The Cheapskate’s Guide to Farmer’s Markets

Yet again Freeborn, your inability to be a real adult has got the better of you. All your friends have abandoned you to go to the beach because you didn’t get out of bed before 10am. What are you going to do with yourself now, you lazy bastard?

Now isn’t the time for personal attacks, subconscious – I’ve not yet had a cup of tea. If you must know, I thought I’d go to the farmer’s market.

The farmer’s market? Are you insane? You always joke about fondling the wellness olives and people selling cheese made out of Gwyneth Paltrow’s vaginal yeast. Plus you’ve only got £125.78 to your name and you’ve not paid for electricity this month yet.

I know, I know. It’s all really expensive. But I don’t have to buy anything. I could just go an talk to some nice producers, couldn’t I? I’d wander around a bit. Gaze longingly at the cultured farmhouse butter.

Don’t kid yourself, Freeborn, you’re a sucker for charcuterie

Well there’s sod all else to do so I might as well go and see what it’s about. Shut it, bloody subconscious.

***

I had this conversation with myself at around 10:30am on Saturday. By midday, I had fulfilled my curiosity and experienced middle class utopia for myself. It was glorious. I’d chatted to people who made fudge, cheeses, and venison bresaola, and I’d only spent 7 of my precious pounds. I’d bought myself a large block of hard ewe’s cheese, a smoked chicken breast and a pack of oak-smoked streaky bacon so well marbled that an ancient Greek architect might want it for stairs.

But all that, organically, at a farmer’s market in Edinburgh, for £7? My subconscious was wrong. You can do it cheaply. Ok, it’s not supermarket prices, but I challenge you to find smoked chicken breast at Lidl, and unpasteurised sheep’s cheese anywhere else for £16/kg. And the bacon was oak-smoked-over-aged-whiskey-barrel-chips flavour. Money can’t buy that many adjectives in a row commercially, not even at Waitrose.

My secret to finding proper bargains is that I am an unrivalled tight-arse with expensive taste. I make regular trips to the ‘trose or M&S in hope of discount bounty, but am happy to come out empty-handed if there is nothing adequately yellow-stickered enough for dinner. The lack of explicit pricing at farmers markets, which errs on the side of unreasonable, had always instilled fear into my debt-riddled student bones. So imagine my delight to find the chicken breast in a half-price bucket at the butcher stand, and the Ewe’s cheese in the ‘damaged’ box on a particular dairy stall. I could have kissed the stall lady on the nose, but I think we’re both glad I didn’t.

Although I’d gone in with the aim of spending as little money as possible, the bakery stands looked stunning; all sorts of sourdoughs made with different grains like rye and spelt and ground artisan hay bales. I was in search of a worthy vehicle for some Breton butter scrounged on my last yellow-sticker mine-sweep of Waitrose, and this bread looked like just the ticket. I imagined it melted slightly, dripping through the holes in thick toasted slices. I thought about using the crusts to mop the clarified excess. I joined the queue. And then I overheard the prices being quoted at the lady in front of me.

No 250g sourdough boule is worth £3.80. Hell, 250g is a little more than a quarter of a normal loaf which is what you’d go through in a particularly greedy ‘toast-butter-marmite’ pre-dinner snack. The price of good meat and cheese is high because the animal takes time, resources and effort to raise. But I don’t care how artisan your sourdough is, or how much of that famed ‘lactic tang’ it has – at the end of the day, it’s flour and water and I’m being completely ripped off.

The lady in front of me in the queue didn’t seem to mind being financially haemorrhaged by the promise of natural yeasts, but I baulked and dashed to the nearest Sainsbury’s to buy one of their 35p seeded rolls instead. And so ended, ungracefully, my otherwise successful farmer’s market trip. I learned a lot, had a good time, and will go back there again if my friends abandon me for the beach on another sunny Saturday morning.

***

Yes, it says guide in the title, and a guide you shall have. I don’t want to cheat anyone out of actually gaining something useful from my gratuitous bollocks.

Here are my top tips for being significantly less wealthy than everyone else at a farmer’s market:

  1. Find the bargain bins ASAP
  2. Don’t be a fussy eater
  3. Schmooze your way into getting free cheese samples by being all smiley and asking what the cows are called.
  4. Go 30 minutes before the end in the hope of a good deal
  5. Take your budget in cash (corona permitting)
  6. Try to spot the often well-hidden price-lists behind the stall before getting in the queue.
  7. Make sure to smile and nod at the weird man with the colander on his head who’s been doing yoga in the line in front of you.
  8. Laugh at someone who’s decided to call their poor child Wilfred
  9. Remember that you’re called Felicity and you don’t have a leg to stand on in this respect.

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