Thursday, October 27, 2005

The weird and the wonderful: a tour of Flemington Market

At 7.00am the Good Food Month market tour left the auction floor of the Sydney Seafood Market and headed to Flemington. Here the fruit and vegetables of spring, both weird and wonderful, were out in force.

The Flemington Markets are the size of a small suburb, and the roads were abuzz with bicycles, motorbikes and forklifts ferrying people and produce from one end of the market to the other.

The tour took us first to the Growers Market, where farmers local to Sydney sell their wares. Danks Street Depot chef, Jared Ingersoll, is passionate about seasonal produce and was very generous with his knowledge as we wandered around the various stalls. He retains three items on his menu all year round, giving him the flexibility to create dishes using the best fruit and vegetables of the season.

One of the vegetables synonymous with spring, asparagus, was out in abundance in the market. The green, purple and white varieties were all available in sizes ranging from pencil thin to thick giant stems.

``Asparagus is absolutely fantastic at the moment and grows an inch a day if the conditions are right,’’ Jared said. ``My ideal asparagus is nice and thick but really juicy.’’

Jared said most people undercook their asparagus, and should let it boil for a few minutes longer. ``If you boil it until it is crunchy then just a little bit more to bring out the sweetness,’’ he said.

Creamy white asparagus is harvested below the ground and often has a bitter taste. It needs a fine peel before cooking and Jared shared this tip to combat the bitterness. ``Boil it in a bit of orange juice to cut out the bitter edge,’’ he said.

Artichoke is one of his favourite spring vegetables. He suggests steaming it whole for 25 to 30 minutes, and said it goes well with a nice glass of Riesling.

``Cut it really fine and season it with lemon and olive oil,’’ he said.

Dodging the reversing forklifts we crossed the road to the wholesale Produce Market. Members of the public can purchase produce from here but only in large volumes i.e. by the case. The people that work here start at 1am with all trading concluding by 9am.

Wandering through these markets we were lucky enough to come upon a few surprises. Most tour members, including myself, had never seen turmeric root before. Resembling ginger and galangal, it was orange in colour and carrot-like on the inside.

``It has quite a strong flavour but it creeps up on you,’’ said Jared. ``It makes a pretty colour, I’m using it at the moment in a cardamom curry.’’

Garlic shoots were another oddity. These came from Byron Shire and are available for a very short time at the beginning of spring. I bought a bunch from Perfection Fresh Australia (Ph: 9763 1877). Green in colour with a strong flavour of garlic and onion, I tried some chopped up in a salad for lunch. I also fried a few up in some butter with another market goodie, Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Cabbage). They would also work well with oven baked or steamed fish.

With our calico market show bags brimming with amazing produce we left the market via one of the onsite delis for a restorative coffee. The tour was a real treat not only for the chance to learn some tricks of the trade from a chef passionate about seasonal produce, but also to get behind the scenes and experience this whole other world that operates while most of us are still sleeping.