Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ahh, the Farmers' Market

There are many wonderful things about living in Marylebone. Our flat is fantastic, we're within walking distance of almost everywhere we might want to go, we have easy access to Hyde and Regents Parks, the high street is charming and full of fun window shopping, we have good transport links, there are dozens of incredible restaurants within 15 minutes, the list goes on. But the absolute best thing about living here is the farmers' market that takes place every Sunday. Ever since we moved in, I would guess we've only missed the Sunday market about six to eight times, and those times were only when we were out of town. We plan our weekends around the market. We've even been known to scurry back to town from a weekend trip just so we could make it to the market.

This might sound a bit overblown, but let me tell you, this is the best farmers' market I've ever seen. The vendors all come from within 50 miles of London, so everything is local and fresh, and you might be surprised to see everything that can be harvested in such a small area. There are seafood carts, meat and poultry stands, cheese makers, bakers, mushroom foragers, a stall that sells nothing but potatoes, and about a half dozen tables selling all sorts of fruits and vegetables. There are even vendors that sell locally made oil and darn tasty apple cider. The market runs every Sunday of the year (except maybe at Christmas), rain or snow or wind or shine. And it's always packed with customers. We've had some pretty nasty weather this winter, but even at the worst of it, there have been hordes of people at the farmers' market. It restores my faith in humanity.

It also feeds me, very well. The produce is incredible. The best bacon and sausages. The freshest vegetables and herbs. The tastiest mushrooms. And don't get me started on the potatoes. You may think you know potatoes, but you do not truly understand them until you taste the ones from our farmers' market. The farmer is the nicest guy, and he always gives us extra potatoes so we don't go hungry. Our poultry guy is great, too, and he has provided us with many a delicious chicken for roasting, a few ducks for braising, and two glorious Thanksgiving turkeys. There's a shy but friendly guy who sells us really good greens, another shy but friendly guy who has the best squash. Then there's the jovial cockney who oversees bins and bins of carrots and onions and cabbages. There's the tweed-clad guy who sells sausages alongside good-natured complaints about the bloody weather. There's the baker from California. It feels good buying food from friends rather than the supermarket.

Every Sunday we follow the same schedule. The market runs from 10 to 2, so we have time for a morning coffee and croissant down the street while we make our menu and shopping list for the week. Then we walk to the market, our two green Publix shopping bags on our shoulders, and get everything we can from the market. Then maybe a stop at the butcher's for eggs (they have brighter yolks than the ones at the market) and sometimes the cheese shop. Finally, Waitrose, where we usually only have to buy a few dry goods, some dairy, cleaning products, etc. We usually manage to get at least half our groceries, and almost all of our produce, from the market. We feel really good about this setup, because we're buying locally, we're supporting local farmers, we're getting fresher, cheaper, better produce, and we're eating really healthfully. It's a beautiful cycle. And it's always, always a treat, even in the dead of winter.

That being said, I am looking forward to spring and summer produce. First will be asparagus and peas in the pod. Then new potatoes and soft herbs. Then lettuces and radishes and strawberries. Then artichokes and broad beans. Then tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers and fennel and zucchini. Then plums and blackberries and raspberries. In the fall, different kinds of potatoes, apples, squashes of every shape, size, and color. Leeks. Jerusalem artichokes. Parsnips. Mushrooms. Game. Every week is slightly different, and every week is delicious. Well done, farmers.

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