“Baking has been a part of my family for as long as we can see back”, Tom, one half of Channel Four’s The Fabulous Baker Brothers tells. “We’ve seen my great grandmother’s birth certificate and on it her father is listed as a baker, so we can go back as far as 1887.”
Tom Herbert, of Hobbs House Bakery, is a fifth generation baker, family man and, one of his most recent accolades, television chef.
As the family’s story goes Tom’s great grandmother married a farrier who was put out of business when the land owners trained their own.
“They converted the forge oven into a bread oven and that’s how Herbert’s bakery was started.”
From what they’ve been told the miller, who first started supplying to the Herbert’s, lost eighteen customers, as they were all so put out that he’d start selling to a farrier.
“When my grandfather (David Herbert) married and needed to set up, he went around Bristol looking for a job. He eventually took over a bakery after the old owner retired.”
David was very entrepreneurial and began teaching his baking skills to others, particularly ex-prisoners. This led to twenty-two bakeries owned by the Herbert family.
By the time the eighties came around the family were providing everything themselves and were the first to begin milling organic white flour.
The family are not sure how far back their legacy goes but what can be certain is that this award -winning bakery has been crafted by at least five generations and it’s still going strong.
“Bonding with my family is what makes baking so rewarding” which can be seen so clearly with Tom, a man whose earliest memory is one of jamming doughnuts in his father’s bakery.
“If I was good I’d get to eat one, I remember I used to put extra jam in one and I’d end up with jam all over my face.”
As the eldest of six, Tom has always had a healthy amount of rivalry with his siblings, which is apparent in the Channel Four series, The Fabulous Baker Brothers, where he and younger brother Henry battle it out in their weekly pie wars.
“There are six of us and it’s all about getting your mum’s attention, baking was definitely part of that.”
Tom’s sister Clementine, the only girl out of the six, also remembers baking as a child.
“I don’t remember at what age I was taught, or if I just learned by osmosis, but I used to bake a cake each weekend from probably about age 8.
“As the only girl in the family, it very much fell to me to do the sweet baking. I don’t really remember my brothers baking cakes, funny how things fall in like that without thinking.”
Baking is still a social event today, with the whole family coming together for Clementine’s birthday.
“I made the dough, Tom finished off the pitta rolling and baking. The bread was by far the most popular ingredient, right in the middle of the table.
“I can’t tell you how bread brings people together, but I’m sure it does.”
Tom is an advocate of real bread and through Hobbs House he encourages people to stop eating bread packed with preservatives, instead promoting community supported bakeries and The Real Bread Campaign.
He believes that bread is one thing which can really bring people together.
“There’s something true and honest about a loaf of bread that really sticks with people. Our strap line for Hobbs House is ‘Put bread on the table and prop the door open with a stone’.
I recently wrote up the Hobbs House charter which is how we communicate our values and I actually thought of it whilst doing ‘This Little Piggy’ at bedtime with my daughter.”
Tom believes that the simple act of breaking bread with others is so effective in bringing people together as it is rooted in our history.,
“It was explained to me that, in the earliest signs of people sitting down it is clear that people had different roles. Some people did the milling and some people did the baking. The whole community was involved.
It’s a very natural thing which is less evident in modern times.”
This deep-rooted sense of sharing bread with the people around you is something that Tom teaches to others with The Real Bread Campaign and community run bakeries as well as with his family.
“If you’ve got a good loaf at home and put it in the middle of a table then people comment on it. It’s good and right and honest.”
Tom’s sister-in-law Jessica also believes that baking can bring a family together.
“It’s homely and warming and at the end of cooking you get something to share. There is also the chance to chat over collapsed cakes, share recipes and fight over the last crumbs.”
As well as his involvement in community supported baking; Tom also encourages children to bake bread and has recently visited his children’s school. He’s currently running a project, which teaches children about real bread by growing their own wheat in a corner of the school playing field.
This knowledge of real bread is very important to Tom and Hobbs House as they aim to get people eating healthy bread with as few added extras as possible.
“All we know of bread is that horrible commercial stuff but when you make it with the real stuff it’s like something completely new.”
Tom’s children have also got into baking; battling it out in the kitchen just like he and his siblings did when they were younger.
“They have their own sourdough, which sounds a bit indulgent but they make loaves and have grandpa judge them.”
Jessica, who is married to the other star of The Fabulous Baker Brothers, Henry, says that Hobbs House is a great family run business.
“Of course being family I have to say it, but you feel it through the business, we are proud of the tradition and it’s a message to customers of quality also.”
Hobbs House embodies Tom’s passion for family, something that has been important to the Herbert family for many generations. The whole family is involved even down to grandfather David’s bread recipe, which is still used today.
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