Today was a rest day. Heck all my days seem to be rest days these …. days! But it was Sunday so we discussed what to do. MBH suggested a long ‘invigorating’, by which she meant ‘exhausting’ for at least one of us.
I looked for excuses and found a doozy. At our nearby posh garden centre they were running a Farmers’ Market,
At this point the pedants have got hung up by the argument as to whether “Farmers” needed an apostrophe or not. Those less erudite are arguing if “Markets” need one too or instead. True pedants are commenting on my use of double quotation marks for the words ‘Farmers’ and ‘Markets’ and their rage is bound to boil over into a sniffy comment before I’ve finished writing.
Nonetheless, the advertised market at Wentworth Garden Centre beckoned and we duly wrapped up warm and pointed the car south-east for a couple of miles. Wentworth Garden Centre is a prestigious provider of provender and petals, pulses and popular proprietary pots and pretty pans (You just went back and read that again, didn’t you? Scamp!). As such it tends to be a little more expensive than our back garden nursery but I was feeling flush and relieved to have got out of the long ‘invigorating walk’.
Wikipedia tells us:
“The current concept of a farmers’ market is similar to past concepts, but different in relation to other forms – as aspects of consumer retailing, overall, continue to shift over time. Similar forms existed before the Industrial age, but often formed part of broader markets, where suppliers of food and other goods gathered to retail their wares.
Starting in the mid-2000s, consumer demand for foods that are fresher (spend less time in transit) and for foods with more variety—has led to growth of farmers’ markets as a food-retailing mechanism.”
I hadn’t realised that they had only started in 1997 and seem to have rapidly risen to around 500 across the country. Then the EU noticed this annoying diversion away from Big Farma and started to introduce ‘regulation’ in the form of requirements to comply with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) standards of research and its management of science-based research. This is where the urban myths of bans to wonky vegetables and straight bananas began to be generated. Despite this, the UK can proudly boast to be offering farm fresh meat and vegetables free of supermarket control and constriction.
When I say ‘proud’ I mean this not in comparison to those markets seen on the other side of the channel where EU regulations are for the observance of fools and the guidance of wise men. Farmers’ Markets in France are massive and all-encompassing. In St Valerie en Caux, for example, every day the boats tie up and display their catches on their own sales counter right by the harbour edge. Each counter has the name of the boat and its registration clearly displayed. Any unsold fish is chucked unceremoniously back into the water providing food for other denizens of the deep. The market at Amboise takes a day to walk through and strong arms to carry the produce back to our accommodation.
We arrived in the large car park of the garden centre which was surprisingly empty. This could be because we had beaten the early bird, worm and all, and got there not long after 09:00. Parking up we surveyed the market in a neighbouring field with dismay, only half a dozen pop up gazebos could be seen. We walked across the car park and into the market. And there was my first surprise. First there were more stalls than I had first estimated and second they were all good ones.
We walked past the first stall which was manned (should that be ‘personned’?) by a woman collecting for a charity for the blind. I’m guessing she was blind too as her dogs noticed me as I went past but she didn’t. First was a meat stall offering lovely loins of pork – the sort I had trudged to the supermarket the day before to buy only to be fobbed off with a sad looking leg of pork instead. Next was a man selling locally brewed cider, probably powerful enough to induce hallucinations so I regretfully walked past. Next a baker selling real bread, not the bleached steamed preservative-full plastic wrapped bread of our local supermarket but real crusty, grain filled yeasty smelling bread probably baked at 05:30 the same morning.
Needless to say we bought some. I also succumbed to a block of ‘Parkin’. For those from distant shores reading this blog, Parkin is a gingerbread cake traditionally made with oatmeal and black treacle, which originated in northern England. Often associated with Yorkshire, particularly the Leeds area, it is very widespread and popular elsewhere, notably in Lancashire. Parkin is baked to a hard cake but with resting becomes moist and even sometimes sticky. In Hull and East Yorkshire, it has a drier, more biscuit-like texture than in other areas. Parkin is traditionally eaten on Guy Fawkes Night, 5 November, but is also enjoyed throughout the winter months. It is baked commercially throughout Yorkshire, but is mainly a domestic product in other areas. I’m enslaved to its sweet and peppery taste and my mother-in-law knew this and often made me big batches of Parkin before she died some years ago. I still miss her excellent recipe but this block would at least revive the memory.
Next we visited a vegetable stall with so much fine produce on offer we had to start filling a third shopping bag. My arms ached but the car was only a few hundred yards away so we carried on. MBH had spotted a stall selling olives and other pickles. The stall-holder knew his business. Within seconds he had offered us a taste of this, a soupçon of that, following roasted garlic cloves with houmous and olives stuffed with everything imaginable. We ended up with a big box of olives, a mountain of houmous and, almost as an afterthought, a block of feta cheese marinaded in olive oil and fine herbs.
As a momentary aside, we were watching a food programme the day before and one of our favourite chefs was talking about ‘macerating’ strawberries in syrup. Now MBH and I both agreed that he meant ‘marinading’ but had just mis-spoke. Then he did it again! And again! We both believed that ‘maceration’ was a word used for blitzing or mashing food, usually in a blender. We were sufficiently concerned to head to our online dictionary to check and… surprise… the word ‘maceration’ can be used to mean ‘marination’ when the food is fruit rather than meat or vegetables. Who knew?
By the time I had staggered back to the car I was in need of sustenance and I persuaded MBH to divert to the garden centre cafe after dumping the bags in the boot of the car. I feared the worst as this place is notoriously expensive, I was reassured – in fact two coffees, a scone and a slice of sponge cake came to about the same as two coffees in our bijou coffee house in the centre of town. The food there looked spectacularly good, most people were wolfing down the ‘Full English’ but others were trying to wrap their lips around the biggest sausage or bacon sandwiches I had ever seen.
Sated, I decided to pick up a few bedding plants to liven up the pots standing either side of our front door. Within a short while we were back home and my hands were wrist deep in cold compost while I dreamt of a nice slice of Parkin and a cup of tea.