Tuesday, 24 January 2012

East Oxford Market, Cowley Road

Once you reach double figures, and if you don't become a teacher or parent of small children, opportunities to visit a primary school, let alone eat your lunch in one, are few. So on Saturday morning it felt slightly odd to find myself sitting in a classroom at East Oxford Primary School, home of the East Oxford Farmers' and Community Market, admiring the pirate artwork that adorned the walls.

Fortunately the lumpy custard and processed meat that I remember eating at junior school had been replaced by a floury white bap filled with bubble and squeak (£3.50). The proper mashed potato and fresh cabbage hid cheese and a couple of tasty bacon rashers. That was enough for me, but the jam doughnut muffins and cranberry and white chocolate cookies looked tempting; a variety of other wholesome main courses were also on offer. One of the chefs busily working in the kitchen-within-a-classroom told me that different groups staff the Market's cafe each week on a rotation: this week it was the Moving Teashop. That seems a sensible idea, providing flexibility and variety for all.
The Market itself is held between 10am and 1pm every Saturday at the school, directly behind the Tesco car park. It's hard to think of a starker juxtaposition: apparently everything on sale is sourced from within thirty miles of Oxford. There are a few stalls in the playground outside but most are found in what I imagine is the school hall (it feels a bit like walking into a jumble sale in a church hall until you actually see what's on offer!). There's an impressive variety, from basics like eggs and meat - I bought a wedge of raw milk cheese from local producer Crudges - to more exotic prepared fare, with a few craft stalls as well. As well as a table loaded with an array of different breads, I spotted samosas, blinis, salads and sushi, as well as picking up a bag of macaroons from SaraO. They got slightly crushed on the way home, but that didn't matter as they failed to survive for very long after that. I especially liked the blueberry and the salted caramel flavours.
(I wish I'd bought one of the saffron buns - top left. Note also the little bread hedgehogs)
I also kept bumping into people clutching cardboard boxes filled with vegetables (still covered with earth) from Sandy Lane Organic Farm, which had a large stall at the Market. I settled for a large bag of potatoes, good value at only a pound.
Not all the stalls sell at the Market every week (check the website for details), so this is just one person's view of how it was on a particular Saturday in January, although I'm sure there's always a good selection. In any case, I imagine that the atmosphere is similar each time: bustling, friendly (everyone I spoke to was extremely nice), keen without any suggestion of hard selling. It was great to see this local enterprise thriving, even in the shadow of Tesco. Now to find something creative to do the rest of those potatoes.

East Oxford Farmers' and Community Market

(I don't see much point in giving a score out of ten, but you can tell that I liked it)

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