At risk of becoming sentimental I’ll state I miss paper bags. Buying something that comes in a paper bag I mean. Its crispness and the fact you could scrunch it down and hold it by the corner. A bag of apples, a few buns or a quarter of Tom Thumb Drops.
There are other things I miss. As a child I was sat on the marble counter of J Sainsbury where a lady in a spotless white overall would scoop up and shape pats of butter with great wooden paddles and wrap it in greaseproof. At our local grocers they roasted coffee beans in the shop and served loose tea from big square tins. The ‘wine merchant’ wrapped a bottle of gin in tissue paper, and at the greengrocer the air was moist and smelled of dug potatoes and bunches of parsley.
Food was seasonal. The first daffodils and Jersey Potatoes were something to celebrate. Its worth remembering too that if it rained your bag got wet and things fell out and sometimes there were “shortages” of things. But that aside it was great to actually know the people you bought things from.
This week I visited the Ginger Pig in Hackney
The Ginger Pig began in 2009 when Tim Wilson decided to keep a few pigs. When a local retired butcher advised him it was time to move to the next stage he taught himself butchery and the company was born. This is a farm in North Yorkshire that breeds its own livestock with high standards of animal welfare. The quality produce is distributed to its 7, soon to be 8, London shops where highly trained and passionate butchers prepare joints and cuts, birds, sausages and bacon with a great sense of personal pride.
They have female butchers, and Erika manages the shop here in Hackney, but I just happened to be served by Benito, a butcher from Napoli who brought all his Italian charm here to make his fortune.
This level of care and service is remarkable. It makes shopping an absolute pleasure. And if I can only afford to eat this quality now and then I’m prepared to give eating lentils and vegetables and easy pasta the rest of the time a try. Less meat but better quality. Does this look like meat that was cared for?
Of course you don’t have to be in London to achieve this level of quality and service. National Food Festivals brim with quality producers of fine products. The Food Programme on Radio 4 runs an annual competition for small producers in all categories from drinks to sausages. Our Norfolk pig producers breed some of the finest pork in the world. Cornish Sardines, Kent fruit, Welsh lamb, Scottish Whiskey,Wensleydale, Melton Mowbray and all the rest.
My local butcher in Wymondham, Peter Parke has been a butcher for as long as the Queen has been a Queen and he hasn’t had a holiday since his honeymoon.
His shop isn’t fancy, its utilitarian. There’s little on display but Peter who learned his trade from his father before him will go back into his huge fridges and produce any cut of meat you like and do it with the care and professionalism that comes with years of experience. His meat looks cared for too doesn’t it?
And he’ll give you bones for stock (and shhhh… dripping for your toast). He doesn’t need to be showy. His customers just expect the best, and he’s known lots of them since they were children.
I regularly shop in the supermarket of course, but I do sometimes wonder who decided we should eat strawberries in February, or raspberries all year round? Why carrots should be straight, or pears a certain size or baking potatoes all the same? I don’t know about you but sometimes I want small ones, and sometimes I want big ones. Who was it who decided cereals must be sweetened? In fact everything must be sweetened. That things have to taste salty – stock cubes for example? Why things don’t taste like they actually do because someone thought it was more marketable to change the way they taste? And I wonder why home made soup is just better in every way than manufactured soup.
With four million people in the UK diagnosed with Diabetes and such concern for childhood obesity it makes you wonder if supermarkets are bad for us, and if we’re being ill served?