'Most shoppers are growing tired of overpriced and flavourless supermarket produce and [are] turning to more traditional food retail outlets — their local farmer's and grower's markets'.
— Introduction to The Farmers' Market Family Cookbook.
On Saturday mornings when Peter and I visit our local Farmer's Market, I am reminded of a para Michael Symons wrote in closing his comprehensive history of food and eating in Australia, One Continuous Picnic: 'Good food has never come from factory farms, process lines, canteens, supermarkets and fastfood chains. It belongs to careful vegetable gardeners, painstaking cheesemakers and dedicated chef-patrons, meeting in the bustling market-place'. Food for thought, no!?
With this in mind, the team at Murdoch Books are to be heartily applauded for one of the latest titles: The Farmers' Market Family Cookbook. In the introduction, the authors note that modern consumers have become increasingly separated from the source of our food. Over the last decade, however, there has been 'a quiet but significant shift in food shopping options', with the rise in popularity of grower's and farmer's markets.
There is indeed much to learn from the peasant farmers and market gardeners, who have always been close to the food they eat — preparing it with respect and making every meal a celebration. Traditionally, food is freshly picked and gathered, and taken to the marketplace to sell direct to the buyer. There is no middle man, no long periods in cold storage, no gas-induced ripening, and no specially developed varieties bred to withstand the rigours of long distance distribution.
Provenance, freshness, flavour and seasonal availability are back on the agenda for chefs, home cooks and food enthusiasts alike. 'Urbanites can't hope to turn back clocks and exist in rural idylls, but they can, through patronage of a local market, move closer to that place and the person that is the source of their food'. Of course, not everyone has access to a farmer's market and thus it becomes necessary to source a reliable greengrocer. As the writers of The Farmers' Market Family Cookbook suggest: 'Settle for nothing less than perfectly in-season, full-flavoured produce. Cook it beautifully and reconnect with the seasonal rhythms that give such a meaningful pace to each and every year'.
Fresh produce is the focus of The Farmers' Market Family Cookbook and there is an outstanding selection of more than 100 recipes. The chapters are divided into Vegetables; Fruit; Meat, Poultry and Seafood; Dairy; and Nuts and Spices. Also included are useful hints on selection and storage on a range of items. For example, did you know that you should ensure that pistachio nuts should be allowed to open naturally on the tree, as their flavour will be superior. And once the shell has split, they have a limited shelf life!
To my mind, the mark of a great cookbook is one that has me flagging several pages for recipes that I am keen to try. The Farmers' Market Family Cookbook is well flagged, dear readers! There is a French Shallot Tatin that is begging to be cooked. A ricotta filled Sweet Potato Ravioli is also on the list. 'Spring on a plate' is how the Warm Salad of Watercress, Citrus and Spring Lamb is described. Yum! Oh, and the Apple Galette with apricot jam is a definite. In fact that is one for tomorrow evening. I have also flagged the pages for mini Mango and Passionfruit Pies; a Sticky Orange and Passionfruit Pudding; Smoked Trout Gougere; Lime and Ricotta Pudding; and Vodka and Juniper Cured Salmon; among a number of others.
Each recipe is accompanied by a mouthwatering photograph. I am always curious to know which photographers are behind the images in cookery books. Shannon Blanchard, Publicist at Murdoch Books, advised me that there were a number of contributing photographers to this title.
So, on to the road test. Peter's favourite vegetable is corn and he enjoys a hearty breakfast on weekends, so the Corn and Polenta Pancakes with Bacon and Maple Syrup on page 28 rated number one on my road test meter. Better still, a grower was selling tri-colour corn at the Farmer's Market and we had a bottle of Turkey Hill maple syrup that was given to us as a gift from a friend who had recently travelled to Canada. My interpretation of the recipe is as follows:
CORN AND POLENTA PANCAKES WITH BACON AND MAPLE SYRUP
90g or 3/4 cup self-raising flour
110g or 3/4 cup fine polenta
310g or 1 1/2 cups sweet corn kernels (about three small cobs)
375mls or 1 1/2 cups milk
a little spray of light olive oil, for frying
8 slices rindless bacon
1/2 cup maple syrup
Mix together the flour and polenta in a bowl. Add the corn and a little of the milk. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the remaining milk. Note: I found the mixture was a little too runny with the quantities listed above, so I added a little extra polenta. Use your judgement.
Heat a frypan or griddle and spray lightly with light olive oil. Spoon the batter into pancakes shapes and cook over a medium heat for about two minutes on each side until cooked through. Meanwhile, cook the bacon and drain it on paper towels. Serve the pancakes with a bacon rasher on top and drizzle generously with maple syrup. This recipe will serve 4-6.
The verdict: the pancakes were quick and easy to prepare. They were tasty and had great texture, but we found them to be quite filling so next time we will happily eat just eat one each. (The remaining pancakes were refrigerated overnight and reheated perfectly well for breakfast the following morning).
The Farmers' Market Family Cookbook: Recipes from the Murdoch Books Test Kitchen (Murdoch Books) $34.99. An inspiring and beautifully presented book that celebrates cooking with the best of market fresh produce.
With many thanks to Shannon at Murdoch Books and the talented cooks in the Murdoch Books Test Kitchen.
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