Market forces pay off for taste of the country

Food & Drink

JILL ARMSTRONG

Step through the doors of the Methodist Church lounge in Tickhill, near Doncaster on a Friday morning and you are transported immediately into another, more civilised world. The kind of baking you remember from childhood is here in abundance and there is a courteous but hectic rush to buy when this Country Market opens for business.

People start queuing at around 9.40am (20 minutes before opening time) and for the first half-hour customers stand four deep at the tables where all this home-made produce is laid out.

Little tarts filled with ground rice, coconut or lemon curd are snapped up. A pack of half a dozen chocolate buns can be had for 1.50 or three delicious cheese scones for 1.05. There are fruit loaves, carrot and lemon cakes, flapjacks and shortbread and over on the savouries table, quiches, moussaka, chicken pies, sausage rolls... and all this is selling fast as regular customers home in on their favourite items.

Jams, jellies and pickles occupy another area and there is a small handicrafts section.

Fran Wright, who has been baking for the market since it started 20 years ago, dreads to think how many butterfly buns she has made over the years. The figure must run into thousands. At that point the market was run by the Women's Institute. Fran was at home with two young children and this was an ideal way of earning some money.

The markets are now run independently of the WI because they were jeopardising its charitable status. There are nearly 500 Country Markets throughout the country with a combined income of 11.5m.

Everything is made in the producers' own homes using fresh ingredients and no artificial flavours or preservatives are used. "We work on the principle of sell the best and eat the rest," says Fran cheerfully.

When the markets first began in 1919, it cost one shilling to become a shareholder. These days it costs just 5p to join. The markets are run as co-operatives and everybody is expected to take their turn in helping. A small commission is taken from sales to help with running costs and the rest is paid to the producer.

The markets operate a parcel scheme so you can have a basket of goodies made up for a birthday or Christmas present or to send to a starving student at university, which can be delivered via the person's nearest Country Market.

On Friday, Tickhill Country Market celebrated its 20th birthday with a "cake" in the form of tiers of buns. Every customer was given a bun and then it was back to business as usual and a brisk trade in all that home baking.

For more information about Country Markets in your area or to become a producer, go to www.country-markets.co.uk; write to Country Markets, Dunston House, Dunston Road, Sheepbridge, Chesterfield S419QD; call 01246 261508; or email info@country-markets.co.uk