One of the things I miss most about Newcastle upon Tyne is the food shopping. Living in the city centre, supermarket shopping was a once monthly (often less) occurrence, requiring lugging our bags full of recycling onto the metro to an out-of-town supermarket and returning with the few basics that are cheaper from the big three. Meanwhile, right on our doorstep, the Green and Grainger markets were a bargain hunter’s paradise: I was on gossiping terms with my two favourite greengrocers in the market, the fishmonger would often throw me in a handful of samphire to cook with my fish or a bag of “bits” for fish pie free of charge, and the cheese lady would wave me over when she had actually managed to get some Fourme D’Ambert from her supplier. I was expert at cooking with whatever was in season or on the spoil, and we ate well off it!
My garlic, galanghal, chillis, ginger and a lot of my herbs came in huge quantities for pennies from the chinese supermarkets round the corner. Our cartons of passatta, jars of sweet peppers, tinned anchovies, pickles and baking goods such as cinnamon sugar and packets of yeast came very cheaply from the Polish supermarkets and pound shops that sprang up around the west end of the centre. My Saturday morning was all about food shopping – heading out with my canvas bags and my shopping list to stock up for the week.
In Leamington there is no food market. There’s a farmer’s market once a month, but that’s for treats, not basics. For the longest time I gave in, and just did all my shopping at the supermarkets, topping up at the corner shops when I ran out of milk, splashing out at the fishmongers when I wanted decent fresh fish, nipping to the excellent Thai supermarket when I needed fresh coriander, ginger or chillis. I found it all (the Thai excepted) painfully expensive.
For far too long I stopped cooking. I baked to indulge my passion, but stopped bothering with “meals” – why eat properly when you can grab a peanut butter and jam sandwich? I could not see the point in cooking for myself, particularly as I no longer had my Saturday morning shopping trips to inspire me. For me, cooking is about feeding, about nurturing both bodies and relationships. A small part of me doesn’t see the point in self-nurture on either score.
I now live in an area with a surplus of corner shops – three within about 100 yards of each other. One is run by a sikh couple, and sells big packets of spices and pulses at incredibly low prices. One is a wannabe supermarket and somewhat overpriced. The third is a family business, stocks fresh fruit and veg as well as herbs (root-on coriander – a real bonus in Asian cuisine), packet spices, pulses and sundries, and is beautifully cheap!
The third is my shop of choice. They’re mid-refurb right now, and appear to be increasing their range greatly. The whole family – Mum, Dad and two sons – recognise and acknowledge me. Sometimes, towards the end of the day, one of the sons refuses to charge me for a couple of chillis, a thumb of ginger, an onion or lime… Which keeps me coming back for the sake of the service. And their produce is fresh, cheap and seasonal, so is starting to inspire me again.
Take this week as an example. With barbeque season having been in full swing, supermarkets have been selling corn on the cob at discounted prices. This usually means it’s been freed of it’s sheath, topped and tailed and placed in plastic to be sold at the discounted price of two cobs for £1. Last night I really fancied corn…
But I really didn’t fancy Asda…
So I stopped at the corner shop to see if they happened to have any in stock. I wasn’t too hopeful…
These beauties, still in their original (and natural) packaging were 5 ears for £1. Last night I had grilled corn drizzled with melted, seasoned butter. Tonight I’ll be having creamed corn served with a steak from Asda’s reduced section (UPDATED: inspiration from this fantastic foodie blog, but cooked with bay leaves and a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard to go with the steak), and tomorrow, corn fritters with sweet chilli dipping sauce. The shorn cobs and remaining kernels will be used to make a stock for soup, the sweetness that comes out of them working perfectly with potato and parsley.
This is the sort of availability inspiration that used to form the basis of my diet, and is a habit I need to get back into. I’m hoping regular trips to the refurbed corner shop will kick start my cooking once again.