THIS IS my last Rambling Down Ridley Road column. My aim in writing this feature every Friday over the past year has been to inspire readers to use Ridley Road, the fruit ’n’ veg market in Dalston in Hackney, London E8 2LH.
I was inspired by a Member of Parliament in northeast London who claimed that many of her constituents ate junk food because they did not have access to healthy food.
I thought that was ill-informed and set out to show people in Hackney that within walking distance of their homes is a great retailer of good and seasonal food, and that I could spend £5 in the market every week then give a recipe using some of the items I’d bought.
And what a revelation it has been. Despite my having shopped in Ridley Road for years, market stall-holders have surprised me nearly every week with the food on offer, which ranged from exotic mushrooms, callaloo (a spinach popular in the West Indies), baby asparagus, and Fairtrade bananas.
Allotment-holders take excess herbs and currants to be sold in the market when in season and one costermonger makes his own fiery chilli sauce.
The market traders are happy to tell buyers how to cook a rare or not-so-rare vegetable or fruit. If the costermonger doesn’t know, a fellow shopper will often chip in with advice. The range of food is wide, it’s displayed beautifully and it’s sold cheaply.
I was briefed by the editor — a finicky, control-freak type of character — to keep the column simple, not to write about food miles, organic production, climate change, food waste and Fairtrade. These were big topics… he wanted Rambling Down Ridley Road to concentrate on the concept I had proposed: how to buy seasonal food on a budget from the market as it was, not as I, well aware of those issues, might want it to be.
Nor did he want me to report on the market’s relationship with the council. He would cover that in other parts of Loving Dalston, as issues arose between Ridley Road and Mare Street.
Naturally, I took little notice. For example, I can say that in the market you can find cauliflowers from Norfolk, broad beans from Suffolk, apples and pears from Kent and the West Country, and potatoes from several British counties. Occasionally vegetables clearly marked “organic” appear on the barrows and the “Egg lady” sells organic eggs at prices lower than the nearby supermarket’s.
The West Indian bakery at No 25 sells homemade jams and pickles — sure sounds organic — and I’ve read this week that farmers in Kent and Staffordshire have had success growing Magenta, cantaloupe and galia, melons that could previously be cultivated only in warmer parts of the world. The MailOnline, the BBC and The Times said the fruits would soon be on sale in supermarkets.
Lovely. But shame on the reporter, the original source of the news, for not asking whether these English-grown melons would go on sale in the street markets of Britain. It indicates how these once-thriving features of the townscape are fading from the collective consciousness.
The melons will, I am sure, pop up at New Spitalfields, the wholesale market in Leyton where the stall-holders buy their food, and thus find their way to Ridley Road. So keep a lookout.
The market, like all those around the UK, is an asset for everybody who enjoys a variety of fresh food. If it’s not widely used it will shrink until it becomes only a few stalls that operate a few days a week rather than from Mondays to Saturdays.
Nothing stays the same and, as Ridley Road traders’ leader Larry Julian, says, it is changing, as the innovative evening bar Wu’s shows. It will never be the foodie mecca that is Broadway Market, a kilometre or so east of Ridley Road, yet new ideas are coming from young people such as designer and now market trader Joe Williams.
The input of new ideas is one of the best things to happen to Hackney over the last decade or so. Passing Clouds is a lively scenester haunt in Richmond Road E8 4AA that on Sundays becomes the People’s Kitchen. I and some friends have helped once or twice in this community scheme, which provides solid two-course dinners for the needy.
The food is donated from many sources. Much of it would have otherwise been thrown away: market stall-holders give items that won’t keep in their storage containers over a weekend, supermarkets and other retailers hand over perishables near their sell-by date and residents give excess from their gardens and allotments.
It’s great to work with strangers and together devise a menu from a mixture of oddities that are sufficiently appealing to warrant a cash donation by the eaters. By the end of the evening everyone is friends and some participants have learnt recipes and skills. The organisers have won a grant to employ a full-time staff member to co-ordinate collections of what would be wasted food and to give advice to other community kitchens elsewhere in the capital.
Go there, help them to cook and meet communitarians. I may be there. If you are wavering, you can soon see an enjoyable and moving 22-minute eponymously named documentary. Be prepared to be shocked as it shows our society discards perfectly edible food. Jake Smith, director of The People’s Kitchen, says it will be shown on TV this year.
There, I’ve disobeyed the editor by wandering from the agreed brief. As it happens, however, I’ve proved his point, because I’ve written too much to leave space for a last shopping basket and recipe.
But there is room for a last tip: the Turkish Food Centre (TFC) supermarket on the corner of St Mark’s Rise and Ridley Road sells pomegranate syrup. On Mondays and sometimes Tuesdays it reduces its 5kg boxes of vine tomatoes to between £2 and £3. The tomatoes keep well because they are on the vine: I’ve had a box last nearly three weeks. If you have time you could make tomato soup (12 April 2013) and freeze it for later. Do not keep tomatoes in the fridge because the fruit (or vegetable; let’s skip that discussion) needs to be room temperature for its full flavour to be tasted.
* Previous articles hyperlinked: Big fat pie 16 August 2013; Corn fritters 9 August 2013; Beetroot salad 2 August 2013; Vegetable kebabs and fresh peaches in old E8 26 July 2013; Potato salad with cumin seeds 19 July 2013; Fruit sticks 12 July 2013; Asparagus, onion and tomato tartlets 5 July 2013; Sparkling elderflower and fritters 28 June 2013; Beetroot quinoa salad 21 June 2013; Lemon couscous with spicy mushrooms 14 June 2013; Lurgied 7 June 2013; At last, the Alphonso 31 May 2013; Aubergine salad 24 May 2013; Asparagus with hollandaise 17 May 2013; Stuffed beef tomatoes with guacamole 10 May 2013; Hackney snackney 3 May 2013; Bell pepper salad 26 April 2013; Gnocchi and tomato sauce with zucchini salad 19 April 2013 Tomato soup with soda bread 12 April 2013; Broccoli mornay 5 April 2013; Easter redemption song 29 March 2013 Less is enough 22 March 2013; A tart in the mart 15 March 2013; Polenta verde and sauté mushrooms 8 March 2013; Caribeasy 29 February 2013; Feeling fruity 22February 2013; Kashmir delight 15 February 2013; Samphire surprise 8 February 2013; Two dishes from £5 1 February 2013; Ae fond neep 25 January 2013; Cauliflower cheese 18 January 2013; Hackney frittata 11 January 2013; Tasty and easy Christmas snack 21 December 2012; The shops behind the market stalls 9 November 2012; Chutney 2 November 2012; Piccalilli 26 October 2012; Golden soup 19 October 2012; Roasted, stuffed squash 12 October 2012; Vegetable curry 5 October 2012; Carrot and coriander soup 28 September 2012; Ratatouille Gypsy stew 21 September 2012; Bubble and squeak Shooey style, Bakewell pudding 14 September 2012; Coleslaw and radishes 7 September 2012; Turkish spinach pie 31 August 2012; Tomato tart, marinated aubergines, fresh mango chutney 24 August 2012; Roasted butternut squash soup and beetroot salad 17 August 17 2012; The column sets itself a challenge 15 August 2012
* Emboldened or tinted words may indicate a hyperlink, a special service for Loving Dalston readers who may want to look further into a topic. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained.