Holgate Windmill, York
There has been a big crusade against bread in recent years, with many eschewing their daily loaf due to allergies, health concerns or low carbohydrate diets.
However on the flip side of this, there also has been a resurgence of bakers looking to go back to simpler production methods, better ingredients and the use of less chemicals (for more on this, check out my interview with Steve from Farnley Bakehouse.)
I remain firmly on the pro-bread side of things, I tried going for a week without it once, it wasn't the worst week of my life, but boy did it come close. We eat a lot of bread in the AoF household, especially as we recently were given a second hand breadmaker, meaning we can bake what and when we like.
Though I have been living in York since 2010, we have just recently moved to a new part of the city. This has provided the much needed impetus to explore new areas and uncover different pubs, restaurants and parts of the city. One big discovery has been that we live just over a mile from a working windmill! As a lover of local food and all things historical, I had to go and check it out!
Holgate windmill sits perched atop one of the few prominent hills in York. Now surrounded by houses, when built in 1770 this area would have been recognisably rural, with the city of York and it's imposing Minster visible over a mile away.
Mills were a vital part of a pre-industrialised society, as usually the local populace would bring their grain to the mill in order to obtain flour for bread, a staple part of the peasant diet. This also meant that a miller was in a considerable position of power, as he could charge what he wished for a very essential service. Millers were consequently often suspected of fudging the weights and measurements - giving back less than they received.
The rise in discontent against the millers was particularly high during the late medieval period (this is the bit where I geek out, I specialised in medieval history after all!) Attempts were made by medieval authorities to tackle the use of false weights and measures to supply reduced quantities of goods such as flour. This was especially acute during the great agrarian crisis of 1314-22, where around 10% of the population starved to death due to multiple years of crop failure.
Working windmills such as this are rare nowadays, with many being left derelict, torn town or even turned into homes.
However this unique York feature was luckily saved from such a fate by the Holgate Windmill Preservation Society and after over a decade of renovation, is now firmly in working order, producing traditionally stone ground flour from Yorkshire wheat.
The society often takes part in open days, including the York Resident's Festival, meaning that the general public can come and gain an insight into how this once integral part of the local economy functioned. The mill is very obviously wind powered, with a rare five double shuttered sail configurement. Visitors are able to climb up some rather steep steps in order to view the three production floors and fair wind permitting, watch the massive brake wheel turning and in turn the mill stones grinding.
The resulting flour can actually be found on sale downstairs in the visitor welcome area, along with lots of postcards/cards featuring various contemporary and traditional images of the mill.
We decided to pick up a bag to try at home, because who can resist the idea of baking bread made flour ground just over a mile away from home. We were forewarned to expect quite a heavy, dense loaf and I did find that I needed to add more water than usual.
The resulting bread was however quite wonderful, the texture was robust, yet also soft and yielding. The flour also has a depth and slight nuttyness to it's flavour, making it perfect for savoury baking. Having tried a few loaves now, I have also found that has a far better rise than the bread I make with supermarket bought flour.
Holgate Mill is currently staffed by volunteers and open on Saturdays for flour sales, from 10am-12pm. Also if you pop over on a Friday morning, there is apparently the chance that you might get to see the mill in action, safety permitting.
For more information and opening times, check out the website here