Dear old Aunt Maud gets something of a rough ride in the Bell household.
Forced to live in a bowl, the aged Maud has been fattened up, thinned down, pummelled, kneaded, baked, sliced, buttered, chewed and probably, on occasion, broken up and fed to the birds.
Indeed, she’s been divided up and sold on so many times the fifth member of the Bell household could be forgiven for not knowing if she’s coming or going.
But before the police and social services are called to the rescue, it should be explained that Maud is actually a much-loved sourdough starter!
And she acquired her name because, after more than a decade of feeding the Bell family’s home-made bread addiction, husband and wife Jonathan and Lindsay and their two children, Freya, nine, and Aoife, seven, decided it was high time she was given a more fitting title.
Maud, Lindsay states, seemed a comforting and homely name, indicative of a kindly and indulgent elderly aunt.
Albeit one who, Lindsay says, “produces the most beautifully flavoured sourdough breads.”
That’s not just the 45-year-old’s partisan view, either. Scores of others agree with her.
It’s one of the reasons that Jonathan and Lindsay’s Urban Bakery has been on a roll since opening 10 months ago near their home in Low Fell, Gateshead.
The couple, who went to school together and started going out as 17-year-olds at Thornhill Comprehensive in their home city of Sunderland, have built up a loyal clientele since opening the doors of their new food venture.
They offer the full gamut of baked goods, from an impressive selection of breads – sandwich baps, a French country-style cob, spelt, malted sunflower wholemeal and Italian pane pugliese are among their bestsellers – gourmet sausage rolls, Scotch eggs, galettes, empanadas, cheese and caraway twists, meat pies, cakes, scones, tarts and take-out sandwiches, all made daily at their small retail outlet.
Local is high on the menu. Meat comes from D E Gorman in Low Fell and honey from a small supplier in Gosforth who only produces around 200 jars a year from hives kept in Cramlington and at Bede’s World.
Seasonal jams and chutneys are provided by Yummy Things, another small operation based in Gosforth; dressings and sauces by County Durham’s Wildon Grange; savoury snacks by Manomasa of Team Valley; fruit and vegetables from an independent Low Fell grocer; and coffee from the Ouseburn Coffee Company in Newcastle.
Lindsay, always a keen ‘buy, use, eat local’ proponent, explains: “We made a point, right from the beginning, to buy as much as we can locally and to work closely with local suppliers like the fruit and vegetable store and the butcher.
“It means we are very much driven by seasonality and availability. But we all need to support local. If we don’t then none of these suppliers will be there and we will have lost something very precious.
“Our vision has always been to make good, honest food from scratch without the use of chemicals, enhancers or artificial ingredients of any sort – the sort of food our parents ate a generation ago.
“We listen to our customers and are happy to try new things that they suggest.”
Opening Urban Bakery is a dream come true for the couple. They sunk their savings into the business which, given the current economic climate, was a brave move.
But food has always played an important part in Lindsay’s life.
When she left school she trained as a food technologist. This led on to a degree in food and agricultural marketing at Newcastle University which landed her a job working for a food packaging company.
Then she was head-hunted by Yuill Homes and ended up working as a marketing manager in the construction industry. When the economy took a nosedive she was canny enough to realise the writing may be on the wall and retrained as a teacher, first at night classes while still holding down her day job and then full-time at Sunderland University.
Her graduation coincided with trauma on the family front, however. Her father died and her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Lindsay took a year out but says: “By the time I got back into it another group of graduates had entered the job market and I found myself out of the loop.”
Instead she began delivering council-backed food courses to adults, families and special needs students.
Jonathan, meanwhile, had left life as a civil servant with the Inland Revenue to look after the children full-time.
With both their daughters at school the Bells began looking for something food-related they could do as a couple.
“Food has always been important,” Lindsay says. “We have always made pretty much everything we eat from scratch at home.
“It’s a running joke with my friends. In fact, they’ve dubbed me the Nigella of the North! When my parents were alive and had an allotment I was always making jams and chutneys and I have been making my own sourdough bread for years.
“Some of my happiest childhood memories involve food. I can remember standing on a chair in the kitchen and helping my mother and grandmother cook.
“I can still see my mother mixing bread in a big washing up bowl and hear the click clack of her wedding ring on the rolling pin as she made pastry.
“Whatever Jonathan and I did, it was always going to be something to do with food.”
Initially they had hoped to open a joint coffee shop and bakery but had difficulty finding the right place. Then they stumbled upon their present location in Beaconsfield Road, a small outlet just off the high street that had been used as a spice shop.
The council vetoed plans for a coffee shop so the Bells decided to go with just the bakery.
Not they fit their work around their family life.
The day begins at 4am when Jonathan – taught to make bread by Lindsay – heads off to the bakery to make that day’s loaves which emerge baked and bronzed from the ovens at 9am in time for the shop opening.
Regular customers have learnt that if there are signs of life they can knock on the door for a chat, though, and buy a still warm loaf for their breakfast.
Lindsay, meanwhile, gets the children off to school and arrives at the bakery by 9.15am when she swings into action making savouries and scones in time for the lunch-time rush.
Afternoon is cake-making time.
Business has grown sufficiently for the Bells to take on their first employee. “Having worked in education I was keen to invest in young talent, so we have recruited an apprentice,” Lindsay says.
“We see this as a long-term investment for the bakery. At the end of the apprenticeship we will have a fully trained member of staff perfectly suited to our business and ready to take on a more responsible role, which could perhaps be helping train our next apprentice.”
The days are long but the satisfaction of being their own bosses and serving the community they have been a part of for the past 12 years means the Bells have no regrets.
“We have had nothing but praise for what we do. Recently we closed the bakery for two weeks for a family holiday and we had people queuing when we got back,” Lindsay says.
“It’s things like this that make it so rewarding. It’s the best move Jonathan and I could have made and we hope to keep meeting the challenge for a long time to come.”
And it’s a challenge they hope poor old Aunt Maud will keep rising to as well.
- Urban Bakery, 10b Beaconsfield Road, Low Fell, Gateshead, NE9 5EU, 0191 487 1771. Follow the bakery on Facebook at www.facebook.com/urbanbakerylowfell and on Twitter: @urban_bakery. The bakery is closed Sunday and Monday and open Tuesday-Saturday 9am-4pm.