I can smell them through the rain which is splattering on the awnings of the stalls and the cellophane packets of teacakes, cherry scones and sausages, wetting the necks of buyers at the Spanish churros stall and dampening the bags of potatoes over by the car park. Kippers.
Smoke curls round the open door of an old wardrobe, converted Heath-Robinson style into a portable herring smoker. The split herrings hang kippering like small bronzed jackets on rods stretched across smouldering sawdust. At £3.95 a pair they are irresistible.
This is Bakewell Farmers’ Market in the Agricultural Business Centre on the northern outskirts of the town, held on the last Saturday of every month. Bakewell’s weekly Monday cattle and general market goes back to at least 1330 but the farmers’ market is considerably younger. Even so, it is so successful it claims that with around 70 stalls and some 5,000 visitors a month it is the second biggest after Winchester.
Unlike some farmers’ markets where there are as many craft as food stalls almost every one here has something edible for sale. And when they don’t they are closely connected with food as with the wooden rolling pins made by bearded woodturner Matt in the main hall.
Farmers’ markets take in products from a 30 mile radius but Bakewell’s stretches from Cheshire to Lincolnshire and, in the case of the Zebra steaks, not some redundant zoo but a farm in Zimbabwe.
We haven’t been here for ages and first I want to see if there’s an outside stall still selling bags of wonderful cheap potatoes. There is, just a trestle table and a few bags with Morfona spuds selling at £4 for 12.5 kilos. They are from, says a notice, “a small family farm at Wormhill near Buxton.” A girl heaves down a bag from a lorry parked close by.
While I put the potatoes in the boot my wife goes shopping in the main hall where it’s warm and dry. She buys Red Lincolnshire from the Lincolnshire Poacher dairy and Stilton and farmhouse cheddar from the Franjoy Dairy near Belper and a stuffed, bacon-wrapped pork fillet to roast from the Armstrong family of New Close Farm at Over Haddon, not far out of Bakewell. We once went away from Christmas by ourselves and had one for Christmas Lunch.
At every stall there’s great produce served by people happy to have a chat. Market shopping is a warmer and friendlier experience than in a supermarket.
“Try the duck and orange, it’s our most popular flavour,” says the blonde in a polka dot pinny busy spreading potted meat onto bits of bread at Granny Mary’s Potted Meats stall. “Like pate but better” trumpets a poster behind her. It is good (love the orangey tang) and we buy two, the other is beef, and enjoy it for tea that night.
I think it’s a premier version of that old-time Sutherland’s Spread, once a Sheffield potted meat factory, and I’m not far wrong because this Matlock-based company was started up by William Sutherland, great grandson of founder Eddie Sutherland back in the 1920s. The family have long sold the original business.
You could spend a fortune in this market and all of it would be good stuff. We buy two sirloin steaks from a butcher who can usually tell you the name of the cow they came from. This time we didn’t ask.
There’s a queue, as always, at the mushroom stall with its fancy varieties, and I hesitate in front of Cheshire-based Galore!’s marmalade stall and its wild rosehip syrup – “Mix with sparkling wine to make a Hip Royale.” No, we’ve spent up, I’ll pick them myself this autumn.
We have a good mug of tea at the Farmers’ Feast café in the hall while waiting for the rain to end. I pop into the gents leaving my wife outside Hall 2 next to the Old Testament figure of author John Butler, in beard and beret, a man who once had a mystical experience in the Arizona desert. He is selling copies of his book, Wonder of Spiritual Unfoldment (available on Amazon).
Did he say anything spiritual? I asked my wife as we walked to the car. “No, we talked about the weather,” she said.
The next Bakewell Farmers’ Market is on April 25 (9am-2pm).