28 May, 2011

Farmer's Markets

I have been meaning to put this post up for some time but a conversation I had with a woman yesterday really put a fire under me.  Those of you who know me will know that I'm not actually that argumentative.  At least not about the small stuff but the things I really believe in?  Hold me back.  The things that are important to my family's well-being???  Get out of my way.
I, along with Mo and Bernie, take part in two farmer's markets.  The first is in Balbriggan (that's been running for a couple of years now but we only became involved in February of this year) and the other one is in Donabate.  I am only speaking for myself here.  Not speaking for either of the other two perfectionists, if I were it would be on the Perfectionist  blog page.  I take a pitch at both markets because I need to earn money and because I enjoy dealing with the public.  I also enjoy getting an immediate reaction to the product we sell.  If we're good people will come back and buy more and if we're bad they'll come back and tell you that you're bad.  But mostly I do the market to earn money, times are hard. 
There seems to be this lovely romantic notion about markets.  I get the impression people think it's all lovely and sweetness and light.  That everyone gets to pretend they're French and sit, laugh and chill in the sunshine.  Making the money is a bonus.
Well, believe me, it ain't like that at all.  
I remember a couple of years ago seeing cupcakes a local caker had made and thinking 'pah! I could do that.  Like, how hard can it be to bang out a couple of hundred cakes?'.  Hard!!!!  You can't bake days in advance, literally the day before.  If, like me, you are granted your HSE approval under certain conditions you can only bake between the hours of 9pm and 7am (when the kids are asleep).  That means for the day before each market you are baking and decorating in the middle of the night.  When the rest of the world is asleep.  You then have to do all the normal mammy stuff (if you're a mammy) and well, that takes time too.  
So, you do a big run and buy all your ingredients.  Take note of all the batch numbers and BBDs.  Remember to put all your receipts in a safe place for that 'quiet in-between moment' when you are eventually going to do your accounts.  Then you bake in the middle of the night.  Then you let the cakes cool and you decorate them.  Then it's time to kiss everyone good morning, whilst they sleep, and drive to the market..
Time to set up gazebos, haul out tables, find your list of ingredients (batch numbers to be filled in), set yourself up and prepare to smile and flirt a lot.  Seriously, I feel like a cake pimp.  I'm like the child catcher out of chitty chitty bang bang, so I'm told anyway.  
From 8am til whatever time you stand there, hail, rain or shine (mostly rain) and hope that someone buys your product otherwise your freezer is full to overflowing (Dara - great Balbriggan baker) or your bum is rapidly expanding (me).  If you do well, happy days, you pack up your empty boxes, put away your tables, take down the gazebos and load up your car.  If you do badly, you do all of the above only you've just worked 16 hours for, yesterday as an example, €18.00.  It's less fun packing up after a bad day.  Much less fun.  

Yesterday, a woman breezed past my very pretty pitch and said to her friend "oh, I do love coming down to see the market when friends come over to visit".  I asked her if she would like to buy one of our many delicious cakes and she said "no, we're just here to soak up the atmosphere".

Then I think I may have gotten a bit annoyed.  I asked her if she was going to purchase anything off Emer, Dara, Ciairan, Paul, Christine, Natalia, JulieAnn or Trevor OR ME???  But she simply repeated she was just here to enjoy the surroundings.

I told her she had better soak in as much of the atnosphere as she could because if she didn't support us and merely used us for entertaining the market wouldn't be there next time she had visitors to stay.  She wasn't impressed but it's true.  The markets aren't there to supply a bit of visual set dressing for your local town/village/square.  They are there so people, like me, can provide excellent quality goods at a great price and earn a living.  I think Farmer's Markets have something for everyone.  Honestly.  Yesterday, Dara and Ciaran bought the following:  Iberian Ham, sundried tomatoes and Archichoke hearts (Ciaran's stand), Bread (La Boulangerie), Salad leaves (Sonairte's pitch) and made the most fabulous sambos.  They cost approx. €2.80 each to make.  The same sambo in the local deli would have set them back upwards of €5 each.

Yes, local markets can be a bit more expensive than Tesco or Lidl (our main competitors in Balbriggan) but you pay for what you get.  Our cupcakes cost €2.00 each but each cake is made from the best of ingredients, Sicilian lemons, free range eggs, sour cream, fresh milk, fresh raspberries, Belgian chocolate etc. do you really think that you are getting this calibre of ingredient when you buy 4 cakes for €2.00 in the supermarket of your choice.

The veg you will get, as often as the growers can, is produced locally.  To compete with the big supermarkets there will have to be compromises made e.g. bananas, lemons etc. brought in.  These items don't grow well here!  Your vegetable Market Man will have these on his stall, alongside local produce, because he needs you to buy off him.  I mean, you're not going to buy half your fruit and veg at the market and then go to a supermarket to queue again are you?

The fish man will have fish that is practically still flip flopping.  I use Paul for all our fish now and, AND, he gives great recipes and advice on how to cook his fish.  He cares.  The fish hasn't come from Iceland, it's mostly local caught and smoked and . . . there is nothing more I can say.  You get great fresh fish, a laugh and a recipe for . .. well, depends on how much fish you buy.  I recommend both his ling and his sea bass.  Oh, he won't gut the sardines for you but he will tell you how to gut them yourself and impress your kids with the goriness of it all.  Best way to eat the sardines is to gut them, rinse them out (getting all the blood off the backbone) and brush them with some melted butter.  Slap them on the barbeque for a couple of minutes each side before removing them to a table and adding a cold beer to your hand and happy, happy days.  If the sun is shining you could be in Barcelona.

At your local market you will also get fresh bread, with lumps and bumps and it will be gorgeous.  It won't last as long as your sliced pan but it's better for you.  Best bit about buying fresh bread like this is you can use up what's left, but too hard to eat, to make breadcrumbs.  That's what I do with Rebekka's bread (she's a Donabater).  

I could go into raptures about the cheese and eggs I get off Des but I'll post a recipe later and hopefully next week you'll come to Donabate and buy his blue cheese and realise how wonderful he is yourself.  Stay away from his HUGE eggs though, they are mine.  Another recipe to follow for those.  I can't use them for my baking as they are so big they are beyond grading.  Plus they are nearly all double yolkers!!  They make great omelet's and scrambled eggs.  But, his normal sized eggs are the best I've ever tasted.  Ken, the veg man, does eggs too and I am sure they are fabulous but I have fallen under Des' spell.  

If you are lucky enough to have a local market please support it.  Us market people do markets because we love what we make and provide.  We really do get a kick out of making the best of breads and cakes..  The best of cheeses and well, we can only continue to do it if you continue to buy our produce.  Plus, you never know what you'll learn at a market.  Today Myra was teaching people how to knit and her friend was teaching more people how to crochet.  You can't go wrong, promise.

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