Covent Garden Real Food Market: the groundwork

There’s been time to digest (literally) and to kick back and have a glass of prosecco or two and to think about our stall at the Covent Garden Real Food Market last week. It was a lot of work, but more importantly it was a lot of fun, and a real pleasure to be involved and meet so many lovely and interesting people.

When I was first approached about this earlier this year, I was really keen and full of ideas. Working as I do as a contractor in New Media, there is some flexibility in my job, and I thought I might be free at that point and might have all the time in the world to think, organise and prepare. To come up with some dishes, new and old favourites. I had to do it.

I could only commit to doing it once realistically, as at that stage, caught in the middle of a recession as the rest of the world was (for it is not only about I!), I just didn’t know what my situation would be like, so I chose a date, and settled on that. Of course life has a habit of conspiring against plans, and some things happened which meant that I just didn’t have the time I wanted to do this the way I wanted. My lovely first niece was born, and I would be in Ireland for her christening for 4 days the weekend before the stall. I was also finishing a contract, and tying up all of the loose ends, so I couldn’t take more than a day off, and that was the day of the stall itself.

What to do? I really didn’t know. I approached Denise from The Wine Sleuth and asked her if she would be interested in partnering. We had spoken previously about doing a pop-up bar but it just hadn’t happened yet. She was keen and I was happy. But, still, what to do?

The most important thing was that we offered quality and something to be proud of. I also wanted to contribute and not just be a vessel to promote food products that I like. But I had no time! Time for compromise and thinking laterally.

I thought that it would be lovely if the food were Irish. People always slate Irish food or claim that the cuisine doesn’t exist, which might have been a fair claim in the time of impoverished occupied Ireland, but even then, there was a peasant cuisine, and a good one too. Now, the Irish food scene has a sturdy back bone and lots to offer. We have some superb quality produce, from dairy to meat to fish, oatmeal to flour. Industry is on a smaller scale and produce is generally excellent.

A perfect example of this high quality produce is an artisan one from Cork – Frank Hederman’s smoked salmon. I’ve long been a fan and love it when I go home on homemade soda bread and cucumber pickle. Oh, well, why don’t I do that?! Done.

I called Frank and arranged to visit and purchase some of his lovely fish. He was open to it and very helpful, and provided me with a box perfect for hand luggage (once you’re not flying Ryan Air!), which many Irish eyes queried as I walked past. I could see the internal commentary – WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?! I smiled surreptitiously, and kept my glorious cargo by my side.

I was tired when we got in, spilling a whole bottle of sparkling water on the tube and thinking – argh! the fish! – thankfully it was untouched, the same could not be said for my clothes, but I didn’t care about that. Is the fish ok? Yes? Well, that’s fine then.

Roll on tube delays, little sleep and work the next morning. Home late, and a long day again the next day. Cut to me in the supermarket at 9pm on Wednesday night, the night before the market, buying my bodyweight in cucumbers, wholemeal and plain flour, cider vinegar, sugar and milk. I’d brought my wheels, a two wheel suitcase, drawing much confused attention from the cashier. Are you going on.. er.. holiday? No, I chuckled, but I need to get this stuff home.

And I did. I started slicing cucumbers with my mandoline, but the slices were too thick, so I commenced by hand, watching Sex & the City repeats and consoling myself with some wine as I went. 3 cucumbers. Getting there. 5. Only 5? 5 more?

Maybe I can do just 8? No, do 10. Argh! The torture.

Once complete, I felt relieved and congratulated myself with another glass of wine… Time to heat some cider vinegar with some sugar and salt, just enough to dissolve it, then cool, pour over the cucumbers, and leave to pickle in the fridge over night.

It’s 12am. Surely time for bed now? No, for I was wired. I’m a night owl anyway, and feeling invincible I surveyed by pickled kingdom, had a further tipple, and set off to bed at 1.30am, with the alarm set for 5am to commence soda bread baking.

Now soda bread is surprisingly easy. An old peasant bread, there was no time for aerating or fussing, just mix it all up, and bake it. Divided in four so that it could be quartered to eat in the fields, pricking a hole in each quarter to let the fairies out (yes, really). Cooked on a high heat for 20 minutes and then reduced for 20-25 minutes, you can tell it’s cooked if when you knock on it when turned upside down, it sounds hollow.

So, knock, knock, knock, any fairies there?! Eight loaves later, I surveyed the next batch and thought, I can’t do it. I can’t make another bread, let the fairies out, knock and see if they’re home, and repeat. So, I made a batch of scones, which had no fairies in or out, and finished.

9.30 am. Eeeek! Time to shower after all that baking and run to the market. I hadn’t factored in a number of things. Soda bread is heavy. Very, very  heavy. 9 loaves is bloody ridiculous. My wheels, as I said, are on a case, and I hadn’t the foresight to organise transport thinking that all would be ok. I am invincible, remember? And very, very strong. More problems, butter melts next to hot bread, I discovered this pretty quickly, and my departing and arrival stations both had steps. Bugger.

I am never one to give up, so with one big case, a beach bag (yes!) and a big canvas bag full of my wares, I made my way to Covent Garden to collect the prosecco, which was being delivered that day by the lovely people from Bibendum, who despite knowing me, agreed to my suggestion of meeting the courier on a street corner. Believe it or not, it worked out. Dan is a star for organising and trusting me despite all signs that he shouldn’t. I am one happy customer, and I will be buying from them again.

Time to setup. I whip out my new tablecloth, and borrow some markers, lay out our wares, and scribble our menu. It’s a gorgeous day, the sun is hot, people are smiling, and we are good to go.



Written by Niamh
Cooking and travelling, and sharing it all with you.