Jam & Jerusalem (Artichokes)

In the days when many lament the bullying dominance of the supermarket giants, we are blessed in this area with lots of really good independent food shops, and a range of really useful markets. Bridport has Wednesdays and Saturdays, all along the streets and in the halls, with a lot of artisan, high-end produce, and a new monthly food market every Sunday with specialist bakers, charcuterie etc. Seaton has an artisan market on the first Saturday of every month, and during the summer months Charmouth has a large Monday market, which is very firmly down the lower end of the poshness scale, but no less useful for it – if you want a chamois leather, a spangly minidress or excellent, very cheap plants, it’s the place to go!

Filling a niche very nicely between the two is Axminster market. Every Thursday in the town square and surrounding streets, it has a great mix of the useful (the hardware & cleaning type stall, pet food, cards & books) and the desirable, including Leaker’s Bakery, Spice & Rice fresh curries and MacSorsons fresh fish. At this point I aimed to insert some amazing photos of crusty sourdough and wedges of handmade breads from Leakers, but by the time I got there today (about 11am) there was barely anything left!

There is a man selling a wide range of handmade pies, pasties and assorted pastries – we’ve had his pies, and the filo ones especially are very good. The fishmonger always has a very wide range and it always looks fresh, and Colyton butchers have a good range of meats at fantastic value. There is also a spice man (good ready-made blends as well as single packs), and today an Italian deli stall from Bridport.

The star of the show for me, food wise, is the fruit & veg stall. It may be commonplace in other parts of the country, but around here it’s a bit of a revelation. They sell lots of English and local produce, with lots of seasonal variation, but they also sell much more exotic stuff – if you ever have a recipe that calls for mooli, samphire or plantain, you will find it here. It is pretty good value, too, with lots of pre-bagged bargains, and some of the best kiwi fruit around!

The fabric seller is very good, and also has a curtain-making service, and there is a plant seller who sells an excellent variety of interesting plants, and can answer your questions if you need her to.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that there is another aspect to the market, just around the corner in the Masonic Hall in South Street (between HALFF & Complete Meats). Hidden away behind a little doorway is a team of men and women who sell top quality, home-made or home-grown cakes, savouries, ready meals, preserves, plants, vegetables, fruit, crafts, eggs and anything else produced in their homes or gardens. It is very strictly controlled by the Country Markets system, so quality is high, but prices are not!

I must declare a vested interest here as I’ve just signed up to supply them with seasonal cut flowers, salads and produce, but it’s given me an insight into the professionalism that lies behind the lemon drizzles, quiche Lorraines and knitted pumpkins (I’m not kidding, I bought one today!) Any producer needs to get their kitchen registered and adhere to statutory labelling regulations, but it’s quite straightforward to become a producer and the range of people involved ensures a range of produce which can’t be met by mass production. Many producers will take orders, and all are on hand to discuss recipes, crafting methods etc. If you like the idea of supporting seasonal, local and sustainable, this is a great way to do just that. Every week will be different, so do pop in and see what’s on offer. You can take the weight off your feet and get a cup of tea, too, which is always handy, especially as it’s getting colder!

Axminster has really grown on me – for a town of its size it has an impressive range of independent shops, with butcher, bakers, greengrocers, health food shop, a real book shop, fabric shop, brilliant cafes and restaurants and a useful array of others, and its market is my favourite as it’s big enough to have everything but small enough to just pop in and get on with it without becoming a major mission. Please check it out, have a takeaway curry from Spice & Rice, buy a pie, go and see Patricia’s team at the Country Markets and get inspired to have something different for dinner!

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