Boughton Church Window Gary Trouton

Notes from a newcomer

April 2004

Memories of wholesome, locally produced food to stimulate the taste buds!

I have fond memories of my first teaching practice when I was assigned to a little village school in Suffolk in the merry month of May. My friend and I were billeted at the pub (the college authorities were very trusting!) which was a traditional thatched building presided over by a kindly old couple who plied us with three huge home-cooked meals a day. After a diet of beans on toast and tinned soup in our student digs, we couldn't believe our luck.

Those were the days when the words 'home-cooked' seen outside a pub meant exactly that - not 'bought at the cash-and-carry and reheated in the microwave', as it does now. All the vegetables came from the large back garden which was almost entirely given over to neat rows of beans, peas, potatoes, onions and spring greens. The landlord was a man of few words but he had a deep distrust of modern horticulture, muttering emphatically that he 'couldn't abide them there artificials'. He was organic long before it was fashionable.

So shame on me that since I moved to the country I've never got round to growing my own vegetables, but I do make a point of buying locally grown ones whenever I can. Not that I kid myself that these are necessarily free from 'them there artificials'; anyone who has observed the fields being sprayed would never eat a Norfolk grown carrot without scrubbing and peeling it first! But at least I know it hasn't travelled thousands of miles to be sold in Tesco or Safeways.

As long as seven years ago Derek Cooper revealed on the BBC's Food Programme that parsnips grown in Australia were being sent all the way to Knight's in Gooderstone to be processed ready for year-round sale in the supermarkets - but that sort of craziness still goes on. A recent survey revealed that hardly any supermarkets make it a policy to source fruit or vegetables locally.

As we get older, we all develop our funny little ways (as a friend of mine kindly puts it) and I find myself getting as obsessive about what I eat as the old Suffolk countryman. Instead of buying food from a supermarket in one easy swoop, I prefer to spend time going round to the different suppliers. A typical shopping trip might take me to Denver for bread from the mill, on to Downham for fish from the market and veg from the WI stall, then to Stowbridge for meat from Sergeant's and home via Boughton to pick up a dozen free-range eggs.

But I wonder how long I'll be able to carry on with this pleasing routine? Tesco has already seen off the last remaining greengrocer in Downham and many such small suppliers have disappeared in recent years. My hopes are pinned on the growing number of farm shops and farmers' markets to save me from that dreaded parsnip from Oz.

Marion Clarke

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