Gardeners work with their hands in the soil and their eyes on the horizon. For the last two weeks I've been watching the hedgerows and roadsides begin to swell and fill out. It starts with the dying back of the daffodils towards the end of March. If you're lucky and live in a Labour controlled local authority, or within a competitive Britain in Bloom area, you'll probably have lots of daffs planted up along major roads and at the entry points to towns and villages. If not, you probably live in Swindon. Once the daffs die back, there's usually a pause when the roadsides look unusually plain and green and empty. Then the dandelions appear, gaudily, brashly, dazzlingly yellow. After the tall, graceful swaying of the daffs, these solid lumps of colour always make me think of Caddie, her Englishness, her plain loveliness.
The dandelions give way to their time clocks, then the hedges and verges start to gear themselves up for the main event, the appearance of hawthorn blossom and cow parsley. Huge, frothy whiteness spews out into the roads and every journey becomes a visual delight of sunshiny, English countryside in May boskiness. Full with potential, heavenly colours of white and green, the highways and bye-ways reflect all the hopes and joys of a lovely summer to come. May is without doubt the best time to be in England. Because between Shrove Tuesday and the end of June we don't go across to France. We stay in England, finish up the last of the French supplies in the pantry, and wait out the end of terms, end of exams. The uniforms are laundered and hung up until autumn, and then we depart for France. And during this time we hunger for proper French baguettes; tooth-crackingly crunchy French sticks that we start eating as we turn from the till; bread so crunchy you want to get home and dollop it with cherry jam, or smear it with red President butter; maybe a slick of yesterday's rillettes, adding a few cornichon, an olive perhaps. If I'm feeling fancy, I'll drizzle some olive oil and balsamic into shallow bowls and dip away. All this from the burgeoning English countryside.
So clicking into a favourite blog, what should appear but a bread crust reminiscent of French baguettes. I followed the links to the original article in the New York Times, and followed the recipe. The results truly are amazing. Try this no-knead bread from New York. My bread came out of the oven stuck to the dish, so maybe I'll run a butter paper over the base just before dropping in the bread/batter. But for a bread with that authentic, crunchy crust, this is almost as good as the real thing.