sourdough was born -- a bakery providing traditionally made bread and stone baked pizza to the local community.

The bakery is born

Around the second-hand bricks of the oven, the bakery quickly grew, built from recycled and sustainable timber. The bread orders started to come in and a range of sweet and savoury buns, cakes, and rolls evolved.

One of Katie's first inventions was the Appley Bun. Named after the next village, this spiral of sweet dough contains a delicate fresh egg custard, orange zest, and chunks of juicy apricot. On top is a lemon icing, and the creation is finished with a sprinkle of flaked almonds.

While the orders for bread and buns gradually gathered momentum, the Friday pizza nights arrived with a bang. Soon the clearing in the woods was illuminated with fairy lights and filled with the sounds of happy people as the locals crowded in.

With the help of friends and family, Friday nights regularly saw 60 covers seated in the woods.

An international community of WWOOFers and apprentices

The bakery grew, and as a member of the Real Bread Campaign, the business attracted the attention of apprentice bakers. Bread enthusiasts from all over the world converged on the now-not-so-rundown cottage in Somerset.

Bakers from Salt Lake City, chocolatiers from London, and Scottish sourdough students -- each one ventured down to the Westcountry to live as one of the family, and to exchange their enthusiasm and hard work for knowledge and practice making sourdough bread.

Then came the WWOOFers. As well as sourcing organic and local ingredients, Katie grows as much of the produce used in the bakery as she can in a vegetable garden just over the road from the cottage.

WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It pairs a network of host-farms and smallholdings with a community of workers, who travel from host to host, generally staying a week or so before moving on.

In return for working the vegetable garden and helping out in the bakery, these volunteers receive meals, accommodation, and a basic introduction to permaculture.

One French WWOOFer turned up in a home-made camper-van, hardly speaking a word of English, but very skilled at log chopping. A Canadian with nothing but a scythe and a can-do attitude, single-handedly cleared an entire field of brambles. It really is amazing what people can do when they set their minds to it.

Making a difference

Though a small food operation, the constant flow of apprentices and volunteers through the business carries the real bread message to all four corners of the United Kingdom and beyond. Bread is the staple food for so many, and made with care and a few quality ingredients over a long period of time, real bread can make us happier and healthier.

The people at Tracebridge Sourdough believe that eating traditionally made sourdough -- made only from good flour, salt, water and a sourdough starter -- is not just a pleasant sensory experience, but also the foundation for a healthier lifestyle and a healthier country.

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    Diego Lacámara / apr 10, 2014

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