Drawn together: the rolling pin

Categories: Behind the stalls

Award-winning blogger and Borough Market regular Ed Smith displays a talent for illustration as well as the written word, as he talks to stallholders about the tools of their trade. This month: the rolling pin

Image: Orlando Gili
Illustration: Ed Smith

Chloë Stewart, nibs etc.

Food, hospitality and sustainability have always featured in my home and work life. About three years ago, I started a blog about upcycling leftovers and no waste recipes. About a year later, that had evolved into hands-on events and catering based on the same principles. People wanted me to work with them because my values chimed with theirs, though after about six months of doing that flat out, I realised I didn’t really want to become a catering company, so I focused more on the retail side of things.

I began to sell crackers, granola and brownies, all made from surplus ingredients, at markets and festivals. Then, in September 2017 I won some awards, which led to a small cash prize, business mentorship and brilliant press. The combination of those things got me moving a bit, and nibs etc. started trading at Borough in November, which has really provided an additional impetus.

Making something out of nothing
For both the crackers and granola I collect the fruit and vegetable pulp from juice bars around London. I process it to get rid of things like seeds and stems, then mix the pulp with dry ingredients, like (more edible!) seeds and nuts, and, in the case of the granola, olive oil and honey.

When I started out, the pulp could be a mix of everything the bars had. But my supply is more consistent and organised now, so while I take everything, sometimes I will get, say, carrot, apple and ginger from them, and other times it’s green fruit and vegetables. I can’t always prescribe exactly what pulp I will get, but I always know what’s in there for allergy purposes, and the different combinations create crackers with differing characteristics: the carrot and ginger has an orange tint and there’s a little tickle of heat from the ginger; the crackers are earthy, sweet and purple if beetroot is involved; and the green vegetables and fruit have an impact on colour too. While all of the crackers are savoury, even if there’s a sweet edge, the green ones are particularly wholesome.

The pulp is a funny consistency. It’s both wet and dry. It doesn’t really substitute other ingredients in a normal cracker bread recipe, instead it’s a unique ingredient that once baked has a moreish flavour and interesting texture. As the pulp dries and bakes in the oven, it binds together, hardens up, and then we’re left with a great crunchy and crisp bite.

My essential tool
It sounds very basic, but my rolling pin is the most essential tool for making the crackers. It’s just a basic, cylindrical, rounded-end rolling pin. For me, that’s the easiest and best shape to use—I don’t think those ones with handles are as good at achieving an even spread.

When I have a production session, one batch of pulp mix will give me six 500 x 300mm baking trays of cracker sheets. I roll the pulp to the shape of the trays between two pieces of biodegradable baking paper. Once on the baking trays, the flattened pulp mix is sprinkled with more seeds and Maldon salt and then baked until hard and slightly golden.

The baking paper technique is really useful—I don’t want to use flour to prevent sticking, as that will change the texture and stop the crackers from being wheat-free. Also, the pulp is quite a fragile mix, and would otherwise break up while rolling or transferring to trays.

The thickness I roll to is more or less 1½-2mm every time, and I determine evenness by eye. I can also feel by weight, by the balance of the baking sheet.

So, it’s all very artisan and small batch at the moment. When we scale up, I’ll look for a press style machine or baking laminator, so the process is faster. But for now, my rolling pin does the job.