Quality local produce that's worth fighting for

AFTER 27 years, the bakers and chefs of Broomhill are ready to do their best to prevent a Saturday morning bun fight.

The door to the Spooner Road scout hut is kept firmly shut as a small squadron of home cooking enthusiasts mass outside, shopping bags at the ready.

It's nine o'clock, the door swings open and the scone seekers and pie addicts swarm into action.

"I'm looking for Jane Stammers' Yorkshire teacakes and Elaine Dunning's fish pie," says a keen-eyed Philip Barnes. The shopping bags and their owners circle a large table full of carefully wrapped cakes, pies, buns, tarts, flans and foccacia. Proud columns of marmalades and chutney gleam in the morning sun. Crafted tea cosies and greetings cards wait on the flanks.

This Saturday, there are no date loaf disagreements or quiche quarrels, the initial sorties are soon over, and Philip and the other Saturday morning regulars peel away to settle their accounts.

"It's home cooking and it's fantastic," says Philip. "I come here on a Saturday and it keeps me going for the week."

The Sheffield Country Market at Broomhill is a Saturday morning tradition for lovers of home cooking. Around 20 regular bakers, growers, cooks and craftspeople sell their wares, assisted by a team of ten or so helpers.

"It gives the opportunity to local people to produce the things they like to produce, and make a bit of money from it," says Sheffield organiser Elaine Dunning. (Yes, Elaine Dunning of the fish pies. There are rumours that some customers almost came to blows recently over the ownership of one of Elaine's pies.)

"Customers are looking for something genuine, wholesome and homemade, made in someone's kitchen by a real person," explains Jane Stammers.

(Yes, that Jane Stammers. Producers in Broomhill really do become quite famous, at least on shopping lists.)

The first Country Market was held in Sussex 90 years ago, says Elaine. The organisation was associated with the Women's Institute for many years, but in 2003 Country Markets became an independent cooperative, with 400 markets operating in England and Wales, and a head office in Chesterfield.

The Sheffield market is always looking for new producers, who are asked to call in on a Saturday morning (between 9 and 12) to see what's on offer and meet the current producers.

"What you make has to be home produced, home crafted or home baked," says Jane, who also works for the organisation as a promoter of local food production.

"And the quality is also important."

She adds that the ethos of the scheme is to always offer support and help, so new bakers can get tips from established chefs.

The entry requirement is to pay 5p to join the local co-op, and 5 for the handbook, and after that you can make and sell your rosemary foccacia or Tennessee marmalade any Saturday.

"It's an inexpensive way of getting going in a business," says Jane.

Many of the producers find working for the Sheffield Country Market suits their circumstances, for example, if they also have children or relatives to look after, Elaine says.

The bulk of each sale goes back to the producer, with a small commission covering the market running costs.

The social aspect of the market is also important, with producers learning from each other and passing on crafts which might otherwise die out. Elaine cites wartime recipes like parkin, caraway seed cake and even homity pie, made by the land girls.

Jane says that such skills will become increasingly important. "In the future we're going to have to make more of our food locally, because we're not going to have the fuel or resources to make food on such a massive scale."

Locally made food also supports the local economy – most of the Broomhill producers live less than five or six miles away from the scout hall, as do many of the customers.

"Noah's been coming here since before he was born," says Matt Bartle, shopping with his eight-month-old son. The family, including Noah's mum, Amy, are regulars at the market. "We like to support the local community and local producers," says Matt, who adds that it's also a good way to make your stand against the growth of the big supermarkets.

And the point for Jane Stammers is that Sheffield Country Market provides goods you'd struggle to find on a supermarket aisle: real bread, for example, pickled eggs, chocolate marmalade and several varieties of Bakewell tart, all lovingly raised in a real person's kitchen.

"There's definitely a growing interest about how food is produced, where it comes from, who it supports," says Jane. "It used to be that food was seen just as a necessity here, whereas in Europe food and meals and eating are central to people's lives. But people here really are getting more interested," she insists, watching the next phalanx of pastry seekers wheel around the Yorkshire teacakes.

www.country-markets.co.uk; www.makinglocalfoodwork.co.uk; Sheffield Country Market – 01709 739255.

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