bethesdabakin’5 – Part One

Strangely enough, even though I was there through every minute of the setting up, the event and the clearing up, I feel as though I missed everything that happened during the Bethesdabakin’5 weekend. That’s not to say I didn’t have a great time with other people having a great time baking in the sunshine, and I certainly drank more than my share of the various ciders on offer, and enjoyed meeting old friends and making new ones.

But I arrived at the Rugby Club about 7.30 a.m. on Friday morning with three buckets of starter and a couple of overnight doughs, and proceeded to knock up 2 x 2K Classics, 20 baguettes and enough pizza dough to feed about 60 (never know when someone might turn up unexpected). That was the sum total of my baking with three and a half days still to go. I looked around at the amount of space I’d used mixing a few doughs and wondered how the hell we were going to get 35 bakers in there.

Of course the reality is not everyone is going to want to mix at the same time – I can count 14 in this picture with room for more:

Two weeks later, I’ve just paid the last bill, emailed a rough set of accounts to the bakers who took part and feel like I’m just getting my life back. It’s pretty stressful organising an event like this but having done it previously in 2007 you know that, when everyone seems to be falling out and demanding a more structured programme, more ovens, more work tables, eventually things will just drop into place.

This one worked as well I could have hoped for. It sticks another two fingers up to the guy who pulled out of the first Bethesdabakin’ predicting it would be nothing more that “three blokes standing round in a muddy field waiting for the pubs to open”.

My ideal is to have a baking event which is totally cooperative, based on shared costs and collective experience. So you organise a well-equipped venue, arrange the sunshine, get a bunch of bakers together of all levels of experience and see what happens. I’m not against a bit of structure but if you’re not careful you end up running a seminar and lose the chances of spontaneity  and improvisation. People discussed ideas in advance (enriched doughs, etc.) and we had a couple of props (oven on a trailer/outdoor cooking) but absolutely no programme. It was interesting that some relatively experienced bakers were a bit confused by this when they first arrived and didn’t quite know what to do. But they soon got caught up in the enthusiasm and flow of baking, the buzz of shared ideas.

The event: Bethesdabakin’5,  four days baking at Bethesda Rugby Club, a rather ramshackle social club but with masses of space, in the North Wales village which has become the world capital of sourdough (or so I keep telling people). As the name suggests, this is the fifth of such annual events – the first was also held in Bethesda, the second put on by Brad in North Eastern France, then Rick in South Wales and last year by Martin & Joe in the Yorkshire Dales. This one had about twice as many bakers as previous ones – it was a really good mix of people roughly half of whom had been before and half who hadn’t.

Features: The sun. It must be admitted that sunshine is not the first meteorological feature that comes to mind in a discussion of Bethesda’s weather. But the sun didn’t just shine, it belted down from cloudless blue skies for all four days. It transformed the strip of concrete outside the club into a Mediterranean terrace: the tables and chairs come out and social interaction bubbles in the heat.

We claim a number of firsts. The first baking event to have not one but two artists in residence, Pamela Green and Jeremy Yates.

The first to have a rugby club Annual General Meeting held during the proceedings.

The first to have a baker (Stig) whose son was a ball boy in the Men’s Final at Wimbledon which took place (and was viewed) during the event.

The first to have a session of boomerang throwing.

Outdoor Cooking: I was really pleased that Jay Butters (he of the boomerang throwing and cider making) brought his outdoor cooking gear and amazed at how simple but effective it was. He always had a kettle on the go, braised two perfect briskets and had a couple of goes at baking bread in a pot with embers on the top.

The first attempt even defeated Bethesda’s seagulls. I’m told the second attempt was much better (one of the many things I missed).

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