This year’s Durham Christmas Markets host an abundance of Christmas goodies, ranging from treats and gifts, puddings and cakes, to chutneys, jams, game and meat to hot mulled wine and cider. Food stalls are tucked away between the gifts and crafts in the market place and on Palace Green. Meanwhile in the Cathedral, the cloisters provide an atmospheric setting for a traditional food market, with stalls from many local businesses.
Bev Stephenson, from North Chocolates, is one of them. Her slogan ‘Recession is bad, Chocolate is good’, summarises her entry into the business of chocolate making. What began as gifts for friends has now become a full time occupation, creating around 150 chocolate bars each day such as her Christmassy ‘Mulled Spice Bar’, made with with cinnamon, nutmeg and orange and wrapped with a dried orange slice as the perfect stocking filler. Or for a contrast, try her rosemary, lemon and sea salt bars, or DinoRoars for kids, all made using high quality coverture chocolate.
A few stalls along is a similar tale of a hobby turned into a business. Cookery teacher Heather Foggon, from The Chirnells Farmhouse Kitchen, now works seven days a week selling her Christmas cakes and puddings at food festivals and markets. It’s a seasonal business, and she starts in January to make over 2000 puddings a year, as well as Easter and Christmas cakes and other seasonal goods! Try her gingerbread and lemon drizzle cakes and coconutty Christmas slice, all baked to her high standards in her own home, as is the real plum Christmas pudding, inspired by a customer’s request for a truly traditional plum pudding. Yet these are all recipes that everyone can cook at home – and with a recipe book in the process, there’s no reason not to!
For something more contemporary, try Peachy’s Cakes, with their delicately decorated cupcakes and celebration cakes, handmade by owner Belinda Snow. My favourites were the cupcakes bearing an intricate gingerbread men, which would make a fantastic gift or an indulgent treat.
Another local stall was Sweet Sally Cinnamon, selling mouth watering salted caramel sauce, cinder toffee and hot chocolate spoons, all handmade in Durham by owner Claire. Also on offer were baking mixes for cookies and flapjacks, ideal for a gift and part of Sweet Sally Cinnamon’s mission “to bring baking back home”.
Finally, for a hot drink the choices were numerous. Inside the cloisters, The Real Cider Company stood out, with their display of a wide range of ciders. As a local wholesaler, the company sources many ciders from Somerset and Herefordshire, however they were also featuring something more local in the form of Yorkshire cider. All the ciders come from small craftsmen and small producers, because, as Director Phil Kennedy said, “When you’ve tasted it, you know there’s a difference”. The flagons of artisan cider would make a great Christmas gift and a cup of the mulled cider or sweet syrupy hot apple and honey drink would prove ideal for browsing the rest of the market or braving the cold as you exit to Palace Green. Meanwhile, for those that prefer to mull their own, a mulling syrup was available in the gifts and crafts market on the green itself, which, added to red wine or apple juice, provides a special hint of Christmassy flavour.
Like Durham itself, the market was full of quaint surprises and interesting stories. There’s a range of food to suit everybody, whether it’s a delicious snack for a wintry evening, something to share with family and friends on Christmas Day, or something to wrap up under the tree – if you can stop yourself from eating it first!