Have you visited the St Albans Christmas market yet? Set in and around the beautiful Vintry Gardens with views of the Cathedral it is a charming market that really comes to life as night draws in and the fairy lights come on. You can sip delicious Feuerzangenbowle (great word, good luck ordering that…) and French Mulled Wine as you browse the stalls, many unique to our local area.
If you want to avoid the crowds, head down one morning. The market opens at 10 so you can take your time to look at the goods on offer. I bought mince pies from The Abbot’s Kitchen stall, made at Redbournbury Mill, and we ate most of them wandering around. I tried the christmas cake too, which was juicy and delicious – far better than mine. We ate street food from Singhli which, as in their restaurant on Holywell Hill, is home-made by Mrs Singhli and tastes fresh and healthy. If you prefer non-vegetarian food there are plenty of classic German sausages for sale too at Gobsmacked, who were doing a roaring trade in bratwurst, currywurst and smoked bratwurst. I heard great things about this stall but was too full to try it; even their tomato sauce is home-made.
My favourite food stall was The City Market, run by Simon Blunt. I honestly wanted to buy everything in there. I had met Simon before as he is thinking about opening a shop in St Albans focussing on British and locally sourced foods. Watch this space for news on that next year, but in the meantime Simon has sourced some terrific products that you won’t be able to find in the supermarkets. I bought award-winning Cornish pate, and want to go back for Cocoa Loco’s organic, fair-trade and very pretty christmas chocolates (top tip – take cash! No card machines working here). The chutneys and marmalades from Hawkshead Relish were very appealing too; the one labelled Boxing Day chutney was selling out. The Bacon and Chorizo jam is very popular too; I think you eat this with bacon sandwiches, cold meats and game pies? Try it and see what you think. Gourmet popcorn from Joe and Seph’s looks a vaguely healthy choice for snacking in front of Dr Who, and there are mince pies from Lottie Shaws, who have a great reputation. If you haven’t made a christmas pudding this year how about Nanna’s Christmas Pudding from Houghton Regis in Bedfordshire. This has won a rare Great Taste Gold Star and they are handmade in small batches by Paul Clayton from a recipe passed down from Paul’s great grandmother. Nanna herself is pictured on the label!
Simon is also selling the most beautiful hand-iced biscuits from The Biscuit Club. Made by St Albans baker Sonal, who also supplies to Butterfly World, I was so impressed by the skill showed on her work. The biscuits are vanilla or gingerbread flavour and I could spot Father Christmases, Rudolphs, christmas trees, gift tags and bauble shapes. They would look gorgeous peaking out of the top of a christmas stocking or as a placeholder on the christmas lunch table. Prices start at £1.50 so are very reasonable for the work involved.
Simon is selling smart little hampers at £10 which you can fill with anything you like, and receive a discount off the price of the contents. This is an excellent idea for a gift; you could fill it with sweet or savoury treats for under £30. Simon is adding to stock each day so new foods are appearing all the time so do pop in to see what is available.
I also spotted Turkish delight and sweet stalls and Jaccs coffee, for coffee beans and cups of coffee to take away. Bar 62 from Catherine Street is opening a stall this weekend too, selling their gourmet burgers, chips and mulled cider. I think that will be hugely popular. Stalls are changing over the course of the market, so it is well worth more than one visit.
And if you are wondering about the Feuerzangenbowle; it is a traditional German hot wine drink topped with a sugarcane cone soaked in rum. The sugarcane is lit by fire and melts into the drink. St Albans is the only Christmas market selling it in the UK, so if you are curious, now is your chance to try it!