November 13, 2012 by LeVoyageur
Alex and I were chatting as we walked into the farmers’ market on Chapel Market in Islington last Sunday, going about our business as usual. Forgetting what day it was, I was struck – everything was so quiet and still. As we moved a little further on, I quickly realized the reason why: everyone had stopped and was standing in silence for two minutes in observance of Remembrance Day.
Even though many people have been posting photos of their veteran loved ones on Facebook, the day had slipped my mind and it was a jarring moment – a halt to normal commerce, a stillness that always shakes me to the core.
And then, somewhere, someone rang a bell and said thank you for taking part in the moment of silence and we were on with our day.
This growing year has been somewhat difficult for many farmers and gardeners, both in the US and UK. Hot weather in the US and rain in the UK have resulted in small crops for many people who either earn a living through agriculture or make the garden part of their home budget, which means expending more for food during the winter in bad gardening years.
We have seen the results of the poor season at the markets here in London. Squashes for example have been smaller and less available in general. Apples, as I’ve noted before, are smaller and less plentiful than we saw in our first two years here. Root vegetables seemed to have done well, and thanks to polytunnels, greens continue to be available almost as normal.
Even so, this is November and the farmers’ markets we use on a regular basis are winding down their fresh fare. The berry man left two weeks ago for the year, promising strawberries in Spring as he waved goodbye. But just as garden produce is becoming thin (and a bit grotty), and rain keeps fair-weather marketers away, game has increased substantially. This is ‘hunting’ season in the UK, or as they call it, ‘shooting.’
Along with wild/semi-raised game, the end of the harvest combined with the approaching holiday season gives rise to the proliferation of canned goods, seasonal puddings (desserts), more types of cheese, honey, and cured meats. Small independent producers of cured sausages, preserves, chutneys, and pickles, beeswax candles, and local honey have become more prominent. We couldn’t help but buy some American-style corn relish and bread and butter pickles. And our cupboards are well-stocked with Cotswold honey!
In addition to the local purveyors of fine foods, merchants from the mainland of Europe have begun to set up markets stalls in increasing numbers as well. This past weekend, traders offering some of the best French and Italian cheeses, meats, and produce stood alongside the stalwarts who make the markets a thriving enterprise all summer long.
So the turning of the seasons is not evident in just the, admittedly, pretty lousy weather. Or in the appearance of chocolate Santas at the grocery store. It’s very much in evidence in the early holiday buzz at the weekly markets. You can almost hear the ideas percolating in shoppers’ minds for festive fare and holiday parties as you walk among the market stalls.
It is, in some ways, my favorite time of year at the market: past peak season, past harvest, in the weeks just before the winter holidays begin. The farmers are working just as hard, but despite the grey weather, a bit of cheer is working its way in – it is the sense of something good, just around the corner, and everyone anticipating a nice, well-deserved break.