Saturday, 9 June 2007

The fourth and final adventure at the East Oxford Farmers' Market

Waking up at a quarter to seven on a Saturday morning can only mean one thing to us: market day. As we're moving back to Montreal soon, this was our last time running a stall at the East Oxford Farmers' Market and so we had mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it's been a great experience and we've met some really great people and we've really enjoyed actively participating in the community. At the same time, while we haven't been doing this for the money, we've been only just breaking even, and it's frustrating to spend hours working hard in the kitchen (never mind the time spent working on recipes and sourcing ingredients and so on and so forth) for little reward. Yeah, yeah, the sense of satisfaction and all that, but it would be nice to be able to go out for a nice dinner with the proceeds of the market. The difficulty we came across was trying to balance using quality local and organic ingredients as much as possible while still keeping prices reasonable. For instance, 250g of organic butter produced at a local dairy costs £1.50, while Tesco's organic butter is around half the price. We could cut corners and use the Tesco butter (or flour, or milk, or meat, or whatever), but it's important to us--and is keeping in line with the general ethos of the Farmers' Market--to source ingredients as locally as possible. At the end of the day, I'd rather just break even and use good ingredients, but it would be even better to make a little bit of extra money using the same ones. Anyway, enough of this for now, on to the baking!

We already had pierogi and pies from past markets in the freezer, and there were no takers for Anna's pita bread last time (a shame, since it was excellent and a far cry better than the bland cardboardy stuff you get at the supermarkets), so we stuck to making bagels, cornbread, and scones (both plain and cheese) in the morning. Anna's been making the bagels, but I helped out with the dough this time. Here's Anna sprinkling sesame seeds over the bagels before baking them:

Anna looking not very impressed at me for taking her photo while she's checking if the bagels are done.

Finally, the bagels on the cooling rack. To my mind, these are the finest bagels available in the whole of the UK, at least outside of Golders Green. I don't know if you can actually get good bagels in Golders Green, but bagels anywhere else in this country are atrocious and a disgrace to bageldom.

Here's an action shot of me putting a batch of scones into the oven.

The cheese scones just baked and ready to be taken out of the oven.

Finally, putting the scones on a cooling rack before boxing them up to take them to the market.

As we schlepped our wares to the market on a hot, humid, and overcast morning, grumpy from having to wake up early and having heavy bags of fresh baked goods digging into our shoulders, we vowed to sell as much as we humanly could just so that we didn't have to lug all the stuff back again.

The weather forecast was middling, but the marquees were up on the grounds of the Asian Cultural Centre and we set up our table near a blooming elderberry bush.

Here's a close up of one of the pies and a bag of pierogi. We kept the rest of them in a freezer bag packed with ice packs under the table.

The market was busy, with people milling about and enjoying the day and the market. People were enthusiastic about our stall and, little by little, we started selling out of things. First the cornbread went. Since Anna started making it in muffins instead of slices, we haven't been able to carry enough of it. Then the plain scones sold out--this was a first, since the plain scones tended not to sell that well in previous weeks. It was a relief too, since I had forgotten to add baking powder into the first batch of them and had to fold some in just before I pinned the dough out. They fortunately ended up looking okay, and the punters seemed to really like them. The bagels also sold really well. One of the farmers bought a dozen the last time we did the stall--this time she bought about sixteen of them! This was really flattering because we look up to these farmers and it feels really good knowing that they not only like our cooking, but that they like it enough to buy such large amounts of it. We also noticed that a lot of the people buying from us had bought from us before. Prior to this, we seemed to have about half returning customers and half people trying out our things for the first time. Doing this as amateurs, there's always the question about whether or not the food is good enough to sell. We're good cooks, and don't have such a lack of confidence when having people over for dinner, but it's different when people are paying for your food. You feel that you are being compared to people who do this for a living and there are doubts about whether or the food is worth the money people are spending on it. As we ended up selling all but two pies and a couple of bags of pierogi, apparently it is good enough. We ended up going home with a much lighter load.

It was nice to finish our time at the East Oxford Farmers' Market on such a high. One of the things that we really like about this market is that it feels that it is actually a part of the community and that it avoids a lot of the class pitfalls that too often come along with farmers' markets and food culture generally. The market has been running for nearly a year and it is becoming increasingly diverse, with more and more of the community represented each week. When we first started going to the market, we felt it strange that even though the market was hosted at the Asian Cultural Centre, that there was little overlap with the people who use that centre on a daily basis. The same can't be said anymore. There was even a mango lassi stall this week for the first time--a welcome addition, especially as the temperature rose.

Anna overheard one of the stallholders, a farmer who sells eggs, milk, and meat, talking about how she rarely makes much money at this market, but unlike other markets in the area, she loves to come to this one because of the sense of community it engenders. She described it as the only one that was full of people who were happy to mill about and chat and not just middle class people in a rush. That's what we feel that the market has been about to us.

We want to be involved in a similar project in Montreal, or if we can't find one already existing, we'd like to start something. Montreal's food culture is very different than the one here, with the Jean Talon and Atwater markets running daily and a general availability of good food. However, the sense of community we got from the market is something that we'd like to bring to Montreal. Watch this space to see what we come up with.


robina said...

anna's unimpressed face made me miss her LIKE WHOA.

Rebeca said...

You guys are my heroes.

Anna said...

Robina, I'm worried that my looking annoyed makes you think fondly of me, but I miss you too!

And Rebeca, thanks, but we are not heroes, we (and by we I mean me) are just avoiding our theses.

annie said...

This was absolutely fascinating, start to finish. I am interested in how you view the market community, the way you think about making food to sell vs. just making food to eat or feed friends, pretty much the whole entry was great. Its also refreshing that you can just get up, bake and go to market without worrying about licenses, flashy packaging,or advertising - although you do have that lovely tablecloth/banner. If I were in Oxford, I'd buy a dozen scones and probably some of those bagels, too.

emily said...

ooh - I have not seen bagels that look like that anywhere outside of Montreal. If I'd known and I'd've driven up to Oxford for them, since its probably the closest I could get to Montreal. Is the recipe for making them on your website or is it top secret? I presume you were boiling then baking as is traditional?

Restaurant Brugge said...

good recipe ,.....