Monday, 31 August 2009

A Day in the Life of a Market Trader

I hung onto the giant parasol to stop it flipping over and Mum made sure the fruits of our 12 hour stint in the kitchen were all safely under cover as the rain lashed down and gale force winds swept through the Covent Garden piazza. Bottles from one stall came crashing down and talk of closing the market had us panicking about what we'd do with all the stock. Then, as if nothing had happened, the wind dropped, rain stopped and the sun came out to dry our red and white bunting and bring out the punters.

All in a day's work for a market stall trader... But we are no ordinary stall holders. No siree! Don't get me wrong, me and mum both have plenty experience of baking for the masses and mum has done a million and one 'big cake sales' for charity, but nothing of quite this magnitude. A stall in the local church hall is one thing. A full day selling our homemade cakes, tarts and jams at Covent Garden is another. I guess what we were out to achieve was that (usually uncoveted) 'one hit wonder' status (OK, maybe we had some idyllic pipe dream that this could be a rosy future...!). For us, this was a couple of days off from our day jobs to do what we love best - cook - to sell the fruits of our hard work and, in the process, learn about the 'selling side', have some fun and meet a few people.

Not long after I started blogging I joined the UK Food Bloggers Association (UKFBA) - a place for UK food bloggers to connect with each other. Sometime in the Spring when Julia Parsons, who founded UKFBA, first mentioned the UKFBA stall on Covent Garden Real Food Market there was talk of nominating our favourite producers to man the stall every Thursday throughout the summer. This was soon given short shrift as my fellow food bloggers came forward with plans to sell their own homemade wares - lavender & honey bread, chutney, lemon curd, tamarind ketchup, keema lollipops, carrot cake, Irish soda bread, jams, muffins in all shapes and sizes, tarts, quiches and brownies galore!

I have to admit that I hesitated to sign up. Much as I liked the idea, I work full time - how would I find time, could I do all that on my own and (above all) who would calculate the amount of change due (not me, that's for sure...!). It was only when I mentioned it in passing to Mum when we were cooking up a feast for Dad's 60th in May that the idea of taking the stall one Thursday became reality. As many of the other bloggers who have done a stint on the stall will undoubtedly agree, it's so much easier with two!

The Covent Garden Real Food Market is a weekly market that runs every Thursday through the summer. For the most part, the stall holders seem to have stalls on other markets in London, like Borough Market. There's a nice feel to the market which I am sure would be much livelier on a sunny Summer's day... In fact when I popped down to see Rejina (Gastrogeek) and Signe (Scandilicious) a couple of weeks' ago the sun was shining and people were swarming around the market. What a difference a touch of sunshine (and two charming and beautiful bloggers-come-market-traders) can make!

The best part of it all for me was the full day spent cooking away at our own pace in my kitchen, preparing the lemon drizzle cakes, carrot cakes with cream cheese topping, blueberry and almond tart, leek and gruyere tartlets, redcurrant jelly, peach and amaretto muffins, pecan tarts, stem ginger biscuits, lemon curd, tomato and goat's cheese puff pastry tart, white chocolate and raspberry muffins, traditional all butter shortbread, apricot and vanilla jam and our best sellers...chocolate brownies.

The big day itself was undoubtedly hard work. The rush to set up and get everything laid out and labelled up got the adrenaline going though and that saw us through the best part of the afternoon and helped us weather the storms. It was great to meet all the wonderful people who popped down to say hello and the compliments, including the one from the lovely American woman who came back especially to tell us that our carrot cake was the best carrot cake she had ever eaten (and, she assured us, she had eaten a lot!), made us feel pretty good. But as the day drew to a close and the temperature dropped we were certainly ready to sit down, have a beer and reflect on an intense couple of days' work (oh, and flog a few more jars of jam in the pub and then at our post-market dinner at Ganapati in Peckham!).

I did say never again when my feet where aching the next day....but I can just see our lovely homemade mincemeat, jams, gingerbread and Christmas puddings going down a treat on the Christmas Real Food Market!


  1. Lovely to read your thoughts on the day! :)

  2. Can attest to the epic weather you experienced, having arrived just when the wind and rain crashed down! Thankfully you and your Mum saw some sunshine throughout the afternoon.

    Great post GG, and yes do a Christmas stall, that's a brilliant idea!

    Still have some delectable homemade lemon curd... :D

  3. What a lovely post, and such a shame about the weather! Am gutted I missed you, and will definitely make it down to the next one - your food looks and sounds delectable (especially that carrot cake!)

  4. It was a shame I missed you, I've been making an effort to try and get down to the stall on Thursdays. Good to hear that you're thinking about doing a Christmas one though!

  5. My goodness, you and your Mum did brilliantly. It all looked so delicious AND professional. It's hard work isn't it?!

  6. Thank you all for your lovely comments! The weather was pretty rubbish, but we had a great day all the same and it was lovely to chat to fellow bloggers and other people who stopped by our stall for a chat. I don't think I could have done all of that baking on my own and I certainly wouldn't have ever made any money without mum because I'd have been giving people the wrong change all the time..!