It was a glorious day when spring had not yet surrendered to summer, and I was making a rare trip to the Growers’ Markets at Pyrmont Park. The ferry chugged across the harbour, shredding curtains of mist that trailed listlessly into the atmosphere, exposing cobalt patches of sky.
Impossible to miss the markets when the ferry docked! The park was submerged under a canopy of umbrellas. Although I had caught the earliest ferry, it was evident that I was not early, and the prospect of lingering over a leisurely breakfast soon dissipated in the thronging crowds.
Stalls bordered the waters edge and the immediate boundaries of the park. Some encroached on the centre, and others formed an endless line on the far side. Everywhere crowds bustled and jostled their way to the counters to look, to touch, to taste, to carry off produce in triumph.
There were bread stalls with myriads of varieties of freshly baked organic loaves. Mouth-watering fruit loaves, their fresh dough crumpled with fruit and dimpled with whole almonds, tumbled seductively against robust, gluten- free sourdoughs. The pale, diffused gold of pumpkin loaves was a delicate contrast to hearty Aussie dampers.
Home baked, culinary creations festooned the cake stalls. The ginger cake was clearly a masterpiece, its unique flavour attributable we were assured, to a spicy secret harbouring three different types of ginger. Australian Bush Christmas cakes, heavy with fruit and spice and decorated with opulent glace flora, were nostalgic reminders of an era when the icing on the cake was the artistic signature of the dedicated, homespun expert.
Wandering from stall to stall, I salivated over swollen, plump knobs of marinated baby figs luxuriating in rich, dark liquid. Jars of jam, lids removed to flaunt their decadence, flagrantly touted for business from stall counters. Bunches of riotous colours paraded along the edges of flower stalls, and the smell of fresh blossoms permeated the air, throwing out a sensory challenge to the irresistible reminders of brewed coffee.
The creamy textures of butters, cheeses, yoghurts and their marinated medleys enticed the wayward wanderer to indulge in furtive flirtations with the lurking dangers of cholesterol. Fruit and vegetable stalls, chaotic displays of fresh, organic produce, attracted relentless crowds. Moisture glistened on the greens, and the wild rocket conjured up visions of vigorous salads bursting with reckless energy. Bunches of miniature beetroot promised colourful embellishments to mundane meals.
The crowds surged around. Dog walkers, stoically claiming their right to space, presided with benevolent tolerance over territorial canine clashes, which threatened to disrupt this spectacular event of organic harmony. Young parents manoeuvred deluxe model pushers with unwavering purpose, scattering careless loiterers from their path. Venturing back to the stalls, I joined a short coffee queue, and performed a precarious balancing act with the morning paper, a shopping bag and a takeaway coffee.
Having resolved on a ‘look, but don’t buy’ day, I limited my purchases, but was already planning for future indulgences, such as the wild hibiscus flowers to drop into glasses of champagne. We called these rosellas when I was growing up, and rosella jam was a common, everyday jam, stockpiled plentifully at every fete and street stall. But now, no longer the Cinderellas crushed for jam and boiled with sugar, the whole, red, transparent flowers are packed in jars of syrup, waiting to burst into bloom with the kiss of champagne in a wine glass.
I strolled back to the wharf. The bright sunlight cavorted on the water, glinting and shimmering like quivering diamond facets. Exotic images and aromas pursued my senses as the ferry chugged back across the bay. Growers’ markets are a modern renaissance, a luscious display of human endeavour and creativity.
Senses sated and spirit nourished, I felt the balmy tranquillity of the morning seep through me, lifting me above the jangles of a world that is never quite right, and harmonising discord into a celebration of life’s simplicity.