Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cupcakes, farmers' markets and all I've learned in the past year

Yesterday was my last day at Dingle Farmers' Market until our Christmas markets in December (dates yet to be decided).
My reaction to this my decision to call a halt to cupcake baking for the winter is a mixed one. My head (and body) says: Phew! I'm glad that's over.
Yet it's more complicated than that. Ever since I set up my stall just over a year ago, I've learned a huge amount from my involvement with the market and my life has become richer as a result.

I've found people to be so generous . When I first started, I was unsure whether my venture would be successful and so wasn't keen to shell out money on a canopy. I told an old lady who used to be in charge of the market about my reluctance to invest too much upfront and she immediately swung into action, contacting stallholders and asking if anybody had a canopy they weren't using. Organic vegetable enthusiast Deckie came up trumps and loaned me one until I felt the time had come to purchase one of my own. (Thanks Deckie!)

The other stallholders have been friendly too. Tom often helps me to set up my stall in the morning (hoping he'll get a banoffee cupcake in return!).
Mark, the market controller is always on hand to carry boxes, assemble canopies and solve occasional disputes (!). The atmosphere is always convivial, with everyone swapping stories, chatting with customers and marvelling at the weather (it was sunny every single Friday - bar one - from the beginning of April until yesterday!).

The customers have to be one of the things that make the market so special. It's great building up a regular customer base, learning what they like and having them come back to tell you what they think of your products. My customers often suggest new flavours I should try and what they think of cupcakes they have tasted elsewhere.

Here are some stand-out memories of interactions I had with customers this year:
A lovely German girl whose granny had been a prize-winning baker in Bavaria sampling my white chocolate and raspberry cupcakes and trying to guess all the different ingredients.

The delight on the face of a charming elderly man who bought cupcakes every week when I returned to the market after a few weeks of being off sick.

There was also the lady who would visit my stall every week, spend ages looking at all the different options and then complain about my cupcakes being too expensive. She would try to haggle about the price and I would stand firm and refuse. (I give discounts if you buy lots, not just two!) Two weeks ago, she eventually relented and decided she'd spend €4 on two white chocolate and raspberry cupcakes. She returned yesterday to say how nice they were "even though they were dear". She then bought 12! And for that, I did give her a discount.
(white chocolate and raspberry cupcakes; the cakes that eventually made her crack)

I've learned lots about baking and decorating cakes during the year too. It's amazing to look back at photos and see just how much my cakes have improved. They always tasted good but at the beginning I had a lot to learn about making them look good.
I've also developed an even deeper respect for food producers. There is such a huge amount of work and committment involved in producing fresh food and anyone who succeeds in doing so ought to be commended.
Dingle Farmers' Market has grown and developed during the year too. When I started in September 2009, the market was located in an out-of-the-way strip of wasteland. The ground was potholed and uneven and turned into a muddy quagmire when it rained. This meant that only a hardy core of six or so stallholders turned up every Friday and the market was losing customers by the week.
A man called Michael Gleeson came to our rescue and he negotiated with Kerry County Council on our behalf. We were moved to a new location - the car park on Holy Ground - and it's been onwards and upwards ever since. Over the summer months, we had 20+ stallholders and many more expressing interest in joining.
Sausages and all sorts of cured meats, farmhouse cheeses, vegetarian and vegan food, savoury pies, fresh fish, homemade pizzas and quiches, bread, a huge variety of vegetables, pancakes, local honey, local organic beef, great hot food such as lamb koftas and crab bisque, my cupcakes and brownies and a fabulous range of local crafts; Dingle Farmers' Market is now not to be missed. Just ask the hundreds of regulars who come every Friday.

I'm already planning to spend the winter experimenting with new cupcake flavours, macaroons and whoopie pies but for those of you who'll suffer withdrawal symptoms until then, here are some Oreo cupcakes to tide you over:


  1. You did very well! Great job, Sharon!!

  2. Thanks Kerry. You always say such nice things!

  3. Sugar, I didn't mean to write Kerry! I know your name is Sharon too!

  4. Great blog Sharon. May I add that your cup cake stand has become one of the cornerstone stalls at the Dingle Market and all us sweet toothed Dingletons will be waiting with our desert spoons sharpened until your return at Christmas...

    ...oh and just to let you know the Guinness one was my favourite. The frosting on it was amazing.

  5. I'm really going to miss your cupcakes, especially the Raspberry & white chocolate. Can't wait to try the whoopie pies.

  6. Thanks, Ben. And good to know about the Guinness. It will definitely be making a reappearance. I am also trying to create more boozy-themed ones. (There is a JD and Coke recipe that I have been trying to improve on for ages!)

    And Niamh, thanks for the comment. The raspberry and white chocolate ones are definitely popular!

    After all the nice comments, I'm beginning to think that I should keep my stall open for a while longer...

  7. Wow the cupcakes look great and are making me hungry!Especally the Oreo one...
    Hope to try one next year!

  8. Kathleen,
    I will be at the Dingle Christmas markets (and maybe at a few others too) so you can catch me there if you can't wait until next year!

  9. They look delicious! great work on the market, fantastic stuff.

  10. How do you keep your cupcakes cool at hot outdoor markets?