‘Completely Crackers’ explained how I came to be a fevered baker – ‘flour in my hair ‘(surely a possible title for a romantic novel?) I wielded my rolling pin on a nightly basis, invested in scales both metric and imperial but made sure I had the requisite American ‘spoons and cups’ I was ready for just about everything a recipe could throw at me. I was happily productive – in fact fecund ! Enough is enough – I had to find an outlet. Boxes of digestives, oatcakes, crackers with seeds, crackers with olives, crackers with chopped rosemary and even more. The shelves were groaning with air-tight boxes, crammed with goodies just waiting to be eaten. I imagined a scenario (just like those scary TV programs), where I was found, totally barricaded in- people on loudhailers shouting my name as they forced down the door and clambered over boxes and biscuit tins piled so deep nobody would find me, still frenziedly rolling out dough on the back porch.
Determined to maintain at least some semblance of normality and rationality, I decided to look for an outlet and a reasonable excuse for this constant baking phenomena. I was feeling a bit fragile and not up to setting up a ‘business’ – Heaven forbid! Any thought of legalities, deadlines and tax problems was completely beyond me at this time. I had once before looked at producing oils/vinegars and other products using home-grown spices or herbs. ( You will the only thing consistent in my blog is that I was consistently never quite sure what I was doing or where I was going!)
I remembered that I had once come across ‘Country Markets’ – a ‘branch-out’ from the WI. I never was a member, although I did once attend a meeting to please my elderly mother. Somehow it was just not for me – I could never get out of my mind the old Giles cartoon
“The ladies agree, then, that should there be an outbreak of peace the Iron Curtain will only be handed over to Herr Krupp providing he gives us his word of honour that he won’t melt it down into bullets.”
It is unfair I know – but that was how I imagined their meetings. The mother-daughter thing was not working.In my biscuit laden phase – I checked out online and realised that the ‘Country Market’ is a profit-making organisation where you can take your wares and sell them as part of a co-operative. I determined to find out more.
First step was to my nearest market town where I was assured there was a ‘Country Market’ and all I had to do was to ask for the ‘market manager’ and explain what I had to sell. This was much easier said than done. Finding the place wasn’t the problem- I arrived at around 11 a.m. which is long past their peak selling time. I looked in and I must say there was a rather formidable line of women staring at me. I wandered around rather vaguely, pretending I was looking for something to buy. I then wandered out and looked at a few noticeboards..then wandered back in ..then out again. It was only at this point that I took hold of myself – after all I had invested in petrol, parking fee and personal stress to get this far. I was a ‘grown-up’ and needed to be assertive. I went back in and asked for the ‘market manager’. At first she was just a touch dismissive -explaining that I would need a ‘Level 2 Hygiene certificate’ You can do it online
I didn’t realise at the time, but I was the only cracker/oatcake/biscuit producer which meant I was no threat at all to the ‘savoury ladies’ or the Victoria sponges/fruit cakes etc. In fact I was a rather nervous novelty.
Next step was to do the certificate and then take samples of my cooking for the other ‘producers’ to sample. Now that I understand them better and their rather defensive attitude – I know I was lucky that the ‘cookie’ brand was not seen as an area for baking contention! Briefly – it wasn’t a Dorset Apple cake, lemon drizzle or Victoria sponge. They sound so yummy and comforting but there are cake-wars within markets that would have sent me screaming for the nearest Mr. Kipling!
Ten days later – in some trepidation – I took along samples of my crackers and cheese biscuits. The other producers huddled over the plates, nibbled and crunched, ummed and ahhed…looked at each other ….and decided biscuits were a great addition to the counter. I was in! I was given a quick course on packaging, and bought a starter kit – I felt like the new girl at school. There were labels and bags which must conform to the market standards and a handbook which explains ‘The Rules’. I learned that a biscuit may be a biscuit to most of us – but in market terms it must be described as a ‘cookie’ or it will fall foul of all kinds regulations too complex to contemplate. I bought sheets of white ‘food card’ with which to make containers for delicate produce. I was to learn a lot about precision cutting/scoring and the joy of double-sided tape! I went home to prepare for my first day.
So that was my start and 10 months on I am still there – and still known as ‘The crackers lady’ although my range has extended and my interest in biscuits and the like has become no less fevered. I chanced on the following link in the Guardian and felt reassured – I am not the only one using baking as a therapy! I am not alone!