This is my first farmers’ market expedition. I am at Whiteladies Road, and I am cold and feeling a bit lost. Luckily, I have arranged to speak to George, the creator of the Somerset Soup Company. With a steaming cauldron of soup and bagels toasting in the background, the sight of her stall is akin to returning home to a roaring fire after a brisk winter’s walk.
My conversation with George begins in the best possible way. She establishes whether my preference is for sweet or savory, and then pops a double chocolate bagel in the toaster for me. Score.
The stall is picture perfect. Her products have been laid out in old wooden crates and wicker hampers, and the flavours are written on chalkboards. But in spite of the polished look she has created, George has only been running the Somerset Soup Company for a relatively short time; she explains, “I started the soup company in February of this year, so not very long, and the bagels have been going just about two months.”
This summer, she also started selling artisan lemonades, which filled the gap when the demand for hot soup subsided. She says, “We tried the soup, but the thing is the markets are very quiet then, so basically we phased the soup out. But then it’s time for the lemonades, time for the bagels. Really we’re three companies rolled into one.”
Keeping the customer satisfied
The multifaceted approach to the business means that her customers’ desires are catered for at all times. It also allows her to make optimum use of seasonal produce. “We do try and concentrate on getting really local and fresh produce, and I believe you can taste it in the soup. We’ve tried to keep everything with the seasons,” she says.
As George explains, working at the market is the ideal way to ensure that the products meet with approval from the people on the streets: “A negative or a positive review is a good one in my book,” she says, “because you can always improve upon your product.”
A brief history of the bagel
George explains that bagels are originally Polish and, many centuries ago, were given to women during childbirth. As the Poles began to emigrate, the beautiful bagel began to grace foreign shores. The consequence of this? George says, “Americans believe that the bagel belongs to them, but they don’t. It’s so entrenched now with American culture, even Polish people probably think they’re American.”
While George has preserved the authenticity of the original product, she has worked with her customers to create something that will be more generally acceptable to Somerset’s taste buds. She admits, “They’re not 100% authentic because our UK tastes aren’t adapted to the more traditional chewy, harder bagels, so I’ve sort of had to meet it halfway, but we ferment the dough, so it gives it that sort of yeasty flavour.”
The result is just delightful – and the potential for taste combinations is just mindblowing. I walk away, my mind aflame with curiosity to know just how good parsnip soup would taste when accompanied by a chocolate ginger bagel. Perhaps something for my next visit.