Regular readers might remember this article about cooking on a really low budget. What started as a gentle swipe at London journos astonished that anyone could feed a family of four for £50 a week, took on a life of it's own in the comments thread.
As you all shared your tips and hints, it became both heartbreaking and inspiring.
My dissatisfaction with the supermarkets rumbled on. Rice that went from 89p to £1.39 in a week. Chocolate cookie treats that the boys love suddenly sneering down at me for £1.79!! Tomatoes and courgettes stubbornly clinging to their eye-watering price tags despite a plentiful summer glut. It felt like a weekly mugging, I rarely came away satisfied with my purchases and found the acres of shelves stretching as far as the eye could see beyond my spoonie limitations more often than not.
Why? Tell me someone, why do I need 7 types of tinned tomatoes to choose from? 28 brands of sausages? Yoghurts have now clearly mutated beyond manageable levels to reach an out of control epidemic of soured milk products. How can there be a cheese aisle? A good deli would manage with a small counter and somehow offer me much, much more choice? Flummoxing is what it all is.
Well, a few weeks ago, I thought I'd try a experiment. I took down all the prices of fruit and veg at the local supermarket, then toddled off to a farm shop with the boys, clutching my comparison chart like some kind of weirdly obsessive mystery shopper. I live in Sussex remember, but I thought if the prices weren't too much more, perhaps I could stretch things enough for it not to matter.
The farm shop sits at the corner of our local Pick Your Own farm and the boys and I love nothing more than scrumping pro-dooce when Mummy has the spoons. They run a tractor all day, trundling from field to field stopping to pick us up on a trailer, so actually, it can be quite a good spoonie day out. Every time it all gets too much, we just hop on the tractor until I recover, the boys unaware that anything's even wrong. I can't get stranded in the top field or stuck in the strawberry patch.
Anyway, the point is, the farm shop is crammed with scrumminess, all covered in mud that has been plucked from the earth just a few 100 yards away. And guess what?? It was cheaper than the supermarket on every single item!! I was beyond surprised! I know it should have been cheaper with fewer overheads and no middle man, but this is Sussex! We pay a Hessian tax and a lentil tax for anything even vaguely natural. Enormously pleased with myself I stocked up for the week and felt like, somehow, I'd done a good thing.
Encouraged, I decided to do the same with meat. My parents have lived close to a very good farm-butcher all of my life and over the last decade they've expanded their stock to cover almost everything you can think of. Dried goods that you can buy like pick 'n' mix, frozen fruit for pies and smoothies, a very good frozen fish section, a deli with home cooked hams and yummy cheeses and fresh baked bread.
I was utterly astonished to find that the meat too was either cheaper than the supermarkets or just a few pence more per kilo! Seriously, I didn't stop telling people about it all week! Lamb chops in the supermarket = £16 per kilo, Lamb chops in farm shop £9 per kilo!! The nice butcher even said he would keep me a breast of lamb every fortnight and not charge me Fearnley-Whittingstall type prices!
Now, I know this wouldn't suit everyone and most spoonies would not be able to go to two separate farm shops every week, but if it's viable, I urge you all to check it out! Less packaging, far fewer chemicals, local food, yummy flavours (quite different in almost every respect to anything I could buy at a supermarket) AND not the preserve of the more affluent it seems!
I'll let you know how it's going in a few weeks - my cunning plans often come to nothing for some obscure reason I've failed to consider, but all being well, I can start to poke my tongue out at supermarkets whenever I pass their hulking cathedrals of neon and plastic.