In a dawn’s mist that hovers lightly over muddy grass, market stalls gradually gather shape. Posts thrust in the ground, canvas covers raised overhead. Some are elegant affairs, with graphically designed fonts and glass-fronted cases; others are no more than a couple of tables, cotton tablecloths and a hurriedly handwritten sign.
In the middle of it all, a huge urn hums with steady steam and the smell of its whole-spiced chai intermingles with sizzling sausages, waiting their turn for bread and piles of caramelised onion.
If nothing else defines one of the 185 accredited farmers’ markets in Australia, it’s the sausage sandwich. Not a piece of plastic white bread, supermarket ketchup, or sugar-filled brown sauce in sight. At my local market, each individually-kneaded twelve-seeded roll is lovingly smeared with fresh aioli and a scattering of just-potted tomato salsa. The sausages are from heritage-breed pigs, raised in large plots, lovingly fed treacle porridge the morning they head to the abattoir. You can taste the producer’s pride in every bite.
And conversations with people at the market are one of the best parts of turning up. Ask any passionate producer about their product and you’ll hear about soils, seed stocks, butter churning and meat drying methods, why growing mushrooms using dowels from eucalyptus trees is so difficult, why purple garlic is so much smoother than white, why the best roast potatoes are cooked in top quality duck fat. And so on and so gloriously on.
It drives my terribly sensible and unaffected husband mad, and it’s true that the potential for pretentiousness is pretty high. But this is a fast-growing section of the Australian consumer landscape that plays a vital role in our everyday relationship with food. Not only can we buy local goods, therefore ensuring that our community is prospering, we’re also supporting produce that’s grown ethically, using methods that don’t include large amounts of chemicals or additives, and haven’t been stockpiled in huge storage bins for months before making it to our shelves.
My toddler loves to come along. Admittedly, the wagging dogs and free face painting holds most of his attention, but his winsome ways has procured him more than one free tomato, carrot or bagel as we’ve wandered. I love knowing that he’s going to grow up in these places, watching the seasons move by our food choices, and eating his way through passionately grown and harvested produce.
And for me? I know quite a lot about produce, at least for a consumer. I hit my formative years during the dark days of English meat causing headlines for all the wrong reasons. I’m not allowed to donate blood anywhere in the world, outside of England, because I lived in Britain between 1980 and 1996. Britain’s national story’s interwoven with the horrors of factory farming’s consequences, and the hard-won knowledge that cheap and plentiful produce definitely doesn’t mean better produce, or even that it’s always safe to eat.
And out of these domestic horrors came some wonderful goodies; The River Cottage, Waitrose supermarkets and Nigel Slater, to name just a very few who shaped and moulded me as I cooked and ate into adulthood.
I also grew up in the Italian countryside, gorging on organic, backyard tomatoes rested in sun-drenched bowls and local wild-boar sausage. I was incredibly lucky that my mother and her friends cared about food, long before it was trendy, and made sure we knew the taste of good produce.
So these markets are a dip back into my childhood, a tip of the hat to my future, and to the even more distant future I hope to leave for my son. My husband may not love to come along, but he absolutely adores the results pulled from our oven later in the day, like this orchard and date crumble cake, that I’ve adapted from Eric Lanyard’s Pear and Prune Cake.
I just love pears and apples in Australia’s early autumn, when they’re at their absolute giddy height. Pair either with cinnamon and dates and no matter where you are, there’s a part of your mind flinging autumn leaves above your head in sheer joy.
- 200g unsalted butter, softened
- 200g raw caster sugar
- 200g self raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 4 eggs
- 250g dates (preferably Medjool), stones removed and cut into quarters
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 medium pears, peeled and cut into roughly the same size as the dates
- 2 medium apples, peeled and cut into roughly the same size as the dates
- 70g unsalted butter, soft
- 125g plain flour
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 50g light muscavado sugar
- 50g rolled oats
Pre-heat oven to 180˚C
Combine flour, baking powder & cinnamon in a mixing bowl
Cream butter & sugar until light & fluffy
Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter and sugar. With each egg, add a scant tablespoon of the flour mix to prevent curdling
Gently fold in the dry ingredients until just combined
Gently fold in the dates & pear
Spoon into lined 23cm springform tin and smooth down
Add all crumble ingredients in a fresh mixing bowl and rub together with your fingers, squidging all the butter in your fingertips until the mixture seems like sand
Liberally cover the top of your sponge with the crumble topping
Bake for 60 minutes until cake has risen and crumble is golden
Remove from the oven and leave for 5 minutes before taking out of the tin and serving while still warm
A big thank you to Sara over at Sunshine & Salad for suggesting this topic. She’s one of my favourite bloggers; weaving joy, grief and the simple pleasures of life into her wonderful writing – I highly recommend checking out her blog!