Freshwater Country Market, with its variety of goods. Picture by Peter Boam.
WIGHT LIVING HAS the prospect of horse meat in your lasagne or the thought of burgers grown in the laboratory made you yearn for a simpler age of tasty, home-baked meals and vegetables straight from the garden?
As the nation’s favourite comfort television programme, The Great British Bake Off, returns to our screens, Islanders can enjoy the best goodies produced by our home cooks in their own kitchens, without the bother of having to put on an apron themselves and getting cooking.
All that’s is needed is a trip to one of the Island’s four weekly country markets to find tables laden with tempting cakes and preserves, tasty family meals and savoury goodies, vegetables and fruit fresh from the garden and even cut flowers, plants and craft items.
Today (Friday), for example, you could visit the country markets operating in either Freshwater or Newport and buy a family-sized cake for the weekend, some jam made from fruit from the cook’s allotment a couple of miles down the road, a tasty quiche or pie and a whole lot more.
One regular customer at the Thursday market at Ventnor buys all his meals for the week ahead when he makes his visit. Yesterday he could chose from the popular pizzas, made with a scone base, tasty leek and feta pie, crab tarts, plus home-baked cakes and chutneys. In the winter, there are home-prepared stews and casseroles.
And, if anything doesn’t get eaten, he pops it into the freezer, safe in the knowledge it was made with fresh produce just the day before it went on the stall.
Vegetables straight from the garden are a popular buy, and currently there are plenty of courgettes, spinach, cucumbers and lots of different varieties of tomatoes just coming through.
The country market ideology ticks all the right boxes with today’s most demanding customers — most of the ingredients used by the bakers are local, so the air miles count is very low, and it is freshly produced without the use of additives — but the best thing of all is that the produce is very tasty. And, if you were worried, every home baker has been inspected and passed a hygiene test.
Country markets date back almost 100 years, to the time of the First World War, when there was a surplus of food the government wanted used sensibly.
For decades, the markets were operated by the WI and they flourished on the Island. Things changed some years ago when, for technical reasons to do with the WI’s charity status, the markets became co-operative social enterprises.
Today, country markets have some 10,000 members nationally, producing for more than 350 markets. The annual turnover is £10 million, of which £9 million goes back to the producers.
On the Island, two of the oldest markets, Ryde and Shanklin, disbanded some years ago, leaving Newport, Yarmouth and Freshwater — which has been operating for 46 years now.
A couple of years ago, Ventnor Country Market was founded, which quickly outgrew its Community Cafe base and moved to the nearby Baptist Church, where it is flourishing today. Members are delighted to have just got the Eggsellence award from the British Hen Welfare Trust, as members use free-range eggs in all their baking supplied by local farmers, the Brownriggs.
Every Thursday morning, some 15-plus producers run the market and welcome an ever increasing number of Ventnorians, other Island residents and visitors.
A key part of this is deputy market manager Debbie Honeybourne, who became involved through her friend, market manager Jean Minx.
Debbie, like all co-op members, paid five pence to join and now spends the best part of two days a week on her involvement with the market.
On Wednesdays, the day before Ventnor’s Thursday market, Debbie starts baking first thing in the morning. A typical week’s contribution would include crab tarts (with the crab freshly sourced from nearby Ventnor Haven), pork pies and dinosaur shortbread biscuits, named in honour of her young grandson, Rex.
She makes seasonal dishes using garden produce, a summer favourite being Indian-style courgette bakes (suitable for vegans), and a popular gluten free chocolate and almond cake.
After the baking, comes the packaging and labelling and then its off to the market the next day to set up and help at the market.
Like all country markets, Ventnor runs a hamper scheme, where buyers can choose the sort of things they want included, and the hampers are made up ready for collection. Some 30-pus were produced last Christmas.
Shoppers can also organise through their local enterprise for hampers and gifts for relatives and friends to be made up at the market nearest to the recipient and get it delivered, for a small fee in addition to the price of the goods.
As many potential customers are unable to get to a traditional market morning, country markets baking and preserves can now be found in an increasing number of community shops and similar outlets so they can be bought when you do the rest of your shopping. For details of stockists on the Island, see firstname.lastname@example.org
The producers will also bake to order, producing cakes and other goodies for special occasions. Christmas is obviously a busy time and Debbie is already busy making mincemeat for seasonal favourites.
"I love my baking and market days and would encourage people to think about becoming involved themselves," said Debbie.
"They key to what we do is that it is good quality, home made food using the best local produce. You can see where it has come from and know it isn’t full of additives, sugar and salt. It is tasty stuff, just like your mum used to make.
"Country market members are all ages, from all walks of life but they are all passionate about offering the best quality local produce."
Another regular is Gwen Harris, who has been involved for many years, is secretary of the management committee and who produces for the Yarmouth and Freshwater markets.
She is a regular winner at horticultural shows on the Island (two cups at this year’s Chale Show alone) and the buyers of her jams and marmalades are so appreciative she has received letters of thanks from as far afield as America.
"We would love to encourage more people to get involved in the markets and become producers themselves," she said.
Joining is simple. Producers can become members by joining their local society for just five pence and then choose to produce as much or little as they wish. Members are paid for their sales at the end of each month, minus a small commission to cover running costs and insurance.
Country market stalls are run at some of the Island’s big summer events and there will be one at the Wolverton Manor Garden Fair on August 31 and September 1.
Gwen and Debbie encourage new customers to come along and try some fresh produce and potential producers to have a chat to the people running the stall, or visit one of the four weekly market mornings.
"If you enjoy cooking, growing or crafting and would like to earn some money, pop in for a friendly chat and sell some of our delicious home-made produce," said Debbie.
When and where markets are open
Yarmouth Country Market — Every Wednesday from 9.30am to 11.45am at The Institute, St James’s Street.
Ventnor Country Market — Every Thursday from 9.30am to 12.30am at the Baptist Church, Pier Street.
Freshwater Country Market — Every Friday from 9.30am to 11.30am at West Wight Sports Centre, Moa Place.
Newport Country Market — Every Friday from 9am to noon at Holyrood Hall, High Street.