A finalist in the BBC Food and Farming award in 2012, this market nestles below Edinburgh Castle which towers above it on a volcanic outcrop. It is filled to the brim with local Scottish produce to keep you eating from breakfast to dinner. From Scottish porridge oats to shellfish, venison and buffalo, our shopping basket was heavy with a varied feast which we set about cooking over the following days in our holiday apartment. This market is reason enough to self – cater when staying in Edinburgh. In fact it might even be reason enough to relocate to Edinburgh.
We arrived at the market having purposefully missed breakfast. Being a family of oats eaters, I was keen to try the organic offering from Stoats Porridge. A large pot of porridge was on the go and customers could choose from a range of tempting toppings. I just had to taste the cranachan – my porridge topped with raspberries, honey, cream and sweet toasted oats. My son tucked in to his portion adorned with Belgian white chocolate and roasted hazlenuts. Other brilliant choices included dates, roasted walnuts and cinnamon or pear, sultana and roasted almond. There was even whisky and honey. If this was the choice that had faced Goldilocks, she would have eaten all three bowls.
In addition to a great breakfast, we were also given detailed advice about how to improve our homemade porridge. We immediately bought a couple of boxes of Stoats oats and pinhead porridge oatmeal which we were instructed to cook up the night before for best results. Now I just have to get my husband to offer us the toppings.
After this hearty start to proceedings, we made our way slowly along the stalls, tasting and talking to the stallholders who were keen to chat about their products. I was delighted to come across the Creelers stall as they have a restaurant in town that we had noticed the previous evening. The owner, Tim, previously a fisherman, filled us in on the tiny crustaceans we could not identify. Called squat lobster, Tim told us it is native to Scottish waters and that there are hundreds of variants. We were given instructions on how to dispatch these live creatures, not for the squeamish, and we promptly bought a couple of kilograms worth for our dinner. Spankingly fresh, tender and sweet. (see recipes)
Creelers also sold live crab, langoustines and lobsters, oysters and scallops, the hugest squid I have seen, kippers, smoked fish and a wonderful smoked mackerel pate. Smoked salmon and gravadlax is made at their Arran smokehouse.
I felt so frustrated at having to choose rather than buy the lot which I might have done had we been staying in town longer. I could not resist a couple of pots of Cullen skink, the national soup of Scotland, which we ate for dinner. The kids scraped their bowls for the last drops of this creamy treat, filled with smoked haddock and potato.
Our next meal came from Seriously Good Venison which delivered as its name suggests. The multi-award winning Fletcher’s venison was available in every cut imaginable. The company sells farmed red deer rather than wild roe deer. The very amiable stallholder explained the differences between the wild and the farmed, their grazing conditions, stress levels and the effects of these on the meat. Being a lover of venison, I learnt a lot about the provenance of my dinner.
The stall helpfully offered a number of pamphlets on how to prepare the various cuts of venison. I had to limit my purchase to a couple of packs of venison steak which were beautifully tender and gamey, having sat in a hot pan for two minutes a side.
Now in a meaty mood we moved on to investigate the buffalo options at Puddledub Buffalo Company who have their own buffalo herd. A number of cuts of buffalo meat were on sale as well as an irresistible buffalo burger and onions frying on a grill alongside the stall.
Since the meat has less cholesterol and half the fat of regular beef, it is a good option for the cholesterolly challenged. A well-spiced burger kept the hunger pangs at bay. The stall also sold an impressive array of Aberdeen Angus beef.
By now I was seriously considering moving to Edinburgh and that was before chatting to the lovely couple running the Oink stall where a long line of hungry customers waited patiently for pulled pork baps, served with sage and onion stuffing or haggis! Neither patient nor hungry, I still could not resist one of these. Only in Scotland will there be haggis offered with the roast pork and good it was too.
Served in 3 sizes depending on appetite – they sell the piglet, the oink and the grunter. Topped with crackling. Literally finger-licking. For those who cannot wait until the following Saturday, there is an Oink outlet in town at 4 Victoria Street.
Thinking that I had found a cheese stall, I discovered that I was in fact standing in front of The Caurnie Soap Company. Large round soaps, some cut into wedges, made a beautiful display. The list of plants used in these soaps made them sound, not only look, good enough to eat. Heather and lavender, lemongrass, lime and thyme, lavender petal, aloe vera and scots oats, orange and marigold, olive, nettle and chamomile being just a taster.
I had a long discussion with the stall holder about the various uses of these soaps for skin ailments. I had no idea that nettles are good for eczema and psoriasis – in soap form of course. The company has been producing organic Scottish soap for 80 years and a couple of wedges made it into my basket.
For real cheese we made our way over to the Isle of Arran cheese shop where we found amongst the numerous cheddars, an award winning blue cheese, Arran Blue. Great on a few Scottish oatcakes. Ok so we had more than just a few.
As we were planning a hike up Arthur’s Seat the following day, we picked up a few pies at Peelham Farm stall. We ate our organic pork pie at altitude and while I believe that food always tastes better after a steep climb, this one would have been just as good at sea level. Next time I am going back for their ruby veal pie.
A basket brimming with ham hocks had me yearning for my stock pot.
This company has a fantastic scheme called Own a Tamworth. You visit the farm to choose a piglet which they raise for 7-9 months at which point it is butchered and sent to you in all its piggy forms. You pay £45 up front and then the same amount per month until the pig is slaughtered. Talk about knowing the provenance of your meal. This is close up and personal. Now I know what to give the foodie who has everything!
I have tasted countless apple juices at stalls over the years but this was my first encounter with apple and chilli juice. Apparently it is a big seller. At first you get the sweet, fruity hit and then the heat creeps up on you. My children found this surprise spoilt their fun but it makes a change for adult palates.
By this time my head was reeling with choice and we had only bought from a smattering of stalls. There are around 50 each week. I sought solace at the Cairn o’ Mohr where I tasted a cider with a decent hit of apple. I know all apple cider should have an apple flavour but they don’t all deliver. This one did.
Edinburgh Farmers Market
Castle Terrace. Open every Saturday from 9 – 2.