Saturday, 15 August 2009

From anthropologist to fish wife

On Thursday fellow food blogger Gastrogeek and I traded our quotidien lives for a day as tradeswomen manning the UKFBA stall at the real food market in Covent Garden. Our aim was to raise money for Amnesty International and Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, and as Gastrogeek had asked me a few months back to share the stall with her I had plenty of time to prepare for this debut in trading and flogging

Or so I thought. Until Wednesday I had been quite relaxed about the prospect of spending a day at the market selling food. Mercantile instincts roused I made jars of plum jam to sell at the stall, reasoning that glorious English plums are at their peak right now and who doesn't like plum jam? Having spent last weekend foraging for wild cherry plums with Papa Johansen, made jam from them and some plump, indigo Czar plums from Grange Farm in West Sussex (see previous blog post) I naively concluded "this will be fine, just knock up some cakes and muffins on Wednesday and write a list of what we need, the rest will take care of itself"

Invariably I neglected to take into consideration the hobbit-sized oven in my flat, the time it would take to bake multiple batches in said hutch and how incredibly grumpy I get when on my feet all day, not to mention what a snail's pace I cook at. Much of Wednesday was spent cursing the oven and my singular tardiness, and wondering if this was such a good idea after all

Lest you think this is a whine about how hard it is to cater for large groups of people, let me assure you the experience of manning a market stall was exhilirating and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Be that as it may, Wednesday's seemingly endless preparation for the stall was a salutary lesson that you can never be prepared enough, it always takes much more time to bake than you anticipate and it's exhausting to cook large batches of food in a tiny domestic kitchen. Without a dishwasher, the washing up is endless and eats into your baking schedule

But enough moaning. Gastrogeek is the ideal partner in fish wife crime and so much fun to work with - she did most of the talking, I tried not to frighten away small children with my irascibility. We hit the ground running at 11:30am setting the stall up just before noon by which time Gastrogeek already had customers asking prices of her savoury goodies. It was a perfect summers' day so in terms of foot traffic we were extremely lucky as there was a constant flow of visitors to Covent Garden, and we were in a prime location to catch their attention

We had a mother visit us whose son is being treated in Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, she told us about his debilitating condition and the excellent care he's receiving which really brought it home how vital the hospital is. Because we were raising money for charity many customers gave extra or told us to keep the change, a reminder that despite all the economic doom and gloom the capacity for donating money to good causes hasn't disappeared. The occasional passerby would laugh at Gastrogeek's keema lollies and one bad-mannered teen even mimicked the action of vomiting when walking past our stall which I'll confess was disappointing in comparison to the generosity of the vast majority who sampled our wares

My matcha green tea and blueberry muffins garnered some bemused looks, but children bought them and as they were gluten-free they were more in demand than I expected. In general our interactions with passersby were extremely positive, except for the cheeky Italian teenager who asked where the nearest KFC was. I promptly dispatched him to the nearest cupcake shop which served the pasty, spotty teen right for his culinary insolence. Slow Food, you've got some work to do in your terra madre

Gastrogeek and I both thoroughly enjoyed the day and although it was exhausting the 9 hours flew by in no time. We agreed to make this an annual event, albeit next time we shall cajole local caterers/restaurants to lend us their ovens upon my mother's recommendation. In fact, we might just get the formidable Mama Johansen to cajole them on our behalf - no one says no to Mama J, trust me

You can read more on the build-up to Thursday's stall on Gastrogeek's excellent blog post "From Blogging to Flogging" here and her post-flogging analysis here Suffice to say, we both extend a huge thank you to all the food bloggers and friends who came down to support us. Without descending into an Oscar-esque-thank-you-speech we were fortunate to have a great stall neighbour who I shall call Prosecco Sam. He's on the corner by the Transport Museum and is delightful, go see him if you're moseying through Covent Garden and try a glass of his prosecco. As you can see below, we definitely appreciated his rose prosecco - the perfect sustenance to get through a hot summer's afternoon

And as for the punters and tourists who bought our wares, thank you. Below are a few photos of the day

Gastrogeek's genius idea of Keema Lollies received plenty of attention:

And her ginger chocolate cherries were such a hit with both children and adults alike we ran out by mid-afternoon. You can find the recipe on Gastrogeek's blog post listed above

My mocha & coconut cake proved to be popular so the recipe is at the bottom of this post. The beetroot brownies were also gobbled up, and mostly by children which was gratifying - they're tricky customers :D For those who asked after the beetroot brownie recipe this is the one I used, courtesy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Needless to say Gastrogeek's olympian ability to talk made her the perfect fish wife regaling her customers with witty anecdotes and upbraiding the odd person who sneered and walked away when told we were raising money for charity (!)

Goodshoeday paying us a visit and Gastrogeek larking about:

a moment of calm during an otherwise hectic day:

Nursing a glass of delicious rose prosecco, one of ahem, a few supplied throughout the afternoon by our neighbour Sam:

Being the donuthead that I am, I clean forgot to put the plum jams out until mid-afternoon, but once they were on display they sold well

And we made it! By 8:20 pm we were all packed up and ready to go home to a cup of tea and a hot bath. Exhausted after nine hours on our feet but thrilled to have raised a respectable £350, the profits of which go straight to our selected charities...

These may be straitened times but what a day observing and engaging with the generous, the friendly and occasionally the quixotic visitors to Covent Garden. Before I forget, a thank you to Joe, Gastrogeek's other half, for taking some terrific snaps of the stall on our behalf, a few of which are in this post

Recipe for Coconut Mocha Cake:

Adapted from my boss Fiona Beckett's recipe for cappuccino cake in her book 'The Frugal Cook' (p. 135 Absolute Press) I used more cocoa and made a mocha style icing - ie very dark and intense, not creamy at all...

Makes 12-16 squares or bars

  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp strong black coffee
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 225g softened buttermilk spread (e.g. Willow)
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1 heaping tbsp plain yoghurt (to add extra moisture as there is more cocoa in this recipe than Fiona's)
For the icing:
  • 125g butter
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 200g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tbsp strong coffee (adjust to taste)
Preheat the oven to 180C

Line a shallow 18 x 32cm cake tin with baking parchment. Sift the cocoa into a large bowl, add the hot coffee and stir. Add the caster sugar, stir, then tip in the spread, eggs and half the flour. Beat very well with a spoon or electric whisk, and fold in the remaining flour. Spread this mixture in the tin and bake on the middle oven shelf for 35-40 minutes until risen and firm to the touch.

Allow to cool on a wire rack while you make the icing. Place the butter in a saucepan, allow to melt and then add the cocoa, the sugar and the vanilla. Stir really well, sometimes this has a tendency to separate but adding the icing sugar helps to smooth out the icing. Add the coffee to taste, stir and allow to cool for 10 minutes before icing the cake. If it's hot the icing will just run down the sides, and by cooling it slightly the icing will thicken. You can see a photo below of what the icing looks like, and frankly it rocks. Sprinkle a generous amount of desiccated coconut and eat with gusto

If you came down to the stall let us know what you thought, feedback is most welcome


aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Bravo! And thanks for the mocha cake recipe - sounds like a 'must try'...

Signe said...

Why thank you aforkfulofspaghetti!

The mocha cake is delicious and easy to make, which is the only cake to bake IMHO :) Not everyone likes coconut but it matches so well with the dark chocolate and coffee flavour...

foodieguide said...

It was fantastic to have finally met you and Gastrogeek! I know you guys were busy so I didn't stay long, but thank you for the delicious beetroot brownie. Heavenly. See you guys again soon!

Signe said...

Likewise Foodieguide (sorry, Helen) thank you so much for coming down - it was all a bit of a whirlwind and the day went so quickly but it was lovely to meet you and put a face to a name!

You'll find the recipe for beetroot brownies in the link I attached on the blog post...

verity said...

That looks so much fun, and I love the look of that cake recipe!

meemalee said...

The choca mocha cake was heavenly, Sig - me, hubby, mum, dad, aunt and uncle fought over it!

Should I refrigerate the plum jam?

meemalee x

Signe said...

Thanks Verity, I actually made the coconut mocha cake again this weekend for a friend staying - the trick is to add a bit of extra yoghurt or an extra shot of coffee to keep the cake moist. The cocoa can have a drying effect on the could also add a couple of tablespoons of grounds almonds too for added moisture and texture.

Meemalee I'm so glad you liked it! Will definitely make more of that for next year's stall :D

Regarding the plum jam, there are no preservatives in it and although there's a high level of acidity I'd definitely keep it refrigerated once open and eat quite soon. Have a few jars leftover so let me know if you'd like more, hehe...

Oh, and I should have mentioned on Thursday the jam is made with fruit sugar

Claire said...

If only I'd known you were there, I'd have said hello!! I remember admiring the matcha green tea muffins and thinking "oh I'll try one of those next week", since I'm wheat intolerant. DAMN you're annual!!!! It was the first time I'd ever gone to the Covent Garden food market too!! I was so impressed by the quantity of things I could eat and the variety, kicking myself for not having a chat now!

Signe said...

Claire, that's too bad :( will tweak the matcha green tea and blueberry muffin recipe and post it later this week - the blueberries work really well with the matcha but the cake bit itself was a little dry so will add some ground almonds to the next batch...

Would have been lovely to meet you, as unfortunately we are only doing this on an annual basis!

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

I think I would be too scared to attempt the brownies unless I only made two or three. A batch would be devoured in seconds in my household!

Signe said...

Helen, did you spot this recipe in ES for beetroot chocolate cupcakes?

At least then your family's only eating one cupcake at a time, rather than devouring an entire batch of brownies, non? Or is that a spurious sort of logic...

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

Oh dear! Thanks for the recipe link. Reading it has brought back vivid memories of that brownie. I only had half by the way, as I had to share it. Grrr.

goodshoeday said...

Hey well done for raising so much - next time you can double the prices. It was all so tasty but my favourite had the be the Keema Lolly which lived up to its hype. I really want to know how to make them - do you think GastroGeek can be persuaded to part with the recipe? at the end of the day I'm a savouries girl at heart.

Julia said...

Wow, it looks like you had such a great day. I'm so sorry I couldn't make it down, I'm absolutely up to my eyes in it with work at the moment. We'll have to do a round-up of all the stalls on the UKFBA site.

Signe said...

Helen, just think of the virtue of beetroot! Less sugar, more beet...might just have to make those cupcakes, except I have a giant batch of raspberry brownies to polish off first ;)

Goodshoeday I know you're a savoury girl at heart, and am sure Gastrogeek can be persuaded to part with her now famous keema lolly recipe! Ask her about the feta and spring onion cheesecake too, seriously good. Will take your advice and up our prices next year, we just didn't want to put potential customers off, though my Mother did suggest charging an exorbitant amount for the plum jam give time and labour involved...

Julia - you are mandated to come down and visit next year! Will save you a jar of plum jam since you couldn't make it this time :D was a great day, looking forward to reprising it next summer