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What I Love About Where I Live: Market Days in Bury St. Edmunds

I love shopping at open markets.  My very first experience with this was waking up before dawn, and heading out with our cook, Nang Sarah, when I was a little girl in the Philippines.  I mostly remember the energy of the market– everyone talking at once, haggling, grabbing fruits and vegetables to assess and weigh them…  And, of course there were the smells!  Dried fish piled high, fresh seafood being cleaned, and every other kind of meat being butchered to order.  I learned by observation, to look closely at what was being offered, to find the best quality and prices, and to be a keen and loyal buyer.I have actually never lived in a place that did not have open markets.  In my early twenties in California, I arranged my whole work and school schedule around going to the Whittier farmer’s market.  I loved seeing the same people each week, developing those connections with the vendors, and learning about my food.

In Germany, this was one of the first ways I integrated into regular life in Amberg. I went to the market square several times each week to shop.  I had to speak German, and so my food vocabulary grew faster than anything else.  It didn’t take long for vendors to start to recognize me, and they were so kind about my weak, apprehensive Deutsch.  It felt so good to me to be going about life just like the people around me, buying ingredients for that night’s dinner, discovering food items that were unique to the region.I know that shopping frequently is really unusual (and probably seems crazy to many) in the USA.  Most families shop as little as possible, stocking up their cupboards, fridges and freezers.  That’s just not what I am used to, and it feels good to me to shop often, planning my meals each day around what looks best.Farmers markets are making a comeback in England.  Most areas have had them for about ten years, at the most.  Bury St. Edmunds is considered a market town, because they have two markets each week.  Unlike the typical markets in the US (or Germany, in my experience) these have  a lot more going on than fresh produce.  There are people selling pretty much anything you can think of– clothes, books, home repair items, dog beds, fabric and notions, vacuum cleaners…  The feeling is definitely different from the sort of country-bliss scene you might expect in a place like Suffolk.  The other thing is that most of the produce is not local!  Much of it is imported from places like Greece, Turkey, Spain, and even China.  And it is cheap– in quality and price.  It was fairly easy to pick out the two vendors that were selling mainly local produce, and they are the ones I buy from each week.  There is also a really good fish monger, and we try to have a seafood meal once or twice a week.And, at last, we have an organic farm selling at our market!  This is a really big deal.  Plus, they carry heirloom varieties, and lots of greens– something I have found conspicuously absent here, with the exception of cabbages.  Yes, their produce costs more.  But it is worth more.  I try to buy as much as I possibly can from them, after carefully considering the most economical way to do so.  They have the most incredible salad greens right now, which are a tart and peppery blend of arugula, sorrel, mizuna, frisee, miners lettuce, and mustard greens.  And they are one of the only ones selling fresh herbs (really surprising, right?) So now I enjoy the busy market days more than ever.  It’s a  nice time to be out with the rest of the town.  English people do tend to keep to themselves, so this is one venue where I can participate in town life, chat with the vendors who all recognize me now, and are happy to see me, amazingly enough!  And of course, there are always the flowers… They were four bunches for £5 today, so I brought some home and made this bouquet:

I’m so glad for our market!  I consider myself lucky to live in a “market town” here in England, and do not take access to fresh, organic produce for granted.

Do you have access to a market where you live?  What is your first memory of shopping at an open market?

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24 Responses to What I Love About Where I Live: Market Days in Bury St. Edmunds

  1. Gretchen September 26, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    It’s funny, I always feel a little befuddled about how to find the best produce! And when I do how to use it all. I do stock up on blueberries, strawberries and whatever else is inexpensive at Costco and we do go through them but farmers markets as much as I love wandering through them confuse me! It sounds silly to be confused over lovely produce but I don’t want to buy beautiful expensive heirloom tomatoes and then accidentally not eat them.
    I always go for the local honey vendor and feel quite confident about those little honey sticks…..

    • Ariana Mullins September 27, 2012 at 8:34 am #

      Gretchen, your comment may be the inspiration behind some upcoming posts! For now, though, I would say that most good produce can be identified by firm flesh, taught and shiny skin, and an absence of wrinkling and browning. It usually looks better. I would love to spend a day with you, just shopping at a market, and then going home with you and preparing all the things you found! But the best produce usually doesn’t need a whole lot of preparation, since it is so good on its own. I would just slice a beautiful tomato, sprinkle some sea salt and pepper, maybe a little olive oil, and enjoy. (Just a little salt would be great, too!)

    • Gretchen September 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

      Oh how I would love a day with you! And yes a beautiful tomato prepared just right or bitten right out of is magical! =0)

  2. josie O. September 27, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    Love, love, love your food-procurement posts. Your butcher alone would be reason enough to never, ever move. Your organic herbs seem to be decently priced … we pay about that much (maybe 50 cents less) for that sized package of herbs in the grocery stores in Ukraine, and they are not fresh, not local and not organic. I only buy them from the grocery store during the winter; during the other seasons, a much better deal can be found at the outdoor markets.

    • Ariana Mullins September 27, 2012 at 8:39 am #

      Hi Josie! Yes, I think the herb situation is similar to yours in the stores here. One thing I do like, though, is that most supermarkets sell herbs in pots (like at Trader Joe’s) that I can bring home and try to keep alive. I try to grow as many as I can, because I use a lot and it can get pretty expensive. Shopping at these markets are always cheaper than grocery stores, even if the produce is almost the same. I was talking to the organic farm people, asking why it’s so hard to find the type of produce they sell elsewhere. They said that the best stuff goes to restaurants in London, or other places, and locals are left with the imports. Interesting.

  3. Amanda September 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    My boyfriend works at Whole Foods so he’s there all the time (and has a discount!) and we live within easy walking distance of his store, so it feels silly anytime we go to a market since we could easily get as good or better at WF.

    That being said, I have really wanted to sign up for a CSA box! That way I’d support some local farmers (WF is not always local… what’s up with their Chilean apples when it’s apple season here, now??) and also it would probably force me to eat more/a greater variety of delicious fresh veggies. But my boyfriend rolls his eyes at that, since why go to the effort when he works with fresh & organic produce every day?

    What a dilemma. :) I do feel very lucky that we get that WF discount, though. (although in my ideal world I’d definitely live next door to a biweekly open market selling organic, local, fresh & yummy things to eat! Your photos are so pretty!)

    • Ariana Mullins September 28, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

      Oh, a terrible dilemma indeed! 😉 That is great that you have access to great quality food, especially with the discount. Something that was really challenging for me about living in the US is the fact that organic produce is SO expensive. I totally get the reasoning behind the prices, but it’s also the lower demand that makes it cost more. I think if I were in your position, I would just enjoy shopping at the farmer’s markets for fun, and especially in cases where the produce is actually even cheaper. It’s always better to put the money in the pockets of the farmers. I’m glad that companies like WF do support organic farmers and try to contribute to their communities– farmer’s markets are really special in that there is no middle-man, and you get to interact with the people growing your food– I love that. I wish it was more that way over here…

  4. Courtney @ The Polivka Family September 27, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    That is a beautiful bouquet!

    • Ariana Mullins September 28, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

      Thanks Courtney! I love the flower vendor at my market, because they carry a huge variety of flowers and foliage. Most days, it’s 3 bunches for £5, but some days it is four, or even six! This makes it really easy for me to justify buying flowers and trying my hand at a little floristry at home.

  5. Hazel September 29, 2012 at 7:09 am #

    Hi, I came across your blog the other day and have enjoyed reading some of your older posts.
    I’m also an ex-vegetarian that now buys what my children term ‘happy’ meat, and am trying to talk my local butchers into a butchery lesson. I make my own bacon, brawn and occasionally sausages.
    I’m English (I live in Oxfordshire) and could sympathise with your attempts to be friendly. It does sound as though you’re more cut out for village living! The bigger the town or city the less eye contact you make, I think is probably the rule…
    Your review of the Cromer (I think) campsite made me smile. From the alternate cultural perspective, I camped in California with my family a few years ago and we were amazed that even remote desert campsites had barbecues and picnic benches!

    • Ariana Mullins September 30, 2012 at 9:39 am #

      Hi Hazel, it’s nice to “meet” you here! That is cool about making your own bacon and sausages– do you have a meat grinder and stuffing machine? What is brawn– I haven’t come across that yet.
      It’s always comforting to hear that it’s not just foreigners that struggle with the lack of connection in the cities here. I have felt a difference in places like Cambridge, where a huge part of the population is made up of foreigners, probably looking for connections themselves. But I do think that village life would be easier in that regard…
      The funny thing about Cromer, for me, was not actually the lack of ammenities– it was more that it was right by the road, not a real “back to nature” experience, as hoped. I had sought out a “wild camping” site after I looked at all of the typical camping grounds, and realized that it was just like a park with mowed lawns, where people parked their caravans– not a whole lot of actual nature and quiet. I think I had expected this site to be a lot more remote and to not hear car traffic and see the lights of the town not very far away. Plus, having to walk into the town to use the bathroom was not quite what I’d hoped for, either!

  6. Hazel October 1, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    Brawn is headcheese… Much tastier than you’d think, honestly! And definitely the kind of thing you’d want to know the origins of. My children love it but do tell their friends they have pate in their sandwiches! I use attachments for my Kenwood chef to make the sausages. Ought to do it more often really…
    Bacon is really easy to make- a few slices with some eggs from our chickens or ducks makes a great present!

    Fair point about the Cromer campsite. I’ve been on campsites right by roads or railway lines and it does spoil the atmosphere somewhat…

  7. TheBoyandMe October 8, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    Beautiful photos of the market, I love wondering around and finding bargains galore. I’m a big fan of the Dorset markets, particularly Bridport, and there are such treasures to be found.

    Popping over from Britmums Best Post Of The Week, where I’m glad I’ve found your blog as it’s new to me and I love it!

    • Ariana Mullins October 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

      Hello TheBoyandMe– so glad you came by! You know, Dorset is really high on my list of places to visit, especially after watching dozens of River Cottage episodes!

  8. vmarris September 13, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Hi Ariana, I just found your blog after searching on Google for stuff about elderberry wine. I’ve just enjoyed reading this post about markets, which have been one of my great joys throughout my life. I also wrote a blog post recently about buying fresh food from markets and growing food. I grew up in Cambridge, not too far from where you are now, then spent time in London and 20 years in Manchester, where I always felt alien. Have now moved to rural Lincolnshire, which I am loving. Thanks for sharing info like the elderberry wine post – very useful.

  9. ShackelMom September 27, 2013 at 12:27 am #

    Great post! I am so happy to see that silver pitcher being put to such a wonderful use with your amazing flowers! My first exposure to an open market was in Cuernavaca, Mexico. I loved wandering around and looking at everything; piles of spices and moles, cactus paddles, prickley pears, mangos, limes, tripes hanging from hooks, pig heads, parrots, pots and pans, you name it!

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