On a beautifully sunny Saturday in April I was invited to give a class in vegan baking to a group of residents at Sanford Housing Co-op. If you’re unfamiliar with Sanford, it’s a pretty special place. Reached through a gap in lush vegetation, and nestled between a train line and the shadow of Millwall Football Club, is London’s oldest purpose-built housing co-operative. It’s a fantastic model for low-carbon, sustainable living, powered by woodchip generators, and bursting with fruit and vegetable patches.
Having never visited Sanford – or any other housing cop-op – before, I wasn’t too sure what to expect and was fully prepared for pretty much anything to happen. I’d also never given a cookery class before, and wasn’t too sure how I was going to go about teaching a group of curious but enthusiastic bakers (none of whom were vegan), in a kitchen I knew nothing about, with equipment that may, or may not, have been in attendance…
But I threw caution to the wind and hoped my past experience as a secondary school teacher would see me through any difficulties. That, and the enthusiastic support I knew I would have from Dave: friend of almost 15 years, fellow Egyptologist, excellent writer and organiser-in-chief of exciting training opportunities at Sanford. He also benefits from an eternal well of positivity; which helps.
But what a fantastic day it turned out to be.
Learning to bake together, around a communal table, sharing equipment and ingredients, made this such a special class. At times there was so much laughter, conversation and enthusiasm it was easy to forget that I had never before met any of these people, let alone that I was responsible for giving them new ideas, techniques and guidance. It really was incredible.
So what did we make? Well, aside from a lot of chocolatey mess – which was cleared up with the greatest of efficiency in the blink of an eye (these guys were impressive) – on the menu were Chocolate Orange Brownies and Seed Butter Thumbprint Cookies, complete with a fruity and bright raspberry Chia Jam topping.
As a wonderful coincidence, Mighty Seeds, a lovely small business specialising in whole-food natural seed butters, are local to Sanford. So when Yi, the creator of Mighty Seeds, discovered I was teaching a vegan baking class in her neck of the woods she was thrilled to provide the pumpkin seed butter for the class. It was definitely a taste revelation to the attendees, who absolutely loved the green, sea-salty butter!
Keen to add a little Bake Off competition into the day, Dave was tasked with choosing his favourite batch; the winner receiving a jar of pumpkin seed butter to enjoy all to themselves. So well done to Edie – aged four – our illustrious winner!
Aside from all of the truly lovely people I spent the day with, one of best things about the class was just how open everyone was to learning about new ingredients and techniques for vegan and whole-food baking. One of my favourite moments of the day happened when unprompted shrieks of “oh wow!” “ooh!” and “what?!” erupted from the bakers as they took their flax eggs from the fridge and saw the transformation from ground flax and water into something unfamiliar and curious.
A few other moments that drew excitement were the realisations that:
- black beans make really, really tasty (non-bean flavoured) brownies;
- you can make delicious jam from just berries, chia seeds and a tiny amount of coconut sugar;
- dates are a great alternative to refined sugar; and
- it’s super easy to make delicious vegan cakes!
Once we’d finished baking, filled our coffee cups and gathered up the many trays of goodies, we headed out to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine beside the pond. If it weren’t for the end-of-game football chanting that drifted across the train tracks towards us, it would have been easy to forget that we were in a busy corner of South-East London. Sanford was filled with such a peacefulness and positivity that I’m truly grateful to have been been able to share something new with them.
I was provided a selection of Mighty Seeds products for the purposes of this class, but all opinions are entirely my own.