Since I retired and we’ve got the hard graft of the home move behind us I’ve been able to take more of an interest in the food we buy and where we buy it from. In particular we have a thriving twice weekly local market not far away where we can get almost everything needed for the table.
Our village has a couple of small general purpose stores and a sub-post office but for our weekly shop we have to go into our local market town about 5 miles away. Although quite small and only half the size of most market towns, it has to serve the needs of all the outlying villages and hamlets, so we are fortunate to have three of the largest supermarket chains represented and one of the low-cost retailers.
In spite of that, we do most of our food shopping in the local market in the centre of town. This market has been running continuously since the time of William the Conqueror, a thousand years ago. This is not a “farmers’ market” where you tend to get specialist niche foods at inflated prices but much more like the type of market you will find in France or Spain – selling good quality general food at competitive prices. It is not so long ago livestock was sold in the market as well, but that stopped some time before we came into the area.
We buy all our meat from John Coulter’s stall, which he opened over 50 years ago. The quality and range of meat products he sells is up to the standard of a Mayfair butcher, but at prices typically up to 25% lower than local supermarket offers. His free range chickens are amazing.
For seafood we go along to Munro’s fish stall, with a fantastic range of wonderfully fresh fish. Again the prices are well below any supermarket’s best price. When was the last time you saw samphire at Sainsburys?
Our local fruit and vegetable stalls are always well attended. Specialising in local produce so we have the best available at the keenest prices.
And a wide enough range of cheeses to satisfy anyone’s taste.
And an unexpected speciality stall of nuts, dried fruit and other dried goods.
Of course, being in a predominantly agricultural area we are not limited to the twice weekly market. It seems that everyone hereabouts is producing food and selling the surplus. Everywhere you go there are little roadside stalls selling apples, plums and pears as they come into season, most often with an honesty box or jar so everything costs a quid.
We can also buy home produced organic honey at bargain prices, especially as honey made from locally grown wild flowers and plants is supposed to be an antidote for childhood respiratory problems such as asthma. There is no shortage of suppliers of free range garden eggs. Some of the best we’ve ever tasted, and at prices you wouldn’t believe.
Shopping round and about certainly does not bring the convenience of a weekly shop at the supermarket. But we do enjoy better quality produce, and at lower prices. Not to mention what the Irish call the “craic”. Stall holders quickly get to know their regular customers and it’s nice to be met by people who recognise you. Not just the stall holders but their other customers as well.
Long may it continue.