For TOAST Portraits, journalist Mina Holland and photographer Elena Heatherwick meet the people whose treasured TOAST pieces – some archive, some new – have stood the test of time. This month, Mina and Elena met with cook and baker Henrietta Inman. Below is her story.
Cook and baker Henrietta Inman has a homing instinct. During her eight years working in London restaurants, her eventual return to the big skies and open fields of Suffolk was inevitable. What form that return would take, she didn’t know, but when Covid-19 hit, the decision was made for her in the first few weeks of national lockdown. She rewilded.
Henrietta went back to her parents’ house in a small village in east Suffolk, a county that’s not only foodie, but quietly at the forefront of a revolution in British farming. An opportunity soon arose to start a bakery at Wakelyns, a small but influential farm, known in agricultural circles for using agroforestry – an approach that combines trees and shrubs with crops to promote biodiversity – and amongst bakers for their wholegrain ‘YQ’ Wakelyns population wheat.
The farm’s owners, David and Amanda Wolfe, had a vision for Wakelyns becoming as diverse a business as its crops, the bakery just one component of its ecosystem. Henrietta was charged with putting to work the farm’s produce – grains, pulses, abundant fruit and vegetables grown by its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme – to set a precedent for more sustainable British farming, and to re-establish food’s identity in a county known for flat expanses of arable land and mass grain production.
It is at Wakelyns that we meet for lunch, fifteen months after Henrietta left London. When I arrive, she is dressing a salad in the bakery kitchen, moving about with the calm purpose I remember, always a beaming smile on her face. This is worlds apart from London kitchens, from anywhere, really: Wakelyns feels unique, a patchwork of plant life. Wheat, buckwheat and lentils grow in strips, interspersed with strips of hazel, willow, plum and over 40 varieties of apple tree. Sunflowers, brambles, bees and fungi all make an appearance too, and the birdsong is constant.
Much of what she bakes here uses Wakelyns' renowned ‘YQ’ flour, a genetically diverse and disease-resistant wheat developed by David’s late father, Martin Wolfe, and the Organic Research Centre. Henrietta explains that YQ is the result of 20 different parent wheats, crossed every which way to produce 190 children plants, “The diversity makes it very resilient: if one of those plants doesn’t do well, the others are still there to support the whole crop.” There’s a YQ tin loaf; a seeded one with UK-grown coriander, flax, chia and camelina; a sprouted lentil and wheat loaf using lentils grown here; and, last year, with the farm’s glut of plums, they made a dried plum bread with toffee-like mirabelles and sharper damsons. “So many of these recipes were started because of what we had here,” she says, “so you get a real taste of the place.”
She goes on, “Agroforestry isn’t only great because it produces biodiverse food; it also creates materials that can be used on the farm.” She tells me how the hazel and willow trees are coppiced on a multi-year cycle, their branches used for fencing and for woodchip, which heats the farmhouse and composts the vegetables grown by the CSA. The bakery uses those vegetables, along with wooden spoons made by woodworker Fay Jones, who is based at Wakelyns.
Though the Wakelyns bakery is small compared to others – truly a micro-bakery – and currently operates mostly on a local subscription model, their mission is big. “Like Michael Pollan said, eating is a political act,” she says, and her mission is to help people to understand how to source it more responsibly, and how doing so can benefit not just the environment and the growers, but our own bodies and minds.
“People often think cooking is a chore. But if food is fresh and has come from good soil, you don’t have to do much to it,” she says. “Those who do cook have got used to opening a recipe book, deciding to cook X and then going out to buy Y. We believe in turning that process on its head, in making the ingredients you have seasonally available your starting point. It’s about reconnecting with what the earth gives us in a given moment.”
Right now, she says, Wakelyns has an overwhelming number of plums of all shapes, sizes and, best of all names: Oullins Golden Gage, Blue Tit, Old Laxton, Early Rivers (food is poetry here). She will use them in bread, to make cakes and tarts, jams and chutneys, and which she will use in the hungry gap at the end of next winter. It’s a rolling roster of deliciousness: “and it’s that anticipation of the season that makes it so exciting – much more so than flown-in blueberries and courgettes all year round.”
With this in mind, Henrietta thinks growing and cooking should be taught in schools, that these are as important as maths and the sciences, because in order for there to be a change in food and agriculture, there needs to be a cultural shift, “and for that, children need to be given these skills.”
We sit down to lunch. A bowl of peppery local leaves (which taste like a wholly different “category”, as supermarkets would put it, to the packets of gem lettuce currently languishing in my fridge); a rich dal makhani (black dahl) made with Wakelyns' lentils; a lemony salad of naked (husk-less) oats; a chutney made with last year’s plums. It is a spread made almost entirely from Suffolk produce.
Henrietta is wearing a dress with a triangular pattern of reds and creams and earthy blues, bought several years ago from TOAST. “I bake in it, but I could also wear it to a party,” she says, “people often comment that I’m wearing it again – its colours make me happy.” She also has a tunic shirt which is similarly versatile – white, with a pinstripe and long sleeves, protecting her forearms from burns when using the oven, and a blue cotton jumper that’s both light and warm.
“I like workwear, and I think TOAST is very good at making clothes to be productive in, encouraging us to use our hands more and our phones less, which I think is integral to addressing problems with disconnection and anxiety.” She cites her own disordered eating from the age of 15, and says how reconnecting with where her food comes from, who’s grown it, and everything else that has gone into producing it, brought new meaning to eating for her.
The climate crisis and the societal pressures on women and girls are linked, she says. “Monoculture has put us in crisis – we don’t eat diversely, and our bodies are expected to look a certain way. But we should be embracing diversity in every part of our lives. Think of all the different wheat plants, or types of plum, or shapes of quince, that we have here, they are so beautiful – not just an ideal way to farm and eat but, I think, a metaphor for human life. We need to embrace variety and difference to thrive.”
Interview by Mina Holland.
Photographs by Elena Heatherwick.
For more information, see Wakelyns Bakery.