Cambridge 27th & Hamilton 28th April

Hello all. The two main markets at Cambridge last Saturday 20th April and Sunday 21st were incredibly lucky to escape the torrential rain which fell all over the country last weekend. We bakers usually check the long range weather forecast on the Wednesday before the weekend and plan our baking amounts accordingly. Well it wasn’t looking too promising for the weekend just passed and old Jim Hickey was warning of heavy downpours with thunderstorms and gale force winds. So it was with trepidation that I set off on Saturday morning with a full load of baking wondering whether I was wasting my time and whether masses of rain soaked biscuits and scones would end up being fed to my  chooks rather than gracing the tables and pantries of my customers. And so it was with amazement and gratefulness on behalf of the stallholders, that the 4 hours of the Cambridge market passed without a drop of rain spoiling the fun and with a terrific number of loyal customers turning out to support us. The same thing happened on Sunday at Hamilton as bang on 12.00 midday, the heavens opened but we didn’t care! We had all enjoyed 4 hours of dry weather in between the bucketings. Now, it doesn’t always happen this way and I have not so fond memories of many drenched markets of which there are about 6 per year. When you think there are 52 weekends in the year, that means that approximately 46 weekends that are dry so that’s not a bad batting average. The markets aim to be open ‘hail, rain or shine’ and in my memory have only been cancelled twice due to weather warnings of high gales and tornadoes which could pose a danger to the public from flying gazebos and tables and chairs and other missiles. So the upshot of all this is, if it is Saturday or Sunday you can be 99.9% sure that regardless of the weather conditions, the markets will be running - unless, that is, a Kansas style twister has been forecast by Jimbo.

If ever there was a tenacious individual Ron is your man. Ron’s Salmon smoking operation is based in Auckland for his sins but he makes the trek from North of the Bombays to Cambridge and Hamilton on Saturday and again early on Sunday unless he has another employee standing in for him. It’s a long trip each way and he has to be set up and ready to sell by 8am so spare a thought for him getting up and driving through the dark along State Highway 1 just so we lucky Waikato-ites can enjoy his succulent hot smoked Gremolata Salmon, fresh scallops and smoked Warehou. He also has Salmon Pate which is stunning and his latest smoking venture has him cold smoking fresh South Island farmed Salmon which produces a completely different product to the hot smoked variety. I asked him how on earth does he get cold smoke? ‘Well,’ he explains, ‘It is a matter of distance’. ‘Okaaay’ says I, trying to sound knowledgable but struggling. He continued :‘If the smoke from the manuka fire is allowed to move through a much longer than usual flue, by the time it gets to the smoke house, it will be cooled sufficiently to give the smokey flavour to the salted and marinated salmon fillets without actually cooking them. It takes up to 3 days to cold smoke salmon and only 12 hours to hot smoke it so when you see the translucent coral fillets of cold smoked salmon you can understand the care required to NOT cook it. The smoking and salting preserves and flavours the salmon and it is then immediately vacuumed packaged. The smoked salmon has a use by date of approximately 1 month post smoking if kept unopened and chilled in the fridge.
Ron is a bit of a chef too and he has come up with a range of delicious looking recipes which you are welcome to pick up at his stall free, gratis and for nothing. These include such yummies as Garlic and Herb Salmon with Scrambled Eggs, Smoked Warehou in Pueto Rican Tomato Sauce on Potato Mash or Ron’s famous Gremolata Smoked Salmon with Roast Vegetable Salad and Feta. Gremolata is a style of topping which Ron as perfected. It consists of a finely chopped dill crust and when a chunk of this fish is served with the lovely deep green topping intact, on top of a rocket salad, heaven just aint too far away. If you haven’t tried Ron’s other seafood and want to know more you can check out his informative website www.salmonman.co.nz . Ron, despite the fact he lives in Auckland , can claim honorary Waikato citizenship due to the length of time he has been ploughing the furrow which is SH1 between Auckland and Hamilton / Cambridge. Let’s hope the new roading schemes will speed up his journey by the promised 30 minutes.
Mavis and Co is another enduring market stall. Jane who owns the business has done what the Farmers’ Market concept aims to do which is to incubate small businesses allowing them a solid start and a cash flow to enable them to expand into bigger businesses. Mavis and Co has developed from being just humble market stall to a 7 day a week high class café in Hamilton East with divine food and coffee which is just a little bit different from your average caff. If you haven’t enjoyed the gorgeous atmosphere of Mavis and Co in Ham East, you can try some of their goodies when having a coffee under the autumnal trees of Sonning Car Park instead. Not quite so flash perhaps but then, it has its own charm. I tried a Gluten Free Pistachio and Maple muffin last week and could’ve easily chowed down a $1 chunk of fudge, only my self restraint kicked in. They have bite size donuts which the kids always enjoy and a range of savoury swirls and mini quiches which, with a tossed mesclun and basil salad from the Ian the Lettuce Man and a few mini tomatoes from Johan The Tomato Man, would make an effortless but rather posh Sunday lunch.

And finally I am going to shamelessly talk about myself. The Celtic Cuisine stall is yet another of the stalwarts of the Farmers Market. Ah yes…..I remember the time when there were only 15 stalls - the good old days, when there was only 1 or 2 customers and we stallholders bought each other’s produce to make it worth our while turning up! Nowadays, my stall has grown exponentially to meet the ever-changing demands of my lovely customers. I specialize in old fashioned baking and my spin is that I take the old recipes and bring them up to date in a health conscious manner by reducing the saturated fat (butter, cream and lard) and using rice bran oils or coconut oils instead and reducing the amount of sugar. I try to increasing the fibre by substituting oatbran and wholemeal flour for some of the white flour. That way home baking becomes good for you or at the very least, better than it used to be.

I am very gratified when customers say to me that they are happy to find ‘earnest and robust’ home baking at the market as they feel the mass produced supermarket baking tends to be lightweight in bulk, flavour and nutrition and full of preservatives, colours and enhancers. Although it is cheap it tends to be, well, disappointing and I quote my customers when I say this.  I enjoy experimenting with old recipes and recently I have added Eccles Cakes and Apple Turnovers to my range. I usually have to explain some my stuff like Bara Brith and Bannocks to new customers but I am astonished by how many New Zealanders know and recognize the Eccles Cakes. Apparently they used to be very common alongside Lammingtons and Sally Lunns in the old bakeries of long ago and perhaps there are some memories of doting grandmothers spoiling their grandchildren with a plate piled high with Eccles cakes and served along with a few glasses of cold milk. Whatever the reason, my Eccles Cakes are a huge hit so if you want some, you had better get in early!