Daughters And Sons Of The Soil, Awake!

Great Britain


With property prices falling and import prices up, perhaps it’s time for careers in food once more. This week I visited three farmers’ markets in central London (Chapel Street, Marylebone and King’s Cross) and bought most of what we needed for the week, although it’s still hard to find fresh fish in a country entirely surrounded by sea.

A bigger problem is encapsulated by the conversation I had with a local butcher a while back.

He’s quite elderly and finally retired, citing several reasons. People no longer cared about what they were eating, he said. They didn’t know there were different cuts depending on what they were cooking, and had no time or interest to learn. Furthermore, he could not pass the shop (which was daily filled with fresh produce from Smithfield) to his son, because the son thought butchery was beneath him and ‘wants to be a singer on X-Factor’. Good luck with that, I thought.

The butcher retired, but Islington Council would not permit a change of use for the shop. So it was bought by some kind of internet start-up, who faked the front window display, making it look like a butchers’ shop, and for one hour a week hired a girl to sell hot-dogs outside, thus conforming to the lease. Incredibly the council fell for it. Your tax pounds at work.

Farmers’ markets have proved that there are profits to be made from the land. Their prices are higher than supermarkets but you need less to make more. For example, a fresh loaf can last for two weeks instead of going off after two days. And suddenly there’s a more varied diet; this week we made salads from many types of potato (I favour Ratte) with samphire (grows in marshes and tastes of the sea, perfect with fish) and sorrel (looks like lettuce, tastes of lemons) Six days after it was purchased it’s still fresh.

But who wants to sell such things? It’s not sexy, is it? Better to work as some low-rung PR intern in a marketing company with a vague and distant connection to fashion or music, just so you can hold your head up high on Facebook.

Meanwhile, another local has the right idea and the right qualifications (ie. owns a van). Marky Market will go to Billingsgate Fish Market for you and bring back whole fish. Marky says; ‘I’m there at 4 in the morning with the best suppliers in town, and I know what’s good.’ Everyone in our neighbourhood thinks he’s super-cool. And he got there without spending his days emailing press releases to style magazines.

24 comments on “Daughters And Sons Of The Soil, Awake!”

  1. Brooke says:

    Indeed! We’re fortunate on the east coast corridor, Boston-NYC-Phil-DC to have a very strong farmers’ market network, supported by our federal and state agricultural agencies, and the restaurant farm to table movement. You can find an open air market every day of the week in some part of the city, and we have a few in the central underground stations.

    And our First Lady created a beautiful vegetable farm at the White House to set an example of healthy eating habits and encourage kids to learn to farm, for which she was roundly criticized by you-know-who.

  2. Jan says:

    It’s funny you write that today. I’ve got toothache and am staying inside out of the wind ( dark grey cloud and windy here ) The sainted Mary Berry is on telly visiting farmers markets. Most of them in the UK were started to help farmers out after the foot and mouth outbreaks in the nineties. The markets have been a real success. I know that down this way on they built on the traditional W.I. markets which were pretty good in themselves they just tagged the farm produce onto that.
    The very best stuff to buy very fresh must be leeks I went to a village swop market last Sept I took along me jam (first prize winner local village show only took me about 15 years was once a runner up at Harrow Show novice preserves – like nuns in aspic I always thought ) where was I yes well I swopped the BlackBerry preserve for a massive bunch of freshly dug Leeks. The difference between fresh Leeks and shop bought is amazing.
    You can forage samphire down this way lots of the stuff on the Chesil beach.
    Who criticised the veg farm at the Whitehouse… oh hang on doh! I think I just worked it out.

  3. Jan says:

    Do u remember when fish van men used to come round to each street? Me mam always thought he was”too dear” and we had to go to Eccles covered market and buy on a stall there.
    A really clear memory from my childhood was watching the fishmonger skin the cod. + haddock that mam bought.
    I’m going to have to put a scarf on and get outside I’m gibbering.

  4. Julie says:

    I for one enjoy your posts Jan – love markets, fish, fresh veg and jam. The reference made to prestige on facebook I find sad, I hate the damn thing and have tried it but couldn’t hack it. This may be one reason why.

  5. Sorrel grows well in a pot and makes good soup so we can all have a mini kitchen garden, even in cities. I have mint, parsley and basil this year.

  6. Agnieszka Majid says:

    …’hold your head up high on Facebook’… Love it! Perfect.

  7. Jan says:

    Oh thank you Julie. Thanks
    I never got the point of FB to kick off with couldn’t see the point. But then I found specialist groups you could join; Ancient Stones of Britain, history of Somerset, Trees of the British ISles and all of a sudden reading and creating posts about stuff you like makes it more interesting.

    Without that it’s just people you hardly know showing off or whinging or taking pictures of their dinner.

  8. Jan says:

    Had to get up to take ibuprofen and remembered another big Facebook thing it seems to be an ongoing talent show for cats. Other animals occasionally but cats mainly.

  9. Crprod says:

    Most people I know are nicer in person than what they share on FB. Most cat videos are nicer than what is being shared.

  10. Julie says:

    That’s a very good point Jan, I made the mistake of mostly linking to artists and lord! Like a belfast boozer on a saturday night! Sticking to other interests could work 🙂 hope your toothache is better.

  11. Julie says:

    Also noticed the cat thing, i like cats but not that much. Basil grows like mad in pots, love basil.

  12. Jan says:

    Bloody hell this this toothaches turned me into even more of a judgemental Harridan than usual.
    Apologies to all. FB devotees.
    Just one more waspish comment – well maybe – boaty mcboatface we have become the mcboatface people.
    I sort of think we get involved in communication with people we’d probably avoid if we met em in the pub or on a train. I wouldn’t sit next to me on a bus ( ! ) Or part of me would head to the next door seat and the other bit would panic
    Isn’t it a funny thing this writing on blogs and bookface. It’s a strange old thing. Do you think we are more ourselves or less? Is Crprod right and peoplec are normally nicer than their posts?. I got a lovely photo from a,girl I used to work with of her hubby and young child this morning. It was so beautiful. We can idealise our lives on this machine. Does it become harder to be honest or easier? Well enough of this,crap off for a paracetamol.

  13. Jan says:

    Julie mint goes even more barmy than basil. I’d only grow mint in containers now to well…..keep it contained. If you grow it in your garden soil it makes a take over bid. Competes with your nettles.
    Basil is nice.

    Herbs are lovely.
    Wots the difference between a herb and a spice then?

  14. Vivienne says:

    Went to get a new contract on my phone yesterday. I was told I’d used 7 seconds last week and 10 the week before. The chap said Do you mostly use a landline? And I told him I write postcards or see people. I do email and obviously write here and elsewhere but FB has too many cute animals.

  15. Julie says:

    Damn good questions Jan, this is the only site I have posted on for two years, because the blogs are so varied mainly. But I don’t feel it is communication as such, in fact I am not sure what it is.

  16. linda ayres says:

    slightly off topic I know but JAN.. covonia throat spray is brilliant for toothache..kills the pain and stops infection(if there is one) should help until you can get to the dentist.

  17. Jan says:

    Oh thanks Linda you know I think I’ve got a throat spray from last winter. Thanks very much.

    Trouble is I am such a coward I got injured at work years and years back and I went through a stage where I couldn’t be doing with anyone standing close to me hurting me. I know that sounds a bit daft but I honestly couldn’t. Well every now and again ( and this is over a 20 odd year timescale ) when I got toothache I just said to the dentist pull the tooth out crack on get shot of it. Then it got to the point where the dentist refused to pull out anymore teeth cos I wouldn’t be able to chew efficiently. Not this could be a real weird aid to dieting I suppose but best listen to him.

    So last week the young fella I went to see was really good took a couple of x rays made sure no infections and sent me home to see me own dentist tomorrow. I think he was expecting we would be having best of three falls over the fate of these two teeth. The scale of the pain has gone down but I’ve been pretty obviously high as a kite – as my posts probably reveal. Oh and I’m babbling – Oh you realised …oh ok..

  18. Julie says:

    Know how trauma effects your ability to stand closeness Jan. If you can shop around and find someone you feel comfortable with, I was lucky to find an angel in dentist disguise who played jazz or classical music in his surgery and never loomed! After that I was fine seeing anyone.

  19. Julie,
    Basil does grow like mad in pots as you say. Also it gets eaten like mad by slugs. They don’t sem to care for parsley and mint.

  20. Julie says:

    I grow it indoors so the slugs can’t get at it, they do love it though! I would not have thought they were so discerning. In Ireland it is difficult to grow things outside as it is all bog and always raining. Also blight. We have blight warnings on the weather reports.

  21. Helen Martin says:

    Chives will take over whether you put them in containers or not and they’re really hard to pull out. I’ve learned to snap off the purple blooms, which are really pretty, before they can spread their seed. Chives are so good in salad.
    Hope the dentist dealt gently with the teeth today, Jan.

  22. Julie says:

    Hope all is well Jan.

  23. Jan says:

    Hello Helen I was wondering where you were. Hope all is well with you. Yes off to the dentists
    later. Then having g read this burble Chris has written about the inner city in relation to the suburbs in the words of the gr8 Arnie ” I’ll be back”

  24. Jan says:

    Morning Julie

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