Brixton Cornercopia is no ordinary store. In this small neighbourhood larder, kitchen and restaurant, local stories are told and recipes shared. Everything is sourced and locally made. The community is invited to sell or exchange the surplus of its seasonal harvest. People gather and eat, discovering, often for the first time, south London's seasonal bounty.
At Brixton Cornercopia, there’s a story behind everything sold. Its larder is filled with chutneys and sauces made from the market’s produce. Honey collected by neighbourhood beekeepers and a local bread that sells out in hours. From a late summer harvest are seasonal jams, often the bounty of someone’s vegetable garden. There are apricots preserved with lavender harvested from Brixton Hill and a crab apple jelly made from foraged fruits. The restaurant menu changes weekly, taking culinary inspiration from what’s in season and at its homestore, you’ll find the traditional, vintage and up-cycled.
A resident of Brixton Market since the market’s revitalisation in 2010, Brixton Cornercopia shows that it is possible to connect with local food and producers. London Food Essentials caught up with Anne Fairbrother to find out more about this unique store that she runs with chef Ian Riley
Brixton Cornercopia celebrates local food stories. What is the story behind your store?
From the start, we wanted to do a project that was about local food that would support small local makers and producers and tell their stories. It was important for us to show that even in the middle of London - in Brixton, there is a cornucopia of things being made, being locally grown, right on our doorstep. That it is possible in the city to connect consumers and producers, buyers and makers.
How do you select the producers that you work with?
Initially we advertised for local makers and gradually it became word-of-mouth. We select products because they are good and of course the more local the better. Some of our producers are very small and don’t make enough to supply us all year round. It might be that they are making a batch of 30-40 jars from rhubarb grown in their back garden. Sometimes we only get one or two batches.
Do you ever source produce from further afield?
Most things in the shop are made in south London but we have gone further afield for a few things like Rubies in the Rubble which is a fantastic initiative. (A social enterprise business started by Jenny Dawson that uses end-of-day market produce to create a tantalising range of chutneys, jams, and pickles.) We work with a mixture of people - some are established like England Preserves based in Bermondsey. They have been making preserves with fruit from local orchards for the last eleven years and supply us on a regular basis.
What producer has most inspired you?
Andy Forbes, the baker. He is incredibly passionate about bread and heritage varieties of wheat. He set up Brockwell Bake. The wheat he grows himself from an allotment nearby, some from a biodynamic farm just outside London, and he mills the wheat himself. Initially, he was baking 6-7 loaves a week from a clay oven in his back-garden and selling that to us. He is now working with the Old Post Office Bakery so he can up his production and sell to other small stalls and restaurants. He has been able to move from tiny cottage production to working with another baker and achieving wider distribution.
Beyond stocking local produce, how else do you support local producers?
We try and advise people on design and branding. We encourage people to use our store as a place to try out different designs and ideas. We give our producers feedback on what sells well and what customers choose or don’t choose. This is another way for us to promote the market and support the local community.
You also sell home-wares in your store, how did this come about?
Everything we sell is a continuation of our philosophy - so well designed, durable and made to last, fairly traditional. You’ll find wares that have been made since 1905 (such as Falcon enamelware) to vintage finds and things made or re-made by local artists. This side of the business developed gradually from when we started the restaurant with people really liking the aesthetic. So we started selling similar wares and local people brought in cards for us to sell, t-towels, etc. The homestore is an important part of our business as it supports the jam and chutney sales,and it now has a shop of it's own just opposite the deli.
In addition to the larder, there is also a kitchen and a restaurant.
Brixton Market four years ago didn’t look anything like it does today. There was no footfall. We were one of the first new food businesses to open and we built the restaurant quite literally table by table, plate by plate. For a short time, we just had one table in our little shop. Last summer we were able to seat sixty for a wedding. We have always been experimenting and adapting to the changes in the market. At the moment, we are concentrating our energies on the original idea of a local larder and deli that we plan to fill with an even wider variety of produce such as home-cured charcuterie, hand-made pies and local cheeses. From spring the restaurant will re-open with some exciting guest chefs and new collaborations.
What makes Brixton Market so unique?
Four years ago, the market was in serious decline with a fifty percent occupancy rate. A revitalisation initiative was launched to bring new life to the market that would be economically and environmentally sustainable, sociable, and support the existing trade of the market.
Today, it is one of the most unusual markets in London. You can buy anything from a wig to giant snails to tacos for a pound to charcuterie. It’s incredibly eclectic. It remains a place where people can buy fresh fish and cheap vegetables. This diversity is important as it ensures that the market continues to feel a part of Brixton, to be a part of the local community.
65 Brixton Village Market, SW9 8PS
All photos supplied by Brixton Cornercopia.