As if writing books and running a cooking school and being on TV weren’t enough, Darina Allen also started the whole farmers market scene in Ireland when she founded the first, in Midleton, in 1999. Believe it or not, before that, there were no farmers markets in Ireland.
She told me, as we were driving to the Midleton market, that it all started when the large supermarket chains started buying up all the small grocers in the country. “Once the big guys came in, everything had to be centralized and they would punish a grocer for carrying produce from local farms. People had no access to local produce anymore. So I decided to start the Midleton farmers market just as a way to let people have that connection again with local producers.”
Now, according to a list published by the Irish Food Board (Bord Bía) there are over 150 farmers markets in Ireland, from the potato market in Carlow to the quay in Wexford County.
These aren’t big, sprawling affairs like you might find in the States, but modest enterprises where you can quickly walk around and get a feel for what’s available in five or ten minutes. Yet perhaps because the market ends up being the best-of-the-best, you’re tempted to buy one of everything, from the little jars of savoury sauces (red currant jelly, cranberry sauce, Cumberland sauce) to a slice of parsnip and maple syrup cake (which tasted like an extraordinary carrot cake).
I was particularly attracted to the smoked mackerel, their rich, oily deliciousness a real flavor-bomb in your mouth. And the local herb-crusted goat cheese. Oh, and Darina’s own elderflower cordial which she says is great with champagne or in a gin and tonic. That sounded so good I bought three bottles of the stuff. Now I just wonder how I’m going to get it all home.