You can’t always get what you want

… or even what you expect.

For several weeks now I have been planning a Friday market trip, with the intention of buying winter vegetables to make some soup for the freezer. Two weeks ago we had torrential rain, so I decided to give it a miss; last week I had so much editing work on tight deadlines that I didn’t have time; but this week the weather was good and there weren’t too many piles of work to get through. So, I set my alarm clock and was leaving the house just after 7:30… before arriving back three minutes later because I’d forgotten to pick up the insulated cup of tea that I’d made to take with me in lieu of breakfast.

When I got down to Newcastle Emlyn, I was a little disappointed to discover no nets of leeks or parsnips. I could have bought a huge sack of swedes, but I really could not think of anything I might want to make with 20 of the things. So, I browsed around and discovered lots of nice veg in smaller quantities (they sell both big boxes and small amounts), so I selected some sweet potatoes and squashes (both always good for soup), some onions, six big fat red peppers and a couple of cauliflowers (Mr Snail loves cauliflowers and I’m rubbish at growing them)… and then my eye was caught by some boxes of tomatoes. Since, in my experience, it’s not possible to have too many jars of passata in the cupboard and it’s nearly six months since I last made any, I though I couldn’t go wrong at £2.50 a box, and bought two. And throughout my visit, I kept being drawn back to the boxes of limes (another thing that Mr Snail loves). What could I possibly do with a box of limes? We don’t like marmalade and even I can only drink so much gin. But I simply couldn’t resist – and for the same price as a box of tomatoes.

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My haul of not exactly winter vegetables

When I got home the tomatoes were quickly sorted (there’s always a few bad ones, which is why they are so cheap), washed, halved and the first batch put in the oven to roast. I made a big pot of soup – spicy squash and sweet potato (eight portions) – and I counted the limes – 59. And then I had to do some paid work.

On Saturday I got the passata mill out and processed all the roasted tomatoes, then bottled them: 11 half-litre jars and five quarter-litre jars. I made a second batch of soup: roasted red pepper, sweet potato and squash, with chilli, ginger and garlic. And I finally decided what to do with four of the limes: a lemon surprise pudding; the surprise is supposed to be the sauce that forms in the bottom, but I provided a second surprise by making it with lime not lemon.

So, today I’m going to zest and juice some of the limes and store the results in the freezer for subsequent cooking. I’m also going to quarter some of them and freeze then for use in g&t and other drinks and for (defrosted) squeezing over Mexican food, plus I’ll keep some in the fridge to use for cooking over the next couple of weeks. None of them will go to waste.

So, my winter veg shopping trip turned into something completely different, plus when my alarm clock went off on Friday morning I woke to a bedroom filled with orange light, and when I looked out I was greeted by the most glorious sunrise:

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good morning sunrise

So, it’s quite true – you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, instead, you get sunshine and limes.

Good food for everyone

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Such diversity – of people and produce

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, last week I made one of my occasional visits to the Friday morning fruit and veg market stall in Newcastle Emlyn. It’s always good to get there early for the biggest choice, so I was home by ten past eight (although it did mean I missed my early morning swim). It’s a great way to buy cheap fresh veg, especially in an area like this where we don’t have the sort of permanent, diverse market that I knew when I was growing up in Leeds. There, Kirkgate Market  is an amazing place to buy all sorts of food, from game and meat to fish and fruit, not forgetting all the range of vegetables and pretty much anything else you might want to own. The place was characterised by the cries of the stallholders and I can’t hear a yell of ‘getcher caulis ‘ere’ without being transported back to the sights and smells of the market. If you want to get a feel for the place, the reviews posted here give a good flavour. I have clear memories of my mother shopping there regularly – the open air greengrocers’ stalls were right at the bottom by the bus station, so we bought fruit and veg last on any shopping trip to minimise the distance it had to be carried (these were the days when families had no more than one car and women went shopping on the bus).

Although the Friday stall is not easy to access by public transport, it’s still well used. There are people buying their weekly greengroceries, people shopping for catering supplies, people buying in bulk for preservation (like me). It doesn’t seem to attract a particular sort of clientele. Everyone in the town knows it and it’s always busy… even at 7:30am when they still haven’t finished pricing everything up! And people like me are happy to drive there from the surrounding area.

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we should all have access to this

Recently, in contrast, I read a post by Steven Croft about the exclusivity of farmers’ markets. He cited Jessica Paddock’s research which found that “predominantly working class people consider themselves to be out of place and possibly not welcome at farmers’ markets”. It saddens me that something which should connect producers directly with consumers has become divisive and too expensive (or at least perceived as such) for everyone to benefit from. “Normal” markets seem to be thought of differently. The Friday stall is not run by a producer, but by a greengrocer, and the customers do not seem to fit into any particular category… other than that they’ve all got up early!

I wonder how we best connect growers with consumers and make that connection seem normal. Neither consumers nor producers seem to benefit much from supermarkets other than in terms of convenience. All the packaging and hidden processing associated with supermarket produce cannot be a good thing for either people or the planet. Buying direct would certainly address this issue and others, but the mechanisms are challenging and the logistics within both rural and urban areas are problematic. So, all I can say is support your growers whenever you can and don’t be intimidated by farmers’ markets – they are not entirely full of hipsters seeking out venison and cranberry sausages and locally grown quinoa (pronounced keen-wah, you know!).

If you are interested in equity, ethics and sustainability with respect to production and access to food, there are some interesting articles on the Sustainable Food Trust’s web site.

Preservation, preservation, preservation

It’s that time of the year again when produce is abundant – both in the garden and on the market – and so my mind turns to preserving it for those future lean times.

As a result I had two main jobs this morning: first a visit to the Friday fruit and veg market and then cleaning the family preserving pan. The shopping trip can only be done on a Friday, so I had to miss going swimming. They set up in Newcastle Emlyn early, so I left home at 7am in order to make sure I got there before what I wanted had sold out. I arrived before 7:30 and started selecting my bulk purchases. I returned home through the early-morning mist with two large trays of tomatoes, two trays of nectarines and a bag of 20 peaches. I will return for more produce in a week or two (when, hopefully they will have plum tomatoes like last year and trays of peaches), but what I bought will keep me busy for a little while.

And so to the next task. All this preserving – passata, bottled peaches, nectarine purée – will be greatly facilitated by my second preserving pan. However, having spent several years in my mother’s barn, it needed a little cleaning. A quick internet search suggested that brass could be cleaned quite easily using a mixture of white vinegar (half a cup), salt (one teaspoon) and flour (enough to make it into a paste). All you do is dissolve the salt in the vinegar, add enough flour to get a spreadable consistency, smear the paste on your brass, leave for 10 minutes and then wipe/rinse off and dry. And I’m pleased to say, it worked. I did the inside of the pan twice and the outside once… and if it was for decoration I might do it again, but for my purposes, it looks good and was very easy – no elbow grease required!

So now, there are tomatoes roasting in the oven and for the rest of the weekend I will be getting sticky with peaches, nectarines and sugar syrup.

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