An iconic and must-see sight in London, Borough Market has been serving those who pass through Southwark for 1,000 years.
Emily Ashworth looks at the changing culinary habits of the country and speaks to Darren Henaghan, the markets managing director.
It is hard to think what Borough Market may have looked like in the year 1019.
Its purpose was the subject of much debate through the medieval times, as authorities caused a commotion after trying to determine and regulate profit, causing uproar among traders who wanted to make as much money as possible with little interference.
During the 1270s, the city of London forbade its citizens to go to what was then known as Southwark market to buy ‘corn, cattle, or other merchandise’.
And although the traders, foods and structure may have changed, at the heart of it the ethos is still much the same – to serve and provide customers with fantastic produce.
You cannot deny the special vibe Borough Market has, as visitors from around the world wander the endless array of stalls, shoulder to shoulder with locals and families who have been shopping there for years.
And in a supermarket culture, it is a testament to those who sell their too, with loyal customers flocking back to many traders’ stalls week after week.
But 21 years ago, Borough Market changed from a wholesale market to its current form when well-known businesses such as renowned cheese specialists Neal’s Yard Dairy, and Turnips, a fruit and vegetable wholesalers run by Fred and Caroline Foster, started trading.
A flurry of artisan producers followed, and the market is also still home to farmers who enjoy selling their produce direct.
But Borough Market is not about to rest on its laurels, as it pushes forwards into the 21st century, meeting demands from today’s environmentally aware population.
On November 18, the market launched its next venture, The Borough Market Kitchen, a communal dining space serving up freshly cooked meals from ingredients sourced from market traders.
It is entirely single-use plastic- free, with the seating and dining area all constructed from recycled materials.
As eating habits change constantly and food trends appear overnight, Borough Market and its traders can adapt and play to their strengths, which all focus on communal shopping and eating.
Darren Henaghan, the market’s managing director, is well placed to know the value of focusing on the farm-to-fork message, given his upbringing on his family’s 49-hectare (120-acre) beef and sheep farm.
“Farming is tough,” says Darren.
“There wasn’t a Borough Market when I was growing up.
“Dad wanted to do things differently, but at that point it was all about yields, and there wasn’t that food culture, or the link to the customer or food chain.
“If we’ve done anything at Borough over the last 15 years, it’s having created that tangible link to city dwellers and the countryside.”
Each year, 15 million visitors pass through the market which, says Darren, offers contact with the realities of food production and farming.
“I think about 25 years ago people lost faith in British food and Borough is successful because you can prove provenance,” he says.
“It’s about trust – the farmer, who raised the animal and brought it to market, is standing there in front of you.
"You can make your own judgement as a consumer.
“The value people place on food has become very skewed.”
But it is, of course, about the social aspect too, a somewhat lost way of shopping for many who, as Darren says, ‘do not talk to a single soul’ in the supermarket.
“It is bad for us as humans,” Darren says.
By shopping in such close proximity to those who produce the food you are buying, consumers cannot understand the effort it takes to bring it to market’ and value the fact ‘that things at Borough cost more.’
And that is where its magic lies, in Borough Market’s ability to be a multi-functional food and farming haven, educating and exciting consumers with the freshest produce and ensuring the farm-to-fork story can continue to be relevant.
Lizzie and Richard Vines’ presence at Borough Market began when they attended the market’s first three-day food lovers fair in 1998.
Lizzie says: “We took enough meat for the three days and it pretty much went on the first day.
“On the second day, we just had meat left for stewing and by the third, we just had to rely on a little notebook.
“People were queuing up and the place was swamped with foodies.”
Before the days of opening at weekends, Lizzie joined an open day on a Saturday and demand grew.
“We’d say to the butcher we want a whole bullock – oxtail and everything,” she says.
“He’d say, ‘you’re not going to sell all that’ and we’d sell it all by lunchtime.”
Today there are hundreds of stalls, coupled with the serving of hot food.
“The South Bank is now a tourist spot,” says Lizzie.
“We have some very old customers, some who used to bring their children as babies strapped to their chest and we now serve them as teenagers. We do have some very loyal customers.
“I’d say one in 10 of our customers are Americans who, regardless of what you hear about American beef, want grass-fed beef and there is a movement for that starting over there.”
She has been surprised, though, to witness how supportive her customers have been over the years, especially in 2006 when foot-and-mouth hit.
She says: “People were so kind. They’d say, ‘I’m so glad you’re here’ and ‘we love your meat’. They were so caring – it nearly had you in tears.”
Lizzie has also become accustomed to dietary trends, particularly welcoming what she calls ‘the paleo boys’, those on the ‘caveman diet’.
“They love offal,” she says. “I used to cook hearts for the sheepdog because nobody ever bought it and now, we can’t sell enough.
“There are also those who have been ill and are healing themselves by eating a natural diet of grass-fed things.”
20g dried porcini
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fl aky sea salt
20g dried dulse seaweed
2–2.5kg brisket (point end)
200ml white wine, red wine or water
100ml just-boiled water
Preheat the oven to 100C fan/120C/250F/gas mark ½.
Use a spice grinder or other blender to grind the porcini, peppercorns, salt and 5g of the dulse seaweed to a powder. Lie the brisket in a roasting tin into which it fits fairly snugly and rub the spice blend all over it. Pour the wine or water into the tin, avoiding the meat so as not to wash the rub off. Cover the tin tightly with foil and place in the oven for 7–8 hours, until the brisket is tender.
Remove from the oven and leave to rest, still covered, for 20 minutes, then transfer the meat to a carving board.
If you’re cooking the brisket in advance, then separate the meat from the juices, and leave both to cool to room temperature before covering and chilling until required. Reheat the meat for 40 minutes at 150C fan/170C/325F/gas mark 3 before leaving it to rest on the carving board (covered with foil), as above.
Remove the solidified fat from the cooking juices and add the latter to the meat when reheating.
Increase the oven temperature to 150C fan/170C/325F/gas mark 3. Separate the top layer of fat from the juices in the tin if you can, replace it with 100ml just-boiled water and add the rest of the dulse to the cooking juices (break it into pieces if the seaweed you have is in one clump).
Cut the beef into 1cm-thick slices across the width of the brisket (across the grain of the meat) and lay the slices flat in the liquid. Return to the oven, covered, for 20 minutes while you prepare the rest of your meal, basting the meat from time to time.
Serve the brisket on a platter with the cooking juices and re-hydrated seaweed spooned over the top, with mashed root vegetables and market brassicas alongside.