Food Festivals and Farmers’ Markets – Caroline James explains why she loves them


Food Festivals & Farmers Markets

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It’s festival time again in the foodie world and farmers’ markets are blossoming as the weather improves…

I nearly got killed in the crush at my local farmers’ market recently, amid a stampede of genteel middle classes who swarmed around a produce stall, as they wrestled each other out of the way in pursuit of a taste of finely matured Cheshire cheese. The cheese was no ordinary cheese however, it was impregnated with caramelised onions and Rioja and I found myself battling with the best for a miniscule sliver of the delicacy.

Fresh mushrooms
Mushroom selection at a local farmer’s market

It was the first farmers’ market of the year and the sun shone as hordes of folk came out of winter hibernation to enjoy a flavour of local produce. I always vow not to take any money with me, as I too get swept away in the excitement and soon have a basket full of lavender-infused oil, smoked fish, freshly baked bread, pork and paprika sausages and a huge box of mixed fungi that I haven’t a clue what to do with. If a smiling lady, with an equally sweet child encourages me to try her walnut and apple quiche, I will invariably buy two, regardless of cost. The stalls soon empty, as does my purse and I head home telling myself that it’s not about the money.

I have to admit that I love these events and will always support small artisan suppliers, as long as the produce is good and the prices reasonable.

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A riot of fresh produce at the local farmer’s market

Farmers’ markets have exploded onto our calendars in recent years, but this isn’t a new concept. Similar forms existed way before the Industrial Age and were part of broader markets, where suppliers gathered all kinds of goods to retail on a weekly basis.

These days there’s a strong demand for produce that is fresher, with fewer food miles, traceability and a greater variety to supply the nation’s unquenchable interest in food.


Food festivals follow suit. They are descendants of medieval gatherings that date from the 13th century and are big business today.

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Lazy days at a summer food festival

Originally the festival was a means of uniting the community to give thanks for a plentiful growing season and to celebrate the arrival of harvest time.

Today, most towns and cities ensure that their summer calendars include something food related, with a good helping of demonstration chefs giving talks and showing us how to use the produce we purchase at the event. Stall-holders and suppliers thrust their produce under our noses in the ferocious belief that theirs is, quite simply, the best and a must-have purchase.

Food festivals have come a long way from pickles and jam with the occasional cider sample.

Many events include music and entertainment and make a great day out. They can be found all over Britain with new offerings appearing each year. Food festivals differ from food shows, which are generally found under cover in exhibition centres, sponsored by major brands and tend to be a more formal affair.

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Ludlow in Shropshire, hosts one of the biggest food festivals in the country and came about because the town council was against a large supermarket invading the charming country town. They came up with the idea of showing the locals what they’d be missing if a large retailer gained the monopoly and independents couldn’t compete. It’s a wonderful affair with more than 20,000 visitors over the three days (this year from 12th – 14th September).

In the south of England, the towns of Brighton & Hove host, what they claim, is the largest food festival of its kind which has been described by the New York Post as one of the world’s leading local food events.

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Taste of Chicago

The largest food festival in the world is claimed by the city of Chicago, USA, and is known as The Taste.

It’s held in the summer and one year attracted up to 3.9 million people. Foods include popular American favourites – pizza, hot dogs, ribs, and cheesecakes, but also a huge variety of ethnic and regional foods.

Festival season in Britain kicks off early in the year and you can follow your food cravings all over the country. There are events every weekend to suit all tastes, from chocolate and cheese festivals to some more unusual events, such as Chapatti in the Park, Munchies in the Meadow and a Watercress Festival in Alresford. Britain has a wonderful plethora of food markets, festivals and forums for everyone to enjoy. I for one, love any day out that focuses on food and will be hot-footing around as many as I can.

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Food festivals attract thousands of visitors

My favourites…  My absolute favourite food festival is the annual Kinsale Gourmet Food Festival in southern Ireland, a three-day event of complete madness with some incredible food, drink and, of course – good old Irish hospitality at its best. You’ll need plenty of stamina for this fabulous event. Get there if you can!

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The annual Gourmet Food Festival in Kinsale, Ireland – a wonderful event!

Nearer to home I enjoy all the varied events at a new venue, Alcumlow Hall Farm, in Cheshire, from the most amazing ice cream selection you can imagine, to hot air balloon rides on May Bank Holiday. The homemade cakes are gorgeous too, in Cobbles Tearoom and there’s plenty to look at and buy, from antiques to bespoke teddy bears.

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Gorgeous ice cream at Alcumlow Hall Farm


Where’s your favourite food festival or farmers’ market? Do let me know…

Here’s wishing you many happy foodie days out this year!


Spiced Mushrooms

I always end up with a large bag of mushrooms when I’ve been to a farmers’ market and this recipe is  quick and delicious, ideal to make as soon as you get home.

spicy mushrooms on toast
Spicy Mushrooms on Toast


1 small box of mixed mushrooms of your choice

1 onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, chopped finely

2 tbsp olive oil

Small cube of butter

Salt and pepper to season

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

250ml Buckfast Tonic Wine


  • Pour wine into a saucepan and reduce to a syrup
  • Fry the onion in the olive oil until soft and opaque, add garlic and mushrooms and cook for a further 2/3 minutes
  • Add wine syrup to the mushrooms and coat
  • Add butter and lemon juice

To Serve:

Serve on griddled sourdough toast with a heaped spoon of crème fraiche


The aromatic flavour and sweetness of the mushrooms would make a great accompaniment to steak or game.

 Minty Cup Cakes

Have you ever been to a farmers’ market or food festival and gazed at the displays of cupcakes, lovingly made by local bakers? I don’t think I’ve ever come home without one prettily boxed, peeking out of the top of my basket. With fresh mint sprouting up in our gardens, here’s a recipe that’s very easy to make and a super tea-time treat.

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Minty Cupcakes



225 gr SR flour, sifted

225 gr caster sugar

225 gr butter

4 large eggs

1 bunch freshly chopped mint


  • Preheat the oven to 160 deg C, (325 F/gas mark 3) and place 16 paper cases in a bun tin
  • Cream butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy
  • Beat the eggs then add slowly to the butter mix
  • Carefully fold in the flour and stir in the chopped mint
  • Spoon into bun cases and bake for approx 15 minutes until springy to touch


If you like icing on your cupcakes, make a butter icing and add a couple of drops of peppermint essence or choose your favourite topping. Melted chocolate is delicious and you could add a handful of chocolate chips to the sponge mix too. Mint and chocolate are a tasty combination.

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