Food has always been, and continues to be one of my greatest passions in life. It must be in my blood. Both of my parents were amazing cooks, although very different. My father was classically trained, perfecting omelettes at the CafÃ© Royale in London in the fifties, whereas Mum was a creative intuitive cook, able to rustle up modest but delicious suppers with whatever was in the fridge.
A major part of my love of food, is the sourcing and buying of it, and so I have always loved markets, and many a holiday has been centred around going to the abundant daily markets in Europe. (She says with a wistful sighâ€¦)
Hampshire Farmers Markets have been going for twenty years and it has been interesting to see how our local Winchester market has changed over the years, starting off in the carpark in Middle Brook Street and then in the high street, with a bit of back and forth and now in the Broadway.
The second and last Sunday of the month are firmly diarised in my calendar and it is definitely a highlight of the weekend, getting up on a Sunday morning and heading off to the market with whichever family member feels so inclined. Nothing gives me more pleasure than connecting to where our food comes from, chatting to some of the producers, finding out about new produce and products. It truly brings me so much joy.
Last weekend, I ventured to the pretty Petersfield market which is one of the only ones in a traditional square, as I had missed the previous week in Winchester. Many of the stalls are the same, as the producers travel around to the different towns in Hampshire, but there are a few different ones that caught my eye.
I tried some date coffee, aptly named DafÃ©, which is a new stall. I wouldnâ€™t call it a coffee substitute as naturally it is caffeine free, so great for anybody needing to avoid the stimulus of caffeine. It is made in a similar way to coffee, by roasting the dates and then grinding them. The result was a light and fresh drink, slightly sweet, and equally delicious with added milk or plain black.
Late spring/early summer is probably my favourite season for the market, as it marks the wonderful arrival of our local asparagus, and at todayâ€™s market I wasnâ€™t disappointed. There were several stalls selling beautiful asparagus, but I chose Durleighmarsh, as they are known for their asparagus and at this time of year it is their only crop. I chatted toPaul Abbott, owner of Durleighmarsh Farm and was fascinated to learn some top tips. Whilst I already know you should never cut the end of the asparagus off, but rather gently bend it so that it snaps naturally at the right place, thereby avoiding any wastage, what I didnâ€™t know is that if you find your asparagus a little gritty, then you need to gently scrape the little brown triangular scales that grow on the spears as they can sometimes contain a little dirt! Paulâ€™s suggestion is not to steam the asparagus, but to gently fry it in some butter and olive oil (that stops the butter from burning) for 4 or 5 minutes, perhaps with a little garlic.
But do be sure to load up now as the asparagus season will be over before we know it!