Meat to the fore in Comber as Year of Food and Drink rolls on

Pipe & Glass - On The Menu''Pork chops
Pipe & Glass - On The Menu''Pork chops

Last Thursday I visited the monthly Comber Farmer’s Market. When I drove up at 10am in the morning the carpark beside the Parish Church was already a hive of activity.

The catering committee of the church serve teas and traybakes in the church hall and it was full of locals and visitors chatting and enjoying the buzz. The Stove yard company in Newtownards brought along the uber trendy Green Egg barbecue so the air was filled with the intoxicating aroma of smoky meat and good quality sizzling fat.

Stalls filled the main area and you could pretty much buy everything needed for meals for a week at least.

Horner’s Farm Shop had beetroots and carrots with leafy tops, Comber potatoes, peas, beans and plenty of turnips. At the other end David Love Cameron, the gardener at the Walled Garden at Helen’s Bay, had brought along kohlrabi, the green and purple orbs that look like they have a TV aerial growing out of the top. These are among my favourite vegetables as they combine the flavour of cabbage and turnip in one. A box had crooked courgettes, of different colours and sizes – you could just see the buyer from the conglomerate supermarket writing them all off.

A couple of weeks ago I questioned the price of a handful of turnips I’d bought – and ended up making front page news! I’ve had a lot of stick since then, all good natured thankfully.

David Love Cameron was the first to present me with some turnips at Comber – his golden baby turnips were amazing and one of the nicest things I’ve ever been given. I’ve said it before – I’m very low maintenance... to cut a long story short I did arrive home with a lot of turnips (one had been wrapped in pink tissue) and I won’t even need to think about being ripped off for at least a month – hopefully!

The theme for August in Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink is meat so that was the focus for Comber market, with Kenny Gracey’s rare breed pork and meat, Kennedy bacon from Omagh, Castlescreen Dexter from Downpatrick and Black Beef from Comber.

You can buy perfectly fine meat from a supermarket but when you get a group of passionate producers in one area, why would you? The quality is vastly superior and a little goes a long way.

My first recipe this week is for an apple glazed saddleback chop using Kenny Gracey’s saddleback pork, Margaret Cooper’s apple jelly all served with turnip flavoured with Mervyn Kennedy’s bacon lardons. Lardon is a fancy name for bacon bits and a clever way to use off cuts. The crispy fat they give off is perfect to fry turnip in and a dot of Abernethy butter’s excellent smoked butter tops it off perfectly. All you need on the side is some great new queen potatoes from Horner’s stand!

My other recipe this week is using everything from David’s stand – courgettes, mint and fresh basil. The mint stalks infuse the courgettes with lemon juice cutting through the texture. The leaves are shredded and added with finely chopped basil. This cool salad is paired with hot courgette and goat’s cheese fritters. Comber is home to a deli called Indie Fude that stocks fantastic local produce and they also pop up at the monthly market with oils, butter, cheese, and all manner of potions.

Comber Market is a one stop shop for the best in the county and is well worth a day trip.