Foodies have long heralded the farmers' market; fair trade jute bag in hand, chatting to the suppliers over ears of freshly harvested corn and handmade gluten free cupcakes.
However we need to remember that the raise of the farmers' market is not just a modern phenomenon, but an extension of the traditional market that has been the mainstay of the populace's shopping experience for the past thousand years.
Bolton market is very much a product of the town's industrial past, housed in a Victorian market hall it's all tile, brick and iron. The town has held the charter to hold a market since 1251 and I can happily say this tradition is still going strong.
Last Saturday I did my usual shop at the market accompanied by the excellent food photographer, Christelle Vaillant (whose wonderful photos illustrate this edition of the blog - more of her work can be found on http://easydoesitrecipes.blogspot.com/). We spent a very enjoyable morning at the market, which won praise indeed from Christelle who hasn't seen such a market outside of her native France.
We've started shopping at the market after becoming increasingly depressed wandering round brightly illuminated isles, being over-charged for intensively packaged shiny fruits in the supermarket, or not being able to find much on the farmers' market in our price range - lovely for a spot of browsing or picking up something specialist; but not great at filling the shopping basket for the whole week.
Bolton's a usual mixed market, split in two; with general wares in one section and food in the other. You'll find the food market by following the fresh fishy smell and shouts of "seabass for for a fiver." Get ready for your senses to be assaulted as you're greeted on all sides by amazing sights, smells and sounds.
First stop is the fish stalls - there's a great selection at HJ Grundy; a good looking stall with spanking fresh fish. There's always the usuals, including staples such as cod and seabass, but it's also a great place to pick up the unusual. Last Saturday there were razor clams, live brown crab, prawns the size of my forearm, catfish and many others I've neither seen nor tasted before. The staff at Grundy's will clean, fillet and give you any bones of the fish you want. They're also very helpful when asking questions about what's fresh and when certain catches have come in. AND they stock local potted shrimps (Southport), something I stock up on at every opportunity!
On to Meat and Poultry for large, free range duck eggs and then over to Choice Cuts where you can get a good big slab of pork belly including nipple, a proper black pudding (Bury no less) and a cheeky chat with the guys on the stall. There's a handful of meat and fish suppliers here, so there's always plenty of choice for anything you need, including pigs feet and boiling chickens. As Bolton has a large ethnic community there are also a couple of Halal meats stalls with one specialising in super fresh Halal offal.
After the meat and fish you pop through to the fruit, veg and bakery section; which really is a riot of colour. Browse amongst the stalls for the best fruit and veg - most providers have grown savvy to the current localism trend and now mark on whether the stock is from the UK and even where about it's from; one of the stalls has some cracking Hesketh tomatoes at the moment. There doesn't seem to be one veg stall that's better than the others; it's a case of browse them all, picking up the freshest and the best. However there is a stall right at the back that's overflowing with chillies, fresh dates, Asian vegetables and humongous bunches of gorgeous herbs adding their heady fragrance to an already mind blowing shopping experience.
Special mention needs to be paid to Purdons cheese stall, selling a wide range of European cheeses and a large selection of local ones - this week I purchased a cracking Garstang Blue, which I decided upon with the help of staff (who kindly let me try quite a lot of samples).
Also worth a mention is Unsworth Deli, a places where real bread reigns supreme and you can pick up specialities like proper pancetta - not the flabby, little, flavoured lardons you pick up at the big four; but a whole piece of cured meat off which you're sliced a lovely hunk. Plus the boy is very happy with their selection of pies (well he is Northern).
And last but not least Sweet Treats, found in the general side of the market. It’s a small, white sweet shop, but the only place you can find cream soda, plus you can put in a request for something you can’t find anymore and they’ll try to track it down for you. It’s recognisable by the yellow trays of Swizzles Matlow sweets reminiscent of the corner shop when you were eight.
Bolton Market's a brilliant alternative to the weekly big shop, you can sort all you food out but can't get everything there (such as toiletries); there's plenty of choice, the food's fresh and it's good to know that your money stays local.
Ps - Bolton Market has a market kitchen where they host cookery demos, even the Hairy Bikers have cooked there and they won Best Indoor Retail Market 2010. Even more reason to pay them a visit!
Pps - there's no parking at the market, however park at Sainsbury's on Trinity Street, parking's free for two hours. The train station is a five minute walk from the market and there's plenty of buses running in from the surrounding area.
Bolton Market is open Tue, Thurs, Fri and Sat - 9am-5pm. There's a second hand section on Friday and a car boot on Sunday.
Bolton Market, Ashburner Street, Bolton BL1 1TQ.