There are lots of good things about being based in the little Christchurch suburb of St Albans – we’re only about 30 minutes walk from the city centre, there is the choice of a couple of supermarkets nearby (Edgeware’s bare basics Supervalue and the well stocked Fresh Choice in Merivale) and, best of all, every Saturday morning there’s a market in English Park, just five minutes away from the house. The English Park Market (on Cranford Street from 9am-2pm) has little in common with the kind of food markets that I am used to in Ireland. There are few of the ready prepared gourmet snacks and dishes that characterise Dublin’s Temple Bar Food Market at Meeting House Square, for instance. The English Park Market instead reminds me of Thursdays spent in the Square at Mitchelstown when I was a kid. There’s lots of fruit and veg, with the odd few tatty kids’ toys thrown in for good measure, but where Mitchelstown Market of old loses out is in the quality of produce available here.
Every week, come rain or shine, there’s an organic vegetable and fruit stall with everything from the basic onions, carrots and garlic to silverbeet (a staple over here, like spinach but bigger and stronger in every way), organic and free-range eggs, four types of apple, two types of pear, some knobbly but interesting looking peppers and lots of potatoes. It’s paper bags all the way – perfect for me as I’ve brought my shopping bags with me and I reuse the paper bags for our breadmaker bread.
So, after loading up there – it’s nearly a one-stop shop, but not quite – there are lots of other stalls to explore and one of my first stops will have to be with the Cox’s Orange Pippins man. It’s a tiny stall with stacks of 2 kilo bags of Cox’s at the very fair price of NZ$2. Not that I’m complaining, for his are the best apples that I’ve tasted by far. I choose to ignore the fact that he teased me about being too young to appreciate Cox’s the first day I bought them. With my return each week for another bag, I think I’ve proven otherwise!
As I normally turn up too late to get any good organic tomatoes, I end up buying what are called “soil grown tomatoes”. They still have dirt on them, a good sign in my books, and, most importantly, smell – and taste – like real tomatoes. The tomato stall, which also has a selection of garden plants and herbs for sale, is opposite the little old lady who sells jams and chutneys. Last week she was apologising for not having her usual quota but she had visitors and they disrupted the flow of preserves-making in her kitchen. She still looked well-stocked to me and I never can resist another jar of jam, never mind the fact that the fridge is holding at least four jars at the moment. But I was good and only took one of her small jars, a Black Bot Peach jam. The scent around the stall and her encouragement made me try a selection of her chutneys. While I was initially interested in a pot of tomato chutney, it just took one tangy taste of Lady Rose and I was hooked. Lady Rose is a most delicious yellow Indian-flavoured cucumber chutney made, according to the jam lady, to an old Indian family recipe that she begged off a friend of hers. It’s perfect as a dip, should you have some any stray popodums about the house, and more than moreish with strong cheddar cheese.Once I manage to pay for my jars and move on, there is another vegetable stall to look over. Not organic, but the owner he sells good quality generous bags of green beans (perfect blanched and thrown into a stir fry), bunches of late season radishes which are a good addition to a tray of roast vegetables and, if you’ve missed out in the organic section, green leafy bunches of spinach and unblemished broccoli. Glencroft Downs is a Canterbury farm, not far from Christchurch, and they always, even on the worst of days, have a freezer trailer at the market, packed full of organic lamb, beef, pork and whole chickens for meat feast days. Their sign proclaims that “Farm Tours are also available by appointment” – an offer that I’ll have to take them up on at some stage.If, at that stage, bags bulging, you manage to leave then it’s an opportunity to praise yourself. For me, however, it is always necessary to browse through the second-hand stalls. There are always bargains available whether it’s cookbooks (The Good Cook – Biscuits, dating from 1982, is a recent purchase), kitchenware (in the past I’ve managed to buy a very useful bone-handled knife sharpener and an old enamelled baking tin which gets put to good use) and last week I narrowly avoided buying a handheld electric mixer and had to be dragged away from an oh-so-seventies-looking yoghurt maker. There are limits!It’s lucky we live so close to the English Park Market because my arms invariably feel like they’re getting well stretched on the way home. But when I do get here, there’s the thrill of emptying the bags and seeing just what I have managed to carry home. Often the produce that I find at the market will have me scrabbling for recipes I remember seeing in a cookbook. There’s one thing for sure – Saturday night’s dinner is going to be a feast!