‘Hobby gone wrong’ allows Jo to use her loaf in a winning way

Award-winning 'breadhead' Jo Bottrill with fellow baker Gordon Smith at Hitchin Food & Drink Festival
Award-winning 'breadhead' Jo Bottrill with fellow baker Gordon Smith at Hitchin Food & Drink Festival

If the spindle in Jo Bottrill’s bread machine hadn’t broken, she might never have set out on her misson to provide Beds, Herts and Bucks with real bread.

The 46-year-old mother-of-one, who’s recently won two prestigious awards, explains: “I’d bought the machine in 2005 but was a bit disappointed with the resulting lump of un-slicable bread with a hole through the middle.

“Then the spindle broke so I had my first attempt at mixing, kneading and shaping the dough entirely by hand. And I was hooked.”
She started baking all sorts of bread – from standard white to focaccia, from Indian naan to Greek pitta.

And along the way she had an epiphany. “After trying my own, I realised I’d never go back to the cotton wool that’s available in the shops,” she says.

She baked with such fervour that she was soon thinking beyond family and friends.

Husband Karl, a strategic price engineer, came to the rescue with a course on how to start a bakery in your own home. And Jo was hooked, again.

“Within a month I had a rough plan, a logo, promotional literature, equipment, environmental health approval, insurance, a flour supplier and a name,” she smiles.

Jo’s Loaves was born in July, 2011 and her star has been in the ascendant ever since.

Two years ago she moved her bakery operation to dedicated premises in Offley where she has a proper bread oven and mixer.

And a year later she sold her beloved 2L Honda Civic so she could buy a van. “It has my logo all over it and it’s one of my most treasured possessions,” she says.

Jo trained as a home economist but fresh out of college was desperate to earn her own money. So parking her love of all things foodie, she embarked on a career in market research.

But she bored of academia and tried her hand at a succession of executive roles, finally divorcing her then husband, moving to Luton, remarrying and having her son eight years ago.

Jo credits her mother with her passion for cooking, which grew and grew through all these life changes.

“She wasted nothing and cooked with real ingredients, many of them home grown,” she recalls.

Now that passion has won Jo the Chiltern Society’s Northern Region Real Bread Award. She was also Highly Commended at the recent Bedfordshire Food and Drink Awards.

And she’s hoping she may get a mention in the Tiptree World Bread Awards later this month: “I’m submitting two entries. I’m not expecting to win but it would be really special to get a commendation.”