buns with the ancient heritage wheat that goes into so many of his breads, he does use traditional methods to make them. His business, the Cornfield Bakery, is a real family concern, established by Geoff’s father in 1972, and now run by Geoff, his wife Rachel, his son Joe and four more of his children, along with his mother and sister-in-law and a nephew.

You will find their freshly-baked products in their Wheatley and Thame shops, and at market stalls in several farmers’ markets, including Faringdon, Oxford, Thame, Wallingford, Headington and Deddington.

He remembers the time when hot cross buns were only baked on Good Friday, the day he and his staff would get up at the crack of dawn to start baking. It was one of the busiest days of the year.

Telling me about those days when I met him at the Deddington Farmers’ Market he said: “Unfortunately the tradition of hot cross buns being made only on Good Friday has been somewhat spoiled by the supermarkets which now begin selling them as soon as Christmas is over.”

He said bakers had traditionally opened on Good Friday just to sell hot cross buns and nothing else.

“During those days my father and I would be struggling to make them fast enough to keep up with demand and would inevitably end up selling them straight from the oven and glistening from their sugar syrup coating. But times change. Now we make them as soon as the demand is there, usually about eight weeks before Easter, but we stop from Easter weekend until the next year.”

He said that they still make them from the same recipe as they have always done, with plenty of fruit and spice, and flour from Wessex Mill, of Wantage which mills local wheat from named farms.

“The heritage flour we use for some of our other breads is not strong enough for a good hot cross bun. A dough rich in eggs, milk spice and dried fruits calls for the good strong flour Wessex Mill provide.”

Geoff’s introduction to ancient heritage wheat took place in 2009 when archaeological botanist and thatcher John Letts approached him with an invitation to bake with the ancient grains of wheat he was propagating for the Oxford Bread Group. As a thatcher, John developed the grain because he was frustrated with the modern wheats grown in the UK which produced straw that was far too short to use as roofing thatch.

Having scoured gene banks and traditional farms across the world to find tall varieties of wheat similar to those grown in medieval times, he finally came up with the mix of ancient grains he needed. His wheat fields now contain at least 150 varieties, all growing in one plot, as they would have done in the days before modern plant breeding took place. John says that biodiversity of the fields helps to keep the wheat free of disease and its height helps control the weeds.

Geoff explained that the heritage flour has a low gluten content, and is, therefore, of a quite different nature to modern wheat. It is right on the edge of being suitable for bread making and not so forgiving as other flours; but with the use of the sour dough method, it works extremely well.

“As we ferment the dough naturally, the gluten is transformed into a digestible state and so appears to be tolerable to people with wheat-gluten intolerance.”

He went on to say that the bakery’s Oxford local sour dough leavened bread only calls for three ingredients — flour, water and salt — which produces a loaf that is about as natural as bread can be and of exceptional flavour. The sour dough bread making process involves keeping a ‘starter’ or leaven, which requires a daily routine of feeding a part of the leaven with flour and water, which in Geoff’s case is Oxford Ancient Heritage flour. This keeps the natural yeasts fermenting continuously in a healthy condition within the leaven culture.

If you would like to learn more about making bread with this flour, Geoff is now conducting bread making classes on the second Saturday of the month. These six- hour courses take participants through the basics of bread making, and include working with sour dough and a demonstration of Geoff’s effortless no-knead 24-hour bread. Lunch is provided and you can take home all the bread you have made during the day. You can contact him for more details by going to his website (www.cornfieldbakery.com).