My friend, Peter Lane (he of the amazing pork pies) told me about the Parsonage Farm Spring Market when I met him a few months ago, and the date went straight into my diary. Parsonage Farm is, in their own words "a family-run business offering a warm and friendly service to all. We sell local, quality meat from animals raised on-site using natural, environmentally balanced and sensitive farming practices." Not only is the meat reared in a great environment, it is slaughtered at the Laverstoke Farm Abbatoir which is just down the road, and means that the animals hardly travel any distance when they finally get the chop. It's where Peter gets most of his meat from, and when you visit the farm and see the quality of the meat on offer, you can see why.
Not only do they sell their own meat, though, they have diversified in a number of ways, one of which are regular markets. Now, of course, it would have been rude not to check out their meat first (Peter having sold out of his pies by the time we actually managed to get to the market). We visited the butchers, where Mike the butcher was demonstrating his skills.
|Mike demonstrating his butchery skills|
Not only do they sell fresh meat, they have recently branched out in to charcuterie, and let me tell you, if you are into that sort of thing, it really is utterly delicious. We tried fennel & garlic, coriander, and red wine & garlic and couldn't decide between them so bought a bit of each one while we were there. Not that they will last long...
It wasn't just about the meat though. There were lots of fantastic foodie and crafty stalls and demonstrations going on. In particular, I was interested in The Hampshire Jam and Chutney Company . The stall was run by Sue Rockhill, and the jams and chutneys - well, sometimes I wonder why I bother sweating over my own jam pan...
I couldn't resist a pot of 'Dumpsie Dearie' jam made to an old Herefordshire recipe (with Hampshire ingredients), as it happens. Apparently if it had blackberries in it, it would be called High Dumpsie Deary jam. Fantastic name. Fantastic jam.
As you can imagine, I always have more than a passing interest in any cake stalls that are knocking around, and the Blackberry Cottage stall caught my eye. Not just cake, cake with hidden ingredients: beetroot, courgette, carrot, swede, spinach (yes, I am here to tell you that the spinach brownie I tasted was delicious). Alas, there was no swede cake left, but a beetroot chocolate loaf made a very excellent birthday cake for me to share with some friends
What's even more brilliant, there's a book coming out soon, so all those unloved veg box swede can be turned into more than mash or soup.
I will be looking out for that one.
While I was dribbling my way around the food stalls, the Husband and the kids were drawn magnetically to the woodturning skills of Chris Allen
While the children (and the Husband) were fascinated watching the man at work, I was talking traveller bouquets with his willing assistant. You can't really see them very well in the photo (on the shelving, in the pic above), but these are beautifully crafted wooden bouquets traditionally made by the traveller community from pieces of wood, peeling back thin strips in the same way as you might curl a ribbon when wrapping a present. There's a better pic on Oneday Woodcraft's facebook page. Simple and beautiful. I decided in the end to buy myself a spurtle, though. For porridge, and possibly rolling out pastry, although Pink thought it might have its place as a defensive weapon...
Finally, after all that nibbling and chatting, what better way to quench ones thirst than with a quirky cup of coffee. Actually the coffee wasn't at all quirky, but the cafe was. Allow me to present Colonel Grumpy's Coffee Bus:
Like everyone I spoke to at the fair, 'Colonel and Mrs Grumpy' have a story - and what a story!
Colonel Grumpy (I forgot to ask his real name, so I shall assume the moniker he has assigned himself!) ended a distinguished career in the army spending 5 years as the Defence attache to Guatemala. Not wanting to return to a life of boredom, and wanting to do something to help the people of Central America, they bought an old bus from Indiana (yes, in the USA) on Ebay (yes really!), drove her to Guatemala, where she was renovated before they shipped her back to the UK where she now serves as a travelling coffee shop, selling Guatemalan coffee and crafts.
It was a fantastic afternoon - and so inspiring, talking to people so passionate about their products and what they do, be it a sports therapist now making and selling cakes after a chance conversation with a client whose daughter wouldn't eat veg, to a couple having a high old time selling coffee from a refurbished bus and raising awareness of Central American issues.
More importantly, though, coming to an event like this makes you appreciate what is on offer locally. As I get more and more insight into what's available around us, it has occurred to me that the supermarkets have achieved the greatest PR stunt ever - convincing us that we should buy from them rather than from our local suppliers. There is some fantastic produce out there (not just food, I hasten to add) and it is actually pretty easy to get your hands on it - local producers will deliver, or you can find their produce for sale in smaller retailers or from more regular markets. The vicious circle of the supermarket is that we never get the chance to see what is actually out there locally, so we carry on buying from them.
I would be lying if I said that I have stopped buying from the supermarket. I don't always have access to a car, and a delivery of some products in some cases, where quality isn't necessarily an issue, does make economic and practical sense. However, with the help of organisations like Big Barn - with its handy postcode finder to show you where you can buy local produce, some investigations of my own and tip offs from friends, I am finding it much easier to buy my fresh food locally - and if the produce itself isn't local then using local shops to source it: fish for example, which I now buy through the butcher.
The thing is, that however much this Spring Market conjures up some kind of rural idyll, some kind of 'olde Englande', and however enjoyable it is to mooch around and taste a few things here and there, there's a serious point behind it. If there's something similar in your area, I'd really encourage you to make the effort to go - you might discover a whole world of amazing stuff being produced on your doorstep - be it meat, jam - or spurtles