The fourth weekend of the month is always a tricky one for us. On the one hand, we have Coburg just up the road. On the other, Slow Food, which is further away, but slightly more exciting because we don’t see those stallholders so often. And then, on the third hand, one gets an email from Flemington Farmers’ Market promising pomegranates and pine mushrooms and duck à l’orange sausages… and we instantly abandon all other markets in search of such fascinating bounty.
It was an absolutely glorious morning for marketing today, and the stallholders seemed to think so, too – I’ve never seen so many stalls at Flemington before. This is such a great time of year for the markets – we’re still getting the last of the summer fruit (I don’t imagine I’ll be buying strawberries again for a few months, and plums are the only stonefruit left, now), and the late summer harvest of corn, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes is definitely nearing its end – but suddenly the pumpkins are out in dozens of varieties, we can see pears and pomegranates and quinces at the fruit stalls, and leeks, red cabbages, and a wealth of mushrooms and nuts among the veggies.
I want them all. But most of all, I want the pine mushrooms, which are a variety I know I’ve heard of (though I can’t imagine where – I spent a good half hour with my cookbooks and Eat Your Books trying to find a recipe, to no avail), but have never tasted. Our first circuit of the market was interrupted about six stalls in when we encountered the pine mushroom stall. Nothing else was for sale there, just these huge, autumn-coloured mushrooms, that taste like nothing I’ve ever eaten before. They really seem more meaty than mushroomy – they have a nutty sort of taste, and a much firmer texture than any other mushrooms I’ve tried. I can’t imagine them going slimy when cooked, for example. And, of course, they are beautiful.
The stallholder had pieces of cooked mushroom to try, and gave us a quick rundown on how to cook them – just wipe them clean, pull off the bottom of the stalks, and off you go. Yum.
I’ve been hearing rumours about Nougatine’s macarons for quite a while now, but we never seem to be there on the right weekends for them. This week, though we were in luck, and stopped to taste macarons in flavours ranging from balsamic pear to hot cross bun. These were not really in the budget, but we still wound up choosing three each – pear (x2!) and salted caramel for me, and peaer, strawberry-basil and chilli-lime for Andrew. I don’t think this will be our last encounter with this stall.
We then firmly dragged our attention back to the rest of the market, and got most of the way around the circuit before running aground at the astonishing Lockton Farm Gourmet Sausage stall. Oh my. Vegetarians may want to skip this paragraph, but meat-eaters, take heed – this stall has the most incredible range of sausages: Thai chicken, souvlaki lamb, beef with tomato and basil, pork with fennel and apple, Madras beef with cheese, turkey with cranberries, Peking duck, and the aforementioned duck à l’orange. Amazing, amazing stuff. I’ve never had sausages where the flavours of both meat and herbs came through so cleanly. The duck à l’orange was particularly phenomenal, with a beautiful, true, orange flavour. After many tastings and much consultation, we settled on a pack each of the beef with tomato and basil, the Thai chicken, and the duck à l’orange. My mouth is watering just thinking about it (and that right there is why I am *terrible* at being a vegetarian in any long-term sense).
Well, that took up a signficant portion of my budget, but it was entirely worth it. Our next stop was the pomegranate stall, where they had three different kinds of pomegranate to try. I tried them all… but wound up choosing the prettiest one. Because it was beautiful.
Don’t you agree?
(it tasted lovely, too, of course. I know exactly what’s going in my breakfast yoghurt tomorrow…)
I couldn’t believe there were still tomatoes and eggplants around – and capsicums, even! – so my next stop was to the stall selling those. I made this vaguely Greek-inspired lamb sauce with mint and cinnamon and tomato out of my leftover Easter lamb last week, and froze it… now I can layer it with grilled eggplant for a really easy version of moussaka later in the week.
I ordered a tomatillo salsa kit from Farmhouse Direct last weekend, and it arrived mid-week – a kilo of tomatillos, two bulbs of garlic, and about a dozen jalapeño chillis, along with two salsa recipes. So I didn’t need salsa from the salsa store, but I did by some of their delicious-looking tortilla chips.
The next stall had corn, those beautiful deep-red carrots and little leeks, as well as rhubarb and the most beautiful big chunks of pumpkin. I’ve already roasted it in two batches – one for soup on Wednesday, and one for pizzas on Monday…
I’m not usually a fan of red cabbage, but just occasionally one has a yen for it, and it is my opinion that duck à l’orange sausages with red cabbage would be just about a perfect combination. So red cabbage was my goal at the next stall, after which we went looking for apples.
Did you know that it is practically the end of apple season? I thought we had barely started, but apparently this is the case. Of course, Victoria has so many regions that we may well have apples from the northern areas for a good while yet. But nonetheless, I gathered my Fujis while I may (old thyme is still a-frying), because you can’t have red cabbage without apples. There are rules.
Of course, the other thing that goes with red cabbage and sausages is mashed potato, and Ally from Wild Dog was at the market today! It’s always great to see her, and we had a good catch-up about what she was doing, how the farm was going, and when she and John were going to get a holiday. They are growing a few more winter vegetables this year, which makes me happy, and Ally is thinking about getting part-time work off the farm, now that the kids are a little older.
I have to say, the more I talk to farmers at these markets, the more I get the feeling that farming is in many ways a pretty hellish way to earn a living. You are so at the mercy of both the weather and your customers, you can’t really take time off from watering and weeding or feeding the livestock, and income is incredibly seasonal, and, I suspect, incredibly low for the amount of work you do.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that you only get into the food industry if you love feeding people – because the work itself is long, unsociable hours, physically taxing, and, in all but a few cases, very poorly paid, compared to other industries. I suspect farming must be rather the same – you’d have to take a real joy in growing your own food and living remotely, or you’d be miserable.
Or perhaps I have the wrong end of the stick – I’m not an outdoors person, I don’t have much of a green thumb, and I like being able to buy far more cookbooks than any sane person needs, thus I need disposable income. But it astonishes me that we still have enough people growing food in this country to keep us all fed, given that the industry itself doesn’t seem to have many obvious rewards.
I am intensely grateful that so many people are still willing to do the job.
Menu for this week
Sunday dinner: Duck à l’orange sausages, red cabbage with apples, mashed potato, pine mushrooms – and chocolate-ricotta mousse with strawberries for dessert!
Tuesday: Breakfast granola again, leftover pizza for lunch, beef enchiladas with tomatillo salsa for dinner. Possibly also nachos. We shall see.
Wednesday: More breakfast granola for breakfast, leftovers for lunch, pumpkin soup (with leeks, pear, and tandoori masala, for variety) for dinner, possibly with toasted cheese sandwiches, and certainly with rhubarb crumble for dessert
Thursday: Rhubarb crumble for breakfast, soup for lunch, broccoli and sausage pasta for dinner
Friday: Rhubarb crumble for breakfast, lunch might well be at the pub, and dinner will be corn and cauliflower tacos from my new favourite cookbook which I will review this week, I promise, and maybe something else involving tomatillo salsa.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~One Year Ago: In My Kitchen, April 2013 Two years ago: Drive by post, with knives and Shakespeare