It's probably only since I started this blog that I really got "into" Farmer's Markets - really appreciated what they are about. In the past I've enjoyed visiting markets like Paddy's to pick up a few bits and pieces for my dinner (and a cheap handbag along the way), but I wasn't really into, nor did I understand the essence of the Farmers Market. The fact that farm fresh produce is being brought to the Big Smoke for us city slickers to enjoy - STRAIGHT FROM THE FARM. Often by "real farmers" who wear boots and they big, broad-rimmed hats.
I really enjoyed my visit to Eveleigh Farmers Market last year, and The Boy and I often find ourselves at Orange Grove on a Saturday picking up fresh fruit, vegies and of course my beloved free range meat. The markets are such a great way to disengage from city life and "get real" for an hour or two. It's a chance to ask questions about the produce if you want to, rather than blindly filling up the trolley at the supermarket without any knowledge about the provenance of your haul.
The only thing is, Eveleigh and Orange Grove are a bit of schlep for Parramatta so we don't go as often as I'd like - battling Saturday morning traffic is never fun. So imagine how excited I was to find out that there was a VERY GOOD Farmers Market only 15 minutes up the road from Parramatta (I was beside myself, just for the record). It only took 18 months of living out here to realise that these markets even existed.
The Castle Hill Markets are held on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month - you'll find them at the Castle Hill Showground. The first market of the month seems to be the bigger of the two - but they are both equally as good.
As with a visit to any Farmers Market you really need to start with brunch. Cappuccinos along with Bacon and Egg Rolls seem to be the order of the day for most people, but I'm quite taken by the Spinach and Ricotta Roll. It's good, firm filling with a lovely flaky pastry.
The Boy is really excited to try a Buffalo Sausage Roll - made with Buffalo meat from a herd that resides in the Blue Mountains. The stall also sell Buffalo Mozzarella and they're doing a roaring trade in Buffalo Gelato (that I HAVE to try next time). We chat to the stall holder who tells us about her herd of 22 Buffalo (all free roaming of course). You can tell she's really passionate about what she does as she's holding back tears telling us about a Buffalo they lost during the week - along with her two unborn calves.
The Boy makes a beeline for the Duck stall - fixated on nabbing some Duck Sausages (we try a sample or two and they are REALLY good).
We also visit the Trunkey Bacon and Pork stall. These guys come down from their farm in Trunkey (up near Orange) for each and every market. I have a chat to the owner who tells me that the pork is barn-raised, rather than free range. He tells me their pigs are are of the "pink skinned" variety who don't do so well free-range as they get sunburnt if they don't have a wallow to...wallow in (unlike Berkshire Blacks who can hack the sunshine a bit better). The Trunkey pigs are shipped to an abattoir in Orange and then come back to the farm where they do all their own butchering. Trunkey don't use gestation stalls on their farm so The Boy and I decide we'll buy some porky goodies. I have no idea if this is an ethically sound decision or not, but I've read a bit about Barn Raised pigs and I feel "OK" about it.
Whilst we're feeling meaty we head over to the guys from The Free Range Butchers and snag some snags (grass-fed). We've bought free range chicken from these guys before and it's great produce. They also have a store in Pennant Hills if you're so inclined to visit them there. The guys are the stall are the butchers from the Pennant Hills shops - they are cheeky and love to engage in a bit of banter with their customers, just like the butchers shops I grew up going to.
The eggs are from a free-range farm in Terry Hills - laid on Thursday and at the markets on Saturday. If you're not convinced about why you should buy free-range eggs, or why you should spend a bit more on them, have a quick squizz at this campaign that Missy Higgins is involved in - when you see the squalid and appallingly cruel conditions battery hens are kept in I hope you'll soon opt for free-range. No animal should live a life of such misery - it really should be illegal here just like it is in the European Union. AND free-range eggs just taste better. They have a vibrant yellow yolk that holds together really well in cooking due to a thicker membrane.
We also stock up on some veggies and a bit of fruit to help balance out all that meat. All of the sellers as Castle Hill are identified as a Genuine Grower, Genuine Producer or Resellers - so you know if you're talking directly with a farmer or a reseller. I think it's a nice touch.
And if you feel like "growing your own" there's a stall with an outstanding number of seedlings on offer. I recently planed my very first balcony garden so I was really interested to see what was on offer here - but not the Brussel Spouts, they won't be coming home with me.
I also picked a few spices for some homemade pickled veggies that I attempted - which didn't turn out too badly if I do say so myself (except for my executive decisions to use Fennel Seeds when I couldn't find Dill Seeds).
All this food shopping is thirsty work...
Farmers Markets give us an option to turn out backs on the big two supermarkets (you know who I mean) who are screwing our farmers into the very ground they are trying to make their livings from. That super cheap milk that you see on the shelves of Coles and Woolies is NOT a good thing. It's a price war that's all about gaining market share, and our dairy farmers are losing out...selling their product for less than it's worth. How can anyone make a living like that? Pretty soon those dairy farmers are going to go out of business, walk off their farms and we'll be left drinking imported milk from countries where we have no say about, no influence, about the animal welfare practices that go into making that milk. First it was milk, then bread, and now "The Big Two" have fruit and veggies in their sights.
Castle Hill Farmers Market is on at the Castle Hill Showground Castle Hill, enter via Carrington Road. The markets are on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month.