Friday, 11 March 2011

Madam, can you cook?

Butcher's shops are wonderful places to do a spot of people-watching. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, click off now.

We buy our meat from a very grand butcher's; the shop itself isn't grand, it looks pretty ordinary, but it sells mainly free-range, outdoor reared, organic and, in the case of pork and beef, many varieties of rare breed  meat. It makes you feel less guilty when you know that the animals had a reasonably happy existence while they were alive. They also taste better after death.

The butcher's shop is famous for miles around, many of our local restaurants buy their meat there and are proud to proclaim the fact.

We often recognise other customers; people stand in a long line on Fridays and Saturdays waiting to be served and while you wait you exchange comments on cookery, the kind of meat you hope to buy and what you are going to do with it.  It's a water cooler kind of place where people meet to discuss recipes rather than last night's TV.

The unusual thing is that many of the customers are men, big burly, red-faced, weather-beaten chaps, farmers and outdoor workers, not at all the  type you would associate with cooking, not a bit like the precious, full-of-and-up-themselves TV chefs, who faff around with fancy ingredients, producing airy-fairy bits of foamy fluff and nonsense.

So when this new women customer appeared, driving up in a brand-spanking new Land Rover which had never seen a muddy track let alone driven up one,  we all perked up.

"Yes, madam", said one of the butchers serving, "what can I do for you?"
"Erm, I'd like some meat?" Not a good start.
"Yes, madam, what would you like."
"Well, we are having this party tomorrow, some people are coming down from London and I'd like to give them a Sunday roast". A bit better already.
"A nice bit of roast beef, Madam, or lamb perhaps?". The butcher was all friendliness.
'Yes, that would be nice", she said. Back to square one.

The butcher has been serving long enough to recognise a duffer. He turned and went into the cold store and came back with a magnificent rolled joint, nearly as long as his arm from shoulder to wrist. We gasped in admiration and envy. She was going to have first choice.

"Oh yes", she said, "that looks lovely, I'll have that, please."
"Erm, madam, how many people will you be entertaining?"
"There should be eight of us", she replied.

The butcher laid the joint on the block and proceeded to cut it, ending up with a larger and a smaller piece.  Madam pointed to the large one.

"Are you sure, madam", butcher is still friendliness and helpfulness personified. "This piece will feed about fourteen people. I would suggest you have this piece", pointing to the smaller one.

'O, very well, if you think so".  All this time everybody else stood transfixed; nobody stared directly, sniggers were kept discreetly behind raised hands, eye contact was carefully avoided, but no other transactions took place.

Butcher wrapped the meat, handed it over, madam went to pay.

She had nearly reached the door on her way out, when she hesitated.

"Erm, excuse me, what do you think ? How does one cook . . . . . . . . . . .?"

A great sigh of joy went up. That was exactly the question we had all been waiting for.
Butcher obliged and the rest of us all went back to minding our own business.


  1. I was waiting with baited breath like all the other customers, Friko. Perhaps she employed a cook? (or perhaps she needs to)

  2. I love this post- it reminded me of the year I lived in Spain in a small little sea village of fishermen and boat builders. This was in the 70's and when we arrived I spoke NO Spanish, but I did come with a college level First Year Spanish lesson book. So I made my way- doing a lesson and going out into the village from shop to shop (no super mercados here) and gathering food for our meals while praticing my Spanish. I know I must have been the subject of many conversations as we waited in line for our turn. Once I began to comprehend what was being said around me I began to ask how to cook certain local dishes...BOY! did I ever get some good recipes!

  3. The meat in our shop was supplied by one of our famous local butchers - this story rang so true!

    As an aside I was standing on Euston station one evening waiting for a guest. A man came and stood right next to me, it quite startled me so I looked up and saw a very famous TV chef. I did a quick double check, but darn it he spotted me and gave me one of those knowing "Yes it really is who you think it is" nods and smiles - I so wanted to say "Oh Harry Hill I think you are so funny..."

  4. i so wish we have a good butcher shop nearby...he sounds quite entertaining as well...smiles.

  5. The butcher in your photo does indeed look like a lovely man. How courteously he, or one of his staff, managed to supply the 'duffer' with the roast for her meal... and with cooking instructions, too. Thank you for the entertaining story.

  6. You always offer the most entertaining slices of life. Great story.

  7. I wish someone had said, 'Cook it? Cook it? Don't be silly. You eat this stuff raw. Has no one said?'

  8. "The animals had a reasonably happy existence while they were alive. They also taste better after death." Oh, how beautifully droll these lines read! I'm still smiling. :)

  9. Reminds me of being in a little local market in Istanbul shortly after our move there and discovering huge, ripe and succulent peaches on sale, ready for eating (an unknown condition here in the US). Hubby and I put some in our basket and kept talking about them. We noticed the few customers looking at us, but we supposed it was because we were Americans. Shortly our driver, a young Turk who had lived in England for a number of years and spoke adequate English, sidled over to us and quietly said, "Please don't talk about the peaches. The word "peach" in Turkish means "bastard"

  10. Thank you for this. I enjoyed being in this wonderful shop with you and enjoyed this tale of a new cook.

  11. outstanding friko!!! superb framing of a long moment filled with so very very much!! steven

  12. So many priceless bits to your story. Particularly enjoyed this sly aside: "TV chefs, who faff around with fancy ingredients, producing airy-fairy bits of foamy fluff and nonsense." And the accompanying photograph is a perfect accompaniment to the tale you tell.

  13. Friko, I think that I would like to visit that butcher shop, with you.

    I rarely visit a butcher these days, somewhat from budgetary reasons, sometimes from lack of time to properly cook meat. And yet, my system seems to yearn for some traditional protein.

    In New York, butcher shops have become more and more rare. (By now you will have spotted rare in several sentences.) In years past, I would be able to form some sort of connection with a butcher, who would not disdain my meagre purchases, but would encourage some explorations.

    You've perhaps renewed my interests in forging a new connection. I've got a day off tomorrow...maybe dinner will be different. xo

  14. Wonderful, delightful story, Friko. You gave me a fit of the giggles. I can just imagine "madam" and the ever-patient butcher. I envy you your extraordinary gift for story-telling, for painting a word-picture in skillful strokes.
    -- K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  15. Oh, my, that's a good story! Thank you for sharing with us!

  16. Another gem! She sounds like a fish out of water...definitely not in her element. Hope she knows where the oven is...

    A great story.

  17. A good butcher is a polished diplomat, an inspiration, an educator, and a gentleman. It is clear that you have access to such a one.

  18. I enjoyed the story but I also enjoyed the multi-coloured comments!
    Butchers are, indeed, a special breed. Anywhere. And if somebody does appreciate a good butcher's shop with owners having some respect for what they are selling, he can also appreciate what he eats. But the stories are all similar - you wait, you observe, you chat and you can even get good recipes. I never go out from our butcher's shop without a big smile on my face or even a loud laugh. It's a farm butcher, he also feeds his animals before they are sold (dead) ;-)
    Mal wieder gut gemacht, Friko!

  19. Friko,
    You are a story weaver. You have so many elements in this vignette, and the punchline was priceless. I also like your poetry blog. I signed on to follow this blog. Thank you for stopping by mine. Please sign on to follow at

  20. She sounds very brave and I hope the meal was a huge success .
    And , yes , I'm still cooking recipes pitying locals gave me in Spain a lifetime ago , too .

  21. How wonderful! I've been 'cooking' for many years now but I'm still inclined to nervousness when buying from experts. Your butcher sounds a fantastic chap, though, and the meat must be quite delicious.
    Hope the Lady in the Land Rover enjoyed her party - poor soul, I feel for her!

  22. This is wonderful. Is it based on a real experience or just from your great imagination?

  23. ich bin zwar Vegetarier, aber ich brachte es nicht über mich, Dein Post nicht zu lesen :-)! Dein Schilderung gefiel mir sehr, aber das, was mir besonders gut gefiel, war die erstaunliche Freundlichkeit des Metzgers und, was mir noch besser gefiel war, dass niemand die Frau verletzte. Sich über andere lustig zu machen ist ja zur Alltäglichkeit geworden, aber hier, alles so diskret und ein gutes Ende...! Hervorragend!

    Ein sehr schönes Wochenende Dir!


  24. die arme Lady, wir sind alle einmal Anfänger gewesen und Fleisch zu kaufen ist gar nicht so einfach.
    Ein Lob möchte ich aber noch an Fernsehe-Koch Jamie Oliver widmen. Er hat weltweit einen Koch-Hype ausgelöst und später gab es viele Nachahmer.
    Er hat mit seine Art,Jugendliche motivier wieder richtig zu kochen und sich nicht nur von Fast-Food zu ernähren.

  25. Hi Friko, I too am blessed with a good butcher - a rarity these days - he loves to talk and provide tips. This is a one person shop and when there are a few customers waiting we tend to converse with each other - the joy of small town living.
    P.S. what an appropriate word verification I had the first time around - it was 'oveniss'

  26. Oh how I’d love to visit that butcher shop! We don’t eat much meat but whenever we do I buy it at the supermarket with no butcher in sight. I have not been to a butcher shop in a long time. I think the last one I saw was in a small street in Genoa, Italy, in November 09, and we only looked with envy and did not buy. Yours was also a great tale about a non aficionada of choice cuts.

  27. I just love it, Friko. My smile is wide, and now I feel perfectly satisfied to go on about my business too.

    Even though I am vegan-ish (at home mainly), I still love a good bit of roast when I can get it, and knowing it is free range, organic and antibiotic-free is essential. I bet it's pricey there.

    Inge sends her greetings.

  28. What a great slice of life story so well told. The audience was my favorite character.

  29. You tell the story so well -- I can see the whole thing -- especially the audience.

  30. Friko, tell him that he now has a fan club
    due to your wonderful telling of the story
    What a fun post on a sunny Sunday afternoon
    thanks for spreading joy
    with a good giggle

  31. A tale wonderfully told with just the right dash of gentle humor!

  32. That was rather fun. Thanks for it, Friko!

    Peter G.

  33. We have a butcher just like that one in our village. The butchers' in town is one of a chain, aren't we the lucky ones?


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