Food Focus: Restored mill grinding out an organic treat

Mandy James is a true local food hero. Back in 1986 Mandy was looking for somewhere to live and discovered a ruined house and mill in an idyllic rural spot just off the Redbourn Road.

I guess she could have turned the old mill into more living space, or a B&B, but she made the brave decision to restore the mill, which had not been used since the 1950s. Ten years of restoration later, Redbournbury Mill is now well-known in the local area for its excellent organic flours and hand-crafted breads.

If you have never been, do go and visit one Sunday afternoon. The mill is surrounded by fields, daffodils and water meadows, which are home to lots of ducks, herons and kingfishers. You can walk there from Redbourn, Harpenden or St Albans if you are feeling fit, and reward yourself with a freshly baked rock cake sitting near the water’s edge.

When you look out of the top floor windows of the mill, you can see the fields where some of the rye and spelt wheat is grown on the Hammonds End Farm. The amount of grain the mill uses each year depends on how good the harvest has been and how much the mill needs for its local market. The grain is then milled on site, and bagged by Wendy and her team of friends and volunteers.

The flour is then carried about five steps across the room to a tiny sales desk, where you can buy flour to take home. However, much of the flour is taken across the pretty courtyard to the bakery, next door in a converted barn.

Nick Anderson comes from a long line of bakers; he is the fourth generation in his family to be a professional baker. The quality of his work is evident in everything the mill sells. Just walking into the room is delicious; when I visited this week the bakery smelled of warm spices, so I think hot cross buns will be appearing soon.

Nick makes a range of breads, including wholemeal, unbleached white, malted, spelt and rye loaves, as well as the bestselling multiseed bread. He also makes delicious chocolate brownies, granola, fruit scones and seasonal treats; their mince pies were delicious at Christmas.

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Redbournbury Mill sells at all the local farmers’ markets and you may have met Martin Chambers, who looks after the stall. Get to the market early to see the full range. Some of the breads cost more than you will pay elsewhere, but the quality really can’t be beaten.

The breads and buns are more filling than many breads, taste better, and everything is organic, so you know you are eating something that is good for you.

Top tip if you take the children with you – the cheese straws are an affordable healthy-ish snack to keep them going while you look around.

Buongiorno Italia, on Lattimore Road, St Albans also sells the flour every day of the week, so that is an easy option if you miss a market day.

A lot of restaurants and caf�s like to claim that their produce has ‘low food miles’ but only a few manage it. The Courtyard Cafe (Hatfield Road, St Albans) and The Secret Garden (George Street, St Albans) are the only two places I have found that use Redbournbury Mill flour for all their baking. Both places sell terrific cakes and scones, made by the owners themselves. The scones at The Secret Garden are fab, and last time I was in there, cost less than �1 each.

Supporting any of these ventures will help ensure the future of the mill for generations to come.