Snow hits Loughton

Well the snow finally arrived on Saturday night and by Sunday morning everything was covered by about five or six inches of the white stuff.

Where's Mr Tumnas?

I spent about two hours being a good citizen and digging and gritting a path from our house down to the street, before heading into town for our monthly farmer’s market.

The Green, covered in white!

Despite the weather, some resourceful stall holders managed to turn up and I was able to get some Gloucester Old Spot sausages for later in the week, but sadly no Wobbly Bottom or Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, no black treacle cure bacon, pressed apple juice or smoked duck was to be had.

What's all this ere?

Neither was there a tasty Angus Burger for breakfast.

St Mary's

I’d built up quite an appetite having shifted all that snow, so it was into the Cafe Belgique (200 Loughton High Street) for some food. We are lucky enough to have one of the Belgique brasserie branches in Loughton, so aside from the usual range of Belgian chocolates and cakes, they also do a very nice line in cooked breakfasts (even though it was by then lunchtime!) . I ordered La Grande Belgique (£7.90), a baguette filled with veal sausages and Eickerlijic rolled pork belly, served with two poached eggs. It was just the thing to take the chill off the day, especially when accompanied by a Hercule Stout.

Hercule Stout, well yes I suppose you could call him that.

Madeira – Plovers, Gulls and Exotic Fruit

Tucked away in a corner Funchal’s old town was our hotel, the Porto Santa Maria. Right on the seafront, the location could not have been better. Along the way to the shops we’d stop off to watch the plovers on the sea wall.


These little birds were remarkably confident, allowing people to get much closer to them than their British cousins do.

Beyond the sea wall is the beach. One thing that people don’t visit Funchal for is the beach.

Herring Gull Housing Estate

Unless they are herring gulls that is, the freshwater mountain streams that empty into the Atlantic through the black volcanic scree of the beach are just the sort of place to wash that salt out of your feathers.

Right in the centre of Funchal is this amazing huge Art Deco building,

Mercado dos Lavradores

It’s not a cinema, but the Mercado dos Lavradores (Worker’s Market). Now I thought I’d seen most kinds of fruit, but the stall holders had a bewildering array of exotic wares on display

Amazing displays of exotic fruits

There were pomegranates, chilis, bananas, mangoes, guavas, custard apples and several different varieties of passion fruits, but I had never seen these before.

Pineapple Bananas

According to the stall holder they were pineapple bananas and indeed the fruit’s flesh had the texture of banana, but a sharp flavour close to that of pineapple. Incidentally should you find yourself in the Mercado, don’t buy fruit from the stall holders upstairs, for some reason they think it is fun to rip tourists off.

The fish market operates from the back of the Mercado.

Fish Market

The long black fish are a local delicacy, the Black Scabbard Fish, which are often served with locally grown bananas. Handsome beasts aren’t they?

Black Scabbard Fish

The Mercado was designed by the architect Edmundo Tavares and the build completed in 1940. More recent artworks could be found on our way back to our hotel. The 19th century houses of the Rua Santa Maria form a Bohemian enclave of workshops and restaurants. Local artists have painted many of the doors with their own designs.

Half a Turtle

Some reflecting their own concerns about surveillance in society.

Keep Watching the Bag Heads

This one was right at the bottom (groan) of the street.

Painted (rear?) door Rua Santa Maria

Smoked Duck Pasta and Purple Salad

If you are lucky enough to have a local farmer’s market you should be able to get a good quality smoked duck breast, if not you might find one on the deli counter at your local supermarket. Duck has quite a rich flavour so I usually find that one beast will do for two to three people.

But first the purple salad.

Purple Salad

Essentially this is shredded red cabbage, a grated carrot, about eight sliced cherry tomatoes and half a finely sliced red onion. Sling in some pine nuts for crunch and a sprinkling of sumak and some sesame seeds. Then make a dressing from the juice of a lime, and an equal quantity if sesame oil and soy sauce, Sling in a dash of Tabasco and you are away.

Smoked Duck Breast Pasta

For the Pasta. Remove the coating of fat from the duck breast, cut it finely and add it to hot pan with some olive oil.  Then fry off a sliced onion and a chopped leek with some garlic and a sliced chili (for heat if you want it) in the rendered duck fat. Add the finely sliced duck breast and some sliced mushrooms and give it a stir about. Chuck in some basil leaves and a grind of black pepper, let it fry for a bit, then chuck in a glass of white wine to deglaze the pan. Turn the heat down a bit, then add a teaspoonful of French mustard and  a pot of single cream.  Let it reduce down a bit, but not too much as you will want it to coat the pasta.

Once it’s done serve over a bed of pasta and grate some cheese over the top.

Edinburgh Farmer’s Market

Well eventually we found it, under the imposing mound of Edinburgh Castle at Castle Terrace.

Edinburgh Farmer's Market

The Farmer’s Market happens every Saturday morning, between 9am and 2pm. I was impressed by both the number of stalls and the quality of the produce. For the carnivore there was a huge variety of species on sale: organic beef, pork, lamb, poultry, venison, ostrich, wild boar, guinea fowl and water buffalo. not just raw meat but sausages and pies too.

We were immediately drawn to the aroma of Puddledub’s water buffalo burgers on the griddle. Now I have eaten water buffalo before and was distinctly unimpressed by the flavour, but Puddledub’s burgers in their white floury rolls were delicious, so maybe I have been unlucky in the past. Apparently buffalo is low in cholesterol and fat too. Puddledub Farm was founded in 2005 with a herd of organic Aberdeen Angus, the water buffalo soon followed and they are about to start farming Jacob (the grandaddy of all domestic) sheep.

Another place we spent a bunch of cash was the Arran Cheese Shop.

Isle of Arran Cheeses

There was such an interesting selection on display that it was hard to know where to stop; wax wrapped slow matured cheddars with caramalised onion and cracked black pepper went into our bag along with cheddars with mustard, claret and chili. We also bought some Dunlop Dairy Smoked Cheese and a round of Lammermiur Smoked Cheese  from the Belhaven Smokehouse. As we were staying in the Travelodge we didn’t risk any of the smoked fish or meats on sale, nice as they looked.

Given that we had a six hour trip home the following day, fruit and veg wasn’t really a practical purchase either, no matter how tempting.

Lovely fresh multi-coloured tomatoes.

However there was home made chocolate and ice cream at Chocolate Tree, who were very generous with their delicious samples, along with cider, fruit juices and hand made soaps.

Who says chocolate doesn't grow on trees

Not to mention whisky and gin from the Spencerfield Spirit Company. Now not many people think of gin as being a Scottish drink, but Edinburgh’s port of Leith was a centre for the drinks trade with exotic spices coming in and spirits going out. Especially important when you remember that the Royal Navy had until 1970 a spirit ration. People often think it was just rum, but in the days of sail the issue used to depend upon what spirits were available on the local markets for the purser to buy. For example the gin distillery in Mahon on the Spanish island of Menorca, was set up to supply gin to the Royal Navy and is still made there today to an original recipe, try it if you can it’s worth searching out.

Edinburgh Gin ans Sheep Dip Whisky

The young lady at Spencerfield’s stall encouraged us sample the Edinburgh Gin and I found it very different to any other gin that I have tried, which is probably due to the pine heather and milk thistle that it is infused with, along with Scottish juniper and eight other botanicals. It was also priced at a bargain £22 at the market, so I bought a bottle for home along with one of Sheep Dip Malt Whisky.

Sheep Dip is named after the Scottish farmer’s tradition of hiding whisky from the excise men in sheep dip barrels and is a blend of sixteen cask aged malts from each of Scotland’s whisky producing areas. It has a delicately scented nose and a malty flavour. This was priced at a market exclusive £25. I also sampled Pig’s Nose, a blend that is said to be as smooth as a pig’s nose, but with no direct experience of a porcine snout I was happy to take the young lady’s word for it, and indeed smooth it was.

This has to be one of the best Farmer’s Markets I have yet visited so if you find yourself in Edinburgh on a Saturday morning I’d encourage you to drop in if only for breakfast. There is even porridge available for vegetarians.

Edinburgh – Saturday Hunting for the Farmer’s Market

We had a bit of a lie in on Saturday morning before going in search of the Farmer’s Market. The only problem was that we only had a vague idea of where it was. Still the weather was absolutely stunning, so unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before we found ourselves sitting on the Castle Arms‘s terrace overlooking the Grassmarket.

View to Grassmarket

So what to drink? Well one of my favourite Scottish beers is made by Innis and Gunn. The story goes that the ale was originally produced to impart a beer flavour to oaken whisky casks, before being pored down the drain, then the workers at the whisky distillery tasted it (more like someone caught them trying it I reckon) and Innis and Gunn Oak aged ale was born. I don’t know how true that is, but the beer does have a lovely toffee like flavour with just a hint of vanilla. So imagine my delight when Nick came back from the bar with not one but two bottles.

“They asked me if we wanted the dark or the light, so I bought us one of each”

Why choose when you can have both

Now the light one is the traditional oak cask ale, while the dark one has been matured in a rum cask and boy can you tell. The flavour just explodes in the back of your mouth all dark rum caramels. This is definitely one to try again.

So as we were sitting there enjoying our beers, along came a Harry Potter tour. According to the guide the view of Edinburgh’s skyline  inspired impoverished. single mum author JK Rowling‘s vision of Hogwarts. Mind you seemingly every cafe in the city is where she wrote Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone.

“You could have made a few quid there” says Nick as they wander off.

“You could have posed as Hagrid for a fiver a shot!”

If only he’d thought of that before they left!

Anyway man can’t live by beer alone, no matter how enticing that idea may be. so we set off towards the Grassmarket, taking the the staircase down  into Victoria Street. Suddenly we were overwhelmed by the smell of roasting pork coming from here.

Grunt if you like it

A whole shop devoted to roasted piggies, after two bottles of Innis and Gunn’s finest how could I resist. Bearing in mind that we were still trying to find Edinburgh’s so far elusive Farmer’s Market and it’s grazing potential, I resisted the temptation of the 260 gram Grunter (£4.60) and the 160 gram Oink (£3.60) and went for the 80 gram Piglet (£2.60).

I'm gonna eat you little piggie

I had mine in a bun with sage and onion stuffing and chili sauce, although haggis and apple sauce are also available. Quite delicious it kept me going while we continued our search. Will we find the Farmer’s Market? Stay tuned for the next installment.

Lincolnshire Poacher and Cote Hill Blue

As you probably know by now I’m a great fan of our monthly Farmer’s Market. Aside from the wonderful cheeses from Wobbly Bottom Farm I also like to stock up on these.

Lincolnshire Poacher and Cote Hill Blue

The two hard cheeses come from the Lincolnshire Poacher, while the soft blue cheese is Cote Hill Farm. Both of these producers use unpasturised milk from their own herds of Holstein cows.

Poacher has a firm texture a bit like some of those hard Swiss and French cheeses like Comte and tastes a bit like a well matured cheddar. There are a couple of varieties, the standard Poacher is matured for about 14 months while the Vintage is for 18 to 22 giving it a deeper flavour. There is also a version cold smoked for 24 hours over oak chips.

My favourite though, is the Double Barrel, which is matured for up to three years for a really strong flavour.

The Poacher farm has been completely organic for ten years. Most of the cow fodder is grown there using only the fertilser that comes from the cows. Lincolnshire Poacher’s philosophy is that happy cows make better cheese, I don’t know whether that is true or not but the cheese is pretty good and I’m glad for the cows anyway.

Cote Hill cheeses are rich and creamy like a Brie or Camembert. They are matured for 12 weeks and there are two varieties the Gold and the Blue.

Keep a look out for both of these cheeses at your local farmer’s market, you won’t regret it.