Annie Stirk heads visits Holmfirth farmers' market
Our food and drink consultant Annie Stirk heads for a favourite farmers' market in her search for everything delicious in Yorkshire
Holmfirth is probably best known as a place of pilgrimage for fans of the long-running TV series Last of the Summer Wine. Each year tourists arrive by the coach load to see the wonderful countryside that is the back drop to the programme especially now when it is coming to an end.
However, this small yet bustling town in the heart of the Holme Valley, in West Yorkshire, has now given discerning foodies an even better reason to visit by hosting one of the best farmers’ markets in the whole of Yorkshire.
Although their origins lie in the USA, farmers’ markets have taken off in a big way over the last few years here in the UK because of the growing demand for locally-produced food. They offer an opportunity for producers to sell directly to the public, cutting out the middleman, and for customers to buy the freshest possible local produce.
All genuine farmers’ markets are independently assessed and certified by FARMA, the National Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association, to ensure that customers are being offered authentic local produce. Strict rules govern the process, and all the goods on offer must be grown or made in a defined local area and sold directly by the person responsible for producing them.
So what are the benefits of shopping at a farmers’ market? Obviously the major advantage is that produce bought there is as fresh as it possibly can be and has also travelled very few miles to arrive at the point of sale – an issue which concerns many of us these days.
There is also the satisfaction of supporting local farmers and the local economy, which benefits everyone. But one of the main reasons customers enjoy a farmers’ market is that they have the opportunity to actually meet and make friends with the people who are producing the food they eat, bringing a real feeling of community spirit to their shopping experience.
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Holmfirth was one of the very first towns in the country to start a farmers’ market, and it has now been well established for 15 years.
It sells an impressive array of local produce, including top quality meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables, as well as a really interesting selection of cakes, preserves and many other more specialist products.
One of the original founders of the market is Steve Holmes of the Far Isle Farm butchery. Steve’s daughter Angela runs their stall and has only missed one market in all the years it has been going. Steve farms Aberdeen Angus and other traditional breeds of beef at Oxenhope near Howarth, and amongst the more unusual delicacies he offers are roasted marrow bones, pigs’ ears and trotters.
Another market stalwart is, ironically, a Lancastrian company, highlighting the proximity of Holmfirth to the county border. The Port of Lancaster Smokehouse offers a fabulous range of smoked delicacies including halibut, eel and goose alongside the more traditional salmon. The pudding course isn’t forgotten either; they also sell the famous Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding, so you can pick up an entire three-course meal.
Not all stallholders come from a farming background however; Bob Thorpe previously worked in television, but is now spending a fruitful retirement producing homemade preserves and chutneys. An inventive chap, he has even developed his own unique recipes such as Choir Chutney, a tribute to the Huddersfield Choral Society. ‘I swear it’s the secret of their singing success,’ he says. Apart from anything else, Bob really enjoys the bonhomie of the market community.
In addition to the more traditional food producers, there are many more unusual products on offer. Adriano Baldi, an Italian who has lived in the UK for 30 years, has been selling at the market for just over a year. Having picked mushrooms since he was a boy, he is now keen to spread his passion for them throughout Yorkshire.
Adriano grows a range of mushrooms from the popular porcinis and Portobellos to less well-known species such as blewits; he also still loves to go foraging and has developed a devoted following of fellow fungus fans. Another ‘foreign’ Yorkshire company at the market is The Old Bridge Bakery. Despite its traditional-sounding name, its owners, the Christofis, hail from Cyprus but have been baking in Holmfirth for 16 years. They use local flour from a miller in Castleford and bring a touch of home to the market with a delicious Greek feta cheese and fresh spinach bread.
‘Our big thing is hand-crafted breads,’ says Mandy Christofi. ‘And we often visit local schools to talk about the bread-making process and explain the importance of healthy eating.’
It’s also good to see new businesses getting in on the act. Deborah Jayne’s Tarts for All Occasions is certainly an eye-catching affair; its d�cor more akin to a boudoir than a market stall.
Malaysian-born Susan Connor of Brighouse is an architect by profession but is also obsessed with food. She has found an outlet for her foodie side by creating her Daisy Bank range of sauces, growing her own chillies and herbs at home in poly tunnels. She also makes a superb fresh curry paste. The diversity that small producers such as Deborah and Susan bring to the market really broadens its appeal, helping to draw in more visitors.
Talking to shoppers as they go about their errands, it’s clear that the market has many devoted followers who come here very regularly. One of them, David Maclagan, lived in France for many years and is well used to the concept of eating fresh and buying locally.
He is full of praise for the Holmfirth market and has been using it for three years. ‘The products I buy most are bread, pies and Brickyard organic vegetables,’ he says. ‘And I reckon that Adriano’s mushroom stall is as good as any I’ve ever seen in France, a nation where country folk are obsessed with fungi.’
In David’s basket I saw a delicious-looking rabbit and mushroom pie. ‘I’m going to have this for my supper tonight with some new potatoes and broad beans,’ he says. ‘You can’t get food fresher than this. People like to buy produce from the people who produce it, and they like to get to know them and become friends. I always get excited about coming here, not knowing what I might find to buy.’
Holmfirth Farmers’ Market takes place on the third Sunday of every month from 8 am until 2 pm.
There are many farmers’ markets around Yorkshire and we would like to hear about your favourite so please email us at email@example.com telling us where and when it is held and why you like the market so much. You can also leave comments below