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.