Our visit to Horsforth is the first in a series of articles about the various Farmers’ Markets in Leeds and the surrounding area.
We are so lucky to have some of the most amazing food producing areas on our doorstep. There is the Pennines, which is ideal for sheep, the dairy herds of Wensleydale for the cheese and butter, the East Coast which provides the best fish in the country and let us not forget The Rhubarb Triangle. The wool for which Yorkshire is so famous is of the highest quality for local artisans to work with. Not for nothing is there a sheep at the centre of the Leeds Coat of Arms.
In these days of supermarket behemoths, there is a certain pleasure in being able to buy direct from the people who have grown, processed or manufactured the items on sale and have a chat about the provenance of the goods. Without exception the producers are really proud about what they do and you can have a bit of banter with most. It is also great to be able to pay without having some disembodied voice announce that there is an unidentified item in the bagging area or have to wait for ages until someone sees that the red light has come on at the checkout as my age needs to be verified before I can pay for my booze.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to be said for being able to get everything you need in one place when you are in a rush. Our more liberal tastes mean that we also demand foods which are produced on the other side of the planet, either because they are unable to grow in the British climate or we must have strawberries in November for last night’s Bake Off recipe which was recorded in July. You can’t beat fresh locally produced seasonal food and I would be appalled if we were able to buy Jersey Royal potatoes all year round, as they are the harbinger of summer.
On to business. My first stop was Horsforth Farmers’ Market which is held on the first Saturday of every month at St Margaret’s Primary School on Town Street. The setting is quite intimate as it is split into two sections divided by a low stone wall, so there are not a lot of stalls in each half. The produce on the first stand was far from local, specialising in olives and olive oil. The fruit is grown on the family farm in Crete so is authentic, as is the Cretian cheese on sale. Despite the food miles involved in transporting the olive oil to Horsforth, there is a genuine attempt to save the planet as you can take your own container to be filled from a dispenser. Nice touch. If the olive oil had to travel quite a long way, the same could not be said about the produce on the neighbouring stall which was Horsforth Blossom Honey. A fresh fish van was doing a good trade and on speaking to the owner it was easy to see why. He makes the 180 mile round trip every month from Grimsby in his refrigerated van with freshly caught fish, as he loves this market.
There were too many stalls for me to list individually but they ranged from those selling the usual suspects such as eggs, meat, cheese, preserves, pies, strawberries, bread and bagels, through to more exotic fare with Italian and Indian dishes made with local produce; Yorkshire Haloumi cheese anyone? Those with food intolerances were catered for by a gluten, dairy and fat-free food stall. There was also a stand catering for vegans which had samples of their potato cakes. They were delicious and instantly took me back to my childhood when my father would cook kosher food on the evenings his Jewish friends came for a meal and I always insisted we had latkes, or blintzes as they are also known. The salt beef was obviously not an option here.
This Farmers’ Market is much more than a place to buy food; it is a local social event. There was a huge Connect 4 frame and hoola hoop for the kids, big and small, and a set of music provided by Richard Stirland and his guitar. Very good he was, too. He had to yield for a few minutes though as we were treated to a dance demonstration to the Blues Brothers classic, Shake A Tail Feather, by the local mother and baby group.
I had had a great time but decided that I needed to take Jake and Elwood’s advice so headed back to the station laden with olives, bread, bagels, strawberries and cannoli. I had proved to myself yet again that I can resist anything but temptation.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.