15 January 1999

Stingy husbands made a stall story

WE have an old photograph of York market taken in the late 1920s. Parliament Street is filled with long lines of covered stalls, and on the two left hand lines stood the farmers wives.

They came to sell their butter and eggs, chickens and ducks, apples and plums, anything they could, to make their housekeeping money. They have done it for generations, in good times and bad, for alas, their husbands were frequently not renowned for their generosity. In recent years the numbers have declined sharply, but with the coming of the Farmers Markets, they are making a comeback.

The market is an ideal medium for us. My sister and I have a small farm and for the past 14 years have sold all our stock through the farm shop. Not for us the gamble of the markets and the whims of the butchers.

We like our Aberdeen Angus, frequently crossed with Jerseys, and our old breeds of pigs. Fed on home grown cereals, silage and roots, taken to a sensible age and properly hung, the flavour has our regular customers licking their lips. We also like to cut out the middleman, so that any profit going is ours.

However, we needed to expand, and the six weeks trial of a Tuesday Malton Farmers Market came at the right time. We bought a small trailer, an inverter, two large batteries, loaded on our smallest freezer filled with sausages and porkburgers, took a cool box filled with pork pies, and ready cooked samples. No loitering passer-by was safe from us.

Five generations of the family have now stood in that market – I wonder what great grandmother would have thought of my water scientist sons red beard and ponytail.

The six weeks were highly successful. Even the weather was kind. It only rained on the last week. People loved the enlarged photograph of my large black and white sow, leaning nonchalantly on the fence top rail, as if ready to address her audience. They were amused by the "Locally Grown Sausage" and there were many supportive and positive comments.

Our customers were so enthusiastic that I took a stall on Saturdays, and plan to continue throughout the winter. The weather is already much colder, and I wear umpteen layers, but it is great fun.

Saturday people are different from Tuesday, however. There are always remarks like: "Poor thing, how can you bear to eat her!" I always reply that it is the teenage young that we use in the sausages and not Chess, their mother. "And a very good use for them, too!" memorably snapped a passing harassed mother, causing much hilarity.

It is extraordinarily satisfying when the same people return each week, and when you are told: "Thats how I remember sausages when I was young", or "My friend says your pork pies are super, and that I must come and buy one."

I am becoming disgustingly conceited! We are working harder than ever – I need to take about six stone of assorted sausages and burgers weekly, plus 60 pork pies. I usually fall into bed at 1am on Saturday and get up at 6am. But it is worth it. I only wish I had done it sooner. My sister is already a pensioner and I am not far behind!

Never mind, perhaps we can blaze a new trail. I feel great pride in following in a grand tradition, and imagine the shades of former farmers wives looking on in approval. I am, however, very glad that I have a Volvo estate for transport instead of grandmothers pony and trap with only the gig umbrella on wet days!

Jennie Willmore