grow it cook it preserve it eat it wendy pillar blog gardener grow your own in dorset

Off to market - April 2016

Last year I swore that I would give as little money to the big supermarkets as I could. This hasn't actually necessitated a big change in lifestyle or shopping, because I am lucky enough that my nearest supermarket is Dikes of Stalbridge, an independent family-owned shop. However, they recently tempted me to start shopping online with a particularly good offer, and I found myself liberated, with a food buying itch needing scratching. What if I order in my regular supplies, the tins of tomatoes and so on, and go to really specialist shops or markets for things like cheese? This thought coincided with the start of the new market season in Somerset and Dorset (we are on the border between the two), and in the last few weeks I have discovered some really lovely markets.

The first one I went to was Shaftesbury Super Sunday (3rd Sunday of the month). It was a bitterly cold morning, and I think the market is quite new, and both the traders and public have yet to really discover it. But the stands that were there were really interesting, with proper local cheeses, breads and pastries, and street food. Most exciting was Mercato Italiano, selling real, fresh Italian cheeses, salami and pasta, imported direct from Italy, with samples to taste and advice on cooking. I came away with some really lovely gorgonzola, and croissants for breakfast from another stand. The hot coffee van was very welcome to warm me up, but I must remember to take my own cup next time.

Enthused, the next week I went to Langport (last Friday of the month). Now I haven't been to Langport since I visited a school friend, aged 13, whose dad was vicar of Huish Episcopi. After climbing to the top of the church tower to see the view, we went into Langport and bought Findus crispy pancakes to cook for our lunch - mushroom and bacon flavour (I have a photographic memory for meals!). It must have been winter because I remembered Langport as a dark and gloomy place, but no, not true. On Good Friday it was warm and sunny for the first (and only so far) time this year, everyone appeared to be out wandering along the river enjoying the sun, the town was very pretty, and the market was small, but perfectly formed. The butcher, baker and greengrocer had opened,although it was Good Friday, and there were stalls selling fish, hot cross buns, cakes and Kambucha, which I learned is a Korean probiotic drink that is fabulously good for you. And Mercato Italiano were there too, with smoked mozzarella and taleggio. Basically, I had a thoroughly lovely time!

The following week I had a dilemma, with both Bridport Sunday market on and the first Frome Independent. Obviously it's not possible to take in both of those on one day, and even though Bridport offered me a free brownie (how did they know my weak point?), Frome is only on once a month and has the trump card of Stefano's stand of Sicilian pastries. Frome Independent is the daddy of markets in this area, with literally hundreds of stands and thousands of people. If only they'd sort their parking out! The only place to park in the town is the park and ride, which is great apart from the patchy signposting that means many drivers getting lost, turning around and making the congestion even worse. Anyway, once you get there, it is foody paradise. The stands stretch right up through the pretty town centre and by late morning they are heaving with people. There are lots of local cheese stands, a proper farmer's market, greengrocer's, Somerset charcuterie, cider and beer, exotic street food, live bands and more cake stands that anyone could sample in a morning! I came away with a box of Stefano's cannoli, another of Dark Matters' brownies, local fresh sheep's milk ricotta and haloumi, cured meats and the feeling that I probably shouldn't eat anything else that day!

So this Sunday I am off to Bridport Sunday market, wondering if the offer of a brownie is still good, and I will have completed the round of the best local markets. If I am to maintain a calorie balance though, I may have to start travelling to market by bike! (And regular readers of this blog will have realized that my quest to give up sugar is not going well!)

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