Thursday, October 3, 2013

Shopping in Jolly Olde England!

Another Guest post by Chris Edmonson,

As I stated at the beginning of her previous post, Chris is an incredible chef, food enthusiast, globe traveler and (along with her husband Jim) a huge fan of all things British and French!  In this post, Chris gives a 'shout out' to local Ohio farmers who are striving for excellence and making top quality product!  Buy local, folks, and you buy right!

Her last post was the mostly widely read and commented on by readers!  So, without further adieu, here is another post by Chris: 


The Shops

Grocer (Oxford English Dictionary): 1. One who buys and sells in the gross, i.e. in large quantities.  The Company of Grocers, said to have been incorporated in 1344, consisted of wholesale dealers in spices and foreign produce.

Lovely London, so vibrant and exciting, so architecturally splendid  – a thrill to visit every time.  But this trip provided a giant dose of in-your-face reality: London is for rich people. There are food kitchens in the streets of Lincoln's Inn Fields after dark.  And it smells of exhaust.  

 So after a week of art and culture, we haul our tired feet onto the train to Shropshire, guided by our host from Tenbury Wells for a weekend in the country.  Excited to be there at harvest, we breathe deeply as farm country wraps its night arms around us.  Apples, hops, fields, and fires; one can smell it all from the open kitchen door.

Breakfast delayed by necessary errands in the town, we motor into Tenbury Wells past the Pump Rooms.  Right!  First stop, the butcher.  Decked out in his striped apron, the butcher greets our host Mark, with a beaming face.  Mark is married to Stella, a vegetarian, so when he sees him head for the big roasts, the butcher recognizes a man on a mission.  What I find so interesting is the discussion between these two men about buying local beef: not just what do you want, but why, and how might you be planning to cook your beef? How much per person?  Well, two bones are better than one for roasting, anyone knows that!   The joint is examined by both men, the marbling is pointed out, mouth sounds are exchanged, and we watch him carve off a portion for three. There is no plastic involved here.  Wrapped in brown paper and string, the beef is handed over and popped into our burlap shopping bag. Also, sausages! Mark pays the butcher -- in cash! “Cheers! Ta!”

Next, the grocer nearby in modern guise.  Seeking traditional British products, I disappear into the condiment aisle. Salt. Maldon salt in particular, with its soft pyramid crystals, hand-drawn harvested in Essex.  Now, I know that I can mail order this at home for twice the price, but I want to buy it off the shelf. It's my souvenir.  And near it, Lyles Black Treacle, an old product made from cane molasses by Abram Lyle & Sons, purveyors to the Queen. It's for my annual Christmas cake (more on that next time, with photos) to replace Grandma's Molasses in my kitchen, and though heavy enough to break a toe, in my basket it goes. The cashier looks at me with amusement, but I don't care -- these babies are going into my spice cabinet along with my bottle of Fortnum & Mason ground ginger. I'll line them up to face me when I open the cupboard door -- "Hello! (like the magazine) Britain, let's bake.”

We make a few more stops --  the baker for artisanal loaves and a quick gossip about the nearly empty shelves, and the ancient center market for a quick look at garden tools and baskets, bulbs and pots.  And then home for breakfast with Stella manning the giant toaster, stuffing toast racks full of thick golden slices.

 We laugh about the toast racks, and how foreign they are to Americans.  She opens her plum jam, made just this week, and we dive into platters of cold meats and cheeses, pate, too.  Coffee and tea, of course.  We are ready for the cider mill.

Finally, just today, while searching the Times Literary Supplement for art history titles we might add to our library collection, I find a review of a new book that gives me the idea for this post: Sugar and spice: grocers and groceries in provincial England, 1650-1830 by Jon Stobart.  Stobart is concerned with the historical process by which exotic provisions that began as luxuries, as a result of trade, became staples. This history of grocers, and so much of what we take for granted about consumer culture and our own stocked larders, stem from the history of England's colonial empire, for better and unfortunately, like our own history of slavery, for worse. 

And don't get me started about curry -- just don't go there.

(to be continued....)