River Bakery, Lower Godney: The Nordic bakery in the heart of the Somerset countryside
PUBLISHED: 13:11 07 January 2019
In the depths of the Somerset countryside, a Nordic bakery is proving a sweet spot for weekend breakfast indulgence
The rolling pin made by Anna Dalton’s great grandfather proudly hangs over the oven - a daily reminder of her baking ancestry. I pull up a chair beside her as the warm aroma of cinnamon and cardamom subtly wafts around the kitchen. With the dough for her signature Finnish cinnamon buns going through its final prove, we sit down to talk about the rise of the Dalton family’s rural micro bakery.
Although Finnish, Anna made England her permanent home some 20 years ago when she travelled to the UK to study. Finding her family home in Somerset, food once again became the cornerstone of family life. It was this love and passion for freshly baked goods and seasonal cookery that sparked a change in career. From a very different work life in administration, Anna decided to convert an outbuilding and open her own micro bakery inspired by her Nordic heritage.
Anna’s great grandmother, known by the same name, and grandmother too, were keen bakers passing traditional Finnish bakes down the generations. “Cinnamon buns have long been a breakfast staple in our family,” Anna tells me. It was waking up to the smell of warm cinnamon rolls baking in the oven though that had long been missing in her now home of Godney.
“The idea of River Bakery was stirred up one night over a couple of glasses of wine at a friend’s party,” Anna recalls, as she tentatively kneads her pillow of perfectly-proved dough. “As friends who regularly get together, we realised our village was lacking a natural centre. A place you would see friendly faces on a regular basis, a hub that promoted neighbourly spirit, but more importantly, somewhere to pick up freshly baked goods on a leisurely Saturday morning. In the middle of the Somerset countryside our amenities are limited so it takes someone with a bit of kindred spirit and a love for baking to take up the challenge.”
“Perhaps it was the nice French wine speaking to us,” jokes Anna, “but my friends and I longed to have that holiday feel of popping down to the boulangerie in the morning, following the smell of freshly baked bread and pastries. Although at first this was an aspirational business idea, when my husband questioned: ‘Why not?’ on the way home, the bakery dream soon turned somewhat into reality!”
Baking in small batches to Finnish traditions, Anna’s micro business may appear to be the dream, but with a small labour force and a somewhat time-consuming business model, this micro bakery is no walk in the countryside.
Taking inspiration from Nordic baking traditions as well as the recent rise of interest in sourdough, Anna’s bakery offers a small but measured range of perfectly baked organic sourdough loaves, ready for people to collect on Saturday morning. With the slow ferment of a sourdough starter, Anna has managed to work her weekly bakery around her busy family life. Baking for local pubs and cafes like The Sheppey Inn, Wookey Hub and Loaf Bakehouse in Wells during the week and dedicating her weekend bakes to the local community, Anna has cleverly kneaded and nurtured her micro bakery around her family commitments. “After I have baked my batch for the local bakery in Wells midweek, I take orders from locals ready for collection on Saturday morning. Each week I bake around 100 loaves as well as my sweet treats ready for people’s weekend brunches.
“Although it means for an early 3am alarm on Saturday morning to turn on the oven, it’s a ritual I have come to really enjoy. Once the oven is on, I pop back to bed for another couple of hours’ kip before getting up at 5am to start the shaping and baking of my loaves.”
“Those couple of hours in the morning, just myself and the loaves, undisturbed, is something I relish every week,” Anna says as she rolls and slices her cinnamon buns - the Finnish way of course!
Anna’s nod to her Nordic heritage makes her bakes seem evermore authentic. Still blessing the dough, as her grandmothers did, these Finnish rituals have stood the test of time. “Pushing a cross into the dough has more than just a spiritual significance when it comes to baking,” explains Anna. “Although a ritual that was passed on from my religious grandmothers, on a practical level, we know when the dough is ready for baking when the pressed cross has disappeared.”
Bread evangelists across the country are trying to encourage consumers to purchase bread made traditionally and without unnecessary additives, and it is home bakers like Anna that are helping people to realise the benefits of ‘good’ bread.
“I love working with sourdough,” Anna exclaims, as she brings a big bowl of bubbling sourdough starter to the table. “Not just for its Nordic traditions but because it is a labour of love and it has nutritional benefits.
“Once you start with a sourdough you can’t stop as you have a living ‘thing’ that requires feeding and refreshing. A sorry sourdough would make for a sorry business as it has become the bloodline of the bakery, therefore I nourish and look after my starter like it’s one of the family.”
We see all too often micro businesses being a labour of love, but when it comes to River Bakery it has an even greater significance. Anna, with the help of her husband and two boys, has created a business that not only feeds the village fresh baked goods every weekend, but feeds the local spirit through good food inspired by family traditions.