Saturday, July 09, 2011

today : i visit a farm

So anyway, I started to go to a Farm Shop instead of the supermarket for some things. It is not some kind of trendy Sunday supplement fashion thing - there is a Sunday Farmer's Market near my house, but it's overpriced and attended by people who drive big German 4x4 cars and have nannies for their children. It's my sister's fault. She gave me a slice of pie. It was home-made chicken and ham from the farm shop. Unlike most pies that contain mainly air and a kind of ill-defined reclaimed (now I don't have anything against reclaimed meat on principal. If you eat the rump then you should be prepared to also eat the cartilage, eyeballs or whatever) mush, this pie was stuffed full with big chunks of chicken and tasty pieces of smoky ham (you get a gratis pot of chicken gravy with it too, rather than them put the gravy inside the pie). There seemed to be nothing reclaimed about the meat in the 'Farm' pie. In fact it looks and tastes like the opposite: extra-virgin cuts with proper chickeny texture and flavour.

I am really not a big eater of meat. I can go for days without touching it. I can't remember the last time I ate an actual roast. Occasionally I'll get a lamb chop, chicken legs, a bit of bacon or a steak but I never even did that 100 ways to cook mince thing with mince. One of the main reasons is that meat is so goddam expensive (compared to standing outside the gates of the posh houses and waiting for them to throw pieces of dripping-soaked stale bread). And supermarket meat is often of variable quality. You can get a tasty steak but are just as likely to get a fatty stringy one.
I also never buy cheap cuts of chicken. My strong suspicion is that caged chickens spend all day mouldering in their own shit whilst being pumped full of who-knows-what. And you can tell. Just break the film on a cheap pack of chicken and breathe it in. It's rank. It smells of chiken shit and who-knows-what. And the best flavour you can get after cooking it is no flavour at all.

So anyway, I wanted some eggs and dropped into the farm shop. My first thought was: 'why am I buying 6 free-range locally produced eggs at the supermarket and paying £1-70?' At the farm £1-70 gets a dozen. And they are locally laid in a field round the back by grinning chickens who frolic away in the open air and only go inside to replenish their Pimms and Lemonades.

My second thought was to buy an invitingly crusty chicken and ham pie. But I got 2 because they were very reasonable. Then I thought I might like to do my world famous North African-style lamb with steamed vegetables and cous-cous. Really it was an excuse to buy a couple of lamb steaks, because they were less than half the price of the supermarket. It figures. The local supermarket flies them from New Zealand, which is just about as far away and jet-fuel heavy as you can get. Unless the farm is an elaborate ruse, the sheep bleating away in the surrounding fields were within walking distance. I guess they might not be the actual sheep that I would be pan-frying (why 'pan'-frying? is there some kind of way of frying something that doesn't involve a pan?) the next day, but there's a good chance they are.

Then I spotted some locally made cheese, a freshly baked quiche, a piece of fillet steak, golden brown pork pies, home churned ice cream and myriad other hearty delights. My eyes were bigger than my wallet, but even though I was light on cash I still left with quite a hefty bagful of stuff.

And of course, when I got home there was no room in the fridge or the freezer. I have one of those English-sized fridges that are designed for our miniature over-crowded houses. An average American would spontaneously guffaw at the comic dinkiness of them. Like a fridge, only much smaller. I also have a freezer of similar stature.
So I was stumped.

Either I would have to cook an immediate multi-course banquet of delicious farmhouse fayre, or re-organise things somewhat. After a careful half-hour of ergonomic calculations and selective fridge and freezer rationalisation (bye bye plastic containers of leftovers, undrunk cheap beer, year-old frozen spinach, unused bags of ice-cubes and my trusty 2lb bag of frozen peas that has for two years or more only ever been used as a cold compress for my ailing joints before being returned to its icy home for re-cooling), I'd created enough room for the extensive farm-purchased food. It meant cutting the pies into manageable slices and individually wrapping them.

Later, I concocted my world famous North African-style lamb with steamed vegetables and cous-cous, and the farm-bought lamb took it to another level - inter-galactically famous, perhaps. Don't get me wrong. The supermarket lamb is almost always okay. But the farm-bought lamb was twice as tasty and twice as tender as any I've ever bought from the supermarket. I am very careful to make sure I have plenty of freshly grown herbs and garlic for such a cooking eventuality. I even squeezed fresh lemon juice. So why ever did I cook such a thing previously, knowing that one of my main ingredients was supermarket sub-standard?

I don't think there's a particular moral to this story. Maybe that people who don't personally know me might regret not being amongst my close circle of family and friends who have direct access to my world famous North African-style lamb with steamed vegetables and cous-cous. Perhaps it tells me how easily pleased I am. Maybe it is to re-inforce the truism that quality ingredients are the basis of any quality meal. But in the end it probably says something about how easy it is to be lazy and sloppy about such things as where you buy your food, and the tiniest bit of effort in such areas can increase the quality of a person's life by an immeasurable amount.

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