Oven-ready deal

Help our vendors access food and shelter by buying our new calendar from them, featuring 12 of their favourite home cooking recipes

Hero image

The Big Issue North 2021 vendor calendar is now on sale and this year a professional chef has worked with our vendors who sell the magazine to create it.

Mary-Ellen McTague, who runs the Creameries restaurant in Chorlton, has written the 12 recipes that appear in the calendar, based on vendors’ favourite dishes. She also worked in the kitchen with Colin, a vendor who normally sells Big Issue North outside Manchester’s Home theatre and cinema, to prepare his chosen dish, spaghetti bolognese.

“Mary-Ellen cooked it and I helped with the preparations,” says Colin, who loves to cook at home. “She did it a bit differently to the way I do it. I don’t put tomato puree in mine, but it was really good. I enjoyed working with her and, best of all, I got to take some home at the end.”

McTague, who also writes a recipe column for Big Issue North’s sister magazine The New Issue, was pleased with the variety of dishes vendors selected.

“There was traditional British stuff like steak and chips, and bread and butter pudding, but there were a number of dishes that I’d never cooked before – a few Romanian dishes and a Spanish one as well. It was really nice to learn about those and cook them, knowing that some of the vendors would have really missed them.”

One of those recipes was cozonac, a sweet leavened bread, suggested by Alexandru, who sells the magazine in Liverpool.

“This is a celebration cake which we have at Christmas and Easter,” he said. “My mum and my sister are great cooks and they make this. It reminds me of home.”

But how does a chef go about recreating a traditional dish when she’s no idea what it should taste like?

“Fortunately, I knew someone who was Romanian who was able to talk to her family and find out more, as there was very little information out there about them in English,” says McTague, adding that even some of the English dishes were new to her. “Despite the fact that I’ve lived in the North West my entire life, I’ve never cooked scouse before,” she said.

With sales of Big Issue North magazine suspended during the November lockdown, the calendars will provide vital extra income for vendors in the run-up to Christmas, usually their busiest time of year. Vendors buy the calendar for £2.50 and sell it for £5, keeping the profit they make.

“I’ve got loads of orders for them from my customers,” says Colin, who, like other vendors, is in desperate need of the income, having been forced to stay off work for the last month.

Taking part in the development of the calendar is just one of many things McTague has been up to this year. Following the first national lockdown in March, she helped launch Eat Well Manchester, a food collective made up of professionals from the hospitality industry and other volunteers.

“We started off just wanting to feed people,” says McTague. “As the restaurants were closing at the start of the first lockdown, we realised that lots of food was going to be going in the bin, so it was a way of trying to avoid waste by cooking food for people. From there it grew and grew and now it’s a full-time job.

“We used to cook for a lot of NHS wards but now we focus on vulnerable adults and children, and work a lot with families in temporary accommodation, delivering meals that have been made by chefs with nice ingredients. It’s about providing food that’s a bit of a treat, that’s healthy and really tasty.”

Life in 2020 has certainly been much harder than McTague anticipated, what with work and a busy home life, but she recognises that things are much worse for some others – including many vendors.

“I think what I and lots of people involved in Eat Well realised is that whilst things were quite hard for us, stressful, family things and whatever, there were people who were affected much more severely – like not having access to food.”

You can buy the Big Issue North 2021 calendar from vendors or from shop.bigissuenorth.com. For more information about Eat Well Manchester visit eatwellmcr.org 

Photo: Manchester vendor Colin and leading chef Mary-Ellen McTague chop to it for his chosen dish, spaghetti bolognese (Rebecca Lupton)

Interact: Responses to Oven-ready deal

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.