Farmers’ Market by The Pantry – 75 Loewen Road
If heaven were a place on earth, it’d be a farmers’ market. I can’t quite fathom anything that trumps fresh produce and great food at (usually) reasonable prices in a beautiful outdoor setting. As such, I earmarked a Saturday to check out the farmers’ market hosted by The Pantry Cookery School at its campus in Loewen Gardens near Dempsey from 8am to 2.30pm two Saturdays a month. To my knowledge, it is the only one of its kind on the island.
The almost exclusively expatriate crowd brought about two conflicting emotions in me: firstly disappointment that locals are – as usual – unreceptive to yet another wonderful concept and secondly glee as expats typically indicate authentic and top-notch grub. Adorable Caucasian toddlers were cavorting around with infectious energy, making for an exuberant yet relaxing mood.
The first thing that arrested my attention was a gorgeous tablescape comprising a substantial selection of what the matronly purveyor described as “authentic English pastries”.
Bearing my dining companion’s sage advice to pace myself, I settled on a Cornish Pasty ($6). A thick, buttery pastry shell sealed a solid mass of mince, flavoured intensely with sweet and pungent onions. Extremely satisfying, it would probably have tasted a million times better fresh from the oven rather than just shy of stone cold.
The undisputed highlight of the market would be the paella cooked by an arresting Spanish lass right before your eyes in a traditional cast-iron pan perched precariously atop a back-to-basics gas burner. I’ll try to walk you through the whole breathtaking affair with the pictures below.
Deftly and daintily, she liberates pepper sweetness, garlic pungency and onion sweetness in olive oil.
With a hiss, a load of plump, juicy vine-ripened tomatoes hit the pan.
The key flavouring agents are put into play: sweet paprika and saffron.
No skimping here, the saffron filaments enter as a massive clump.
Whole shrimp and squid release their marine salt into the air as they sizzle merrily away. Chicken chunks add weight and texture while chorizo accords further paprika warmth and fat richness.
A close eye is kept on their colour as the seafood is cooked to a pliant chew. They become sponges for the smoky spice duo through the vector of tomato moisture.
Green peas were a verdant explosion among the warm hues, an utterly gorgeous image.
Clams open like glossy flowers in bloom.
A copious amount of stock is finally added, fluffy grains soaking in a wealth of flavour as it is allowed to reduce.
When the tin foil is peeled away after a 15 minute rest, the luxuriantly aromatic steam billows out, attracting a line of hungry customers the way no advertisement can.
The Large Order of Paella ($10) was a flavour-packed trip to Valencia. The combination of flavours from paprika, saffron and stock was almost explosive when a mouthful of delicate grains hit my tongue. While the chorizo accent was a tad subtle, the generous amount of softly chewy squid, crunchy shrimp, meaty clams and tender chicken more than redeemed that.
Insatiable as always, I was led by my nose to an old-school grill. An overturned metal mixing bowl serves as an improvised yet effective smoker. I’ve got an idea or two for my future kitchen from that!
I went with the recommendation of Bacon Butties ($9.80) and was not disappointed. Char-grilled and smoked rashers bacon crowned a crisp, grill-toasted bap liberally speckled with sesame seeds. The sweet warmth and delicate spice of tomato relish balanced out the bacon salinity for an utterly amazing result!
As evinced in that bright-red beret, this guy was enthusiastic about his Jamón Ibérico ($0.25 a gram). While we initially balked at the price, he gradually swayed us with his loving description of how the hams are dry-cured for three whole years under strictly controlled conditions. (Keep reading for details on the resulting flavour.)
A Junior College Literature teacher moonlighting as a maverick organic grocer topped my list of quirky personalities at the fair but his offerings eclipsed even that! Next to adolescent carrots (midway between baby carrots and full grown specimens) and Swiss chard were fire-engine-red vine tomatoes.
A crate of massive Portobello caps permeated the air with a richly earthy smell.
The crown jewel of the lot was a tray of Organic Figs ($2 apiece). Already difficult to find unpreserved, these figs were plump and downright irresistible.
Having that ham with the figs was the eventual plan and boy was it a good one! The Black ham had a milky, cheesy flavour to its marbling that melds beautifully with its intensely porcine character. This was juxtaposed against the light, clean taste of the figs reminiscent almost of watermelon.
The heat of the day was establishing itself as somewhat of a party-pooper at that point, until I spied the drinks on display. East of Avalon Wines had a booth with a military parade of ciders and beers that my dining companion pounced on, picking out 5 bottles with gusto.
Being the designated driver, I allowed myself just the small indulgence of a glass of Sangria ($5). Sweet, tart and refreshing splashed over ice; I was reminded that this was one cooler I haven’t explored enough.
Still withering in the heat, I spied the following ice-cream freezer.
Brownice is set to eclipse frozen yogurt and gelato in my book with its selection of fully vegan ice creams made from rice milk and natural ingredients. I was kindly allowed to sample all that they had including an off-menu pumpkin that could only be described as “created to mess with your head”, in a good way. In the absence of dairy creaminess, the respective flavour truly takes centre-stage for an unparalleled depth which I absolutely love. My dining companion did request toning down on the sweetness though.
The two flavours that won out and which I eventually ordered were Chocolate as well as Peanut-Butter and Caramel ($3.80 per 100g). The chocolate could have been created just for me as it was dark, rich and deliciously intense. The peanut butter and caramel was nutty, rich and had a dash of salt which intensified the warm sweetness of the caramel in a classic combination.