Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Farmers Market to Table

I would like to, once and for all, dispel the myth that British food is bad. It was bad. But from when I first went there in 1992, and they poured thick cream over everything and had terrible coffee, to now- Britain has undergone a gastronomic revolution.

The Farm to Table movement has hit big, and not just with CelebriChefs. Xander and Miranda used to have a box of vegetables from the surrounding farms brought to their door once a week by a guy on a bike. Now, they walk a few blocks to the Farmers Market every Saturday.
Their farmers market is small, in the gymnasium of an elementary school, but the vegetables are fresh out of the ground, the bread is unmistakably homemade, and blonde woman with peaches and cream skin sells jams she makes out of berries picked around Oxford – is that not heaven?

England has 350 farmers markets and counting. In London, Borough Market is a weekly foodie event. Xander and Miranda had a CSA before Southern California even knew what one was (many of us still don’t). If you ask me, England is on the cutting edge of the culinary scene which is quickly heading back to small production, family farmers, and free range meat and quality produce. It’s so easy to bandy the term “quality produce” around, so let me take a moment to define it: fruits and vegetables that make the farmer proud because they are the best he can grow. You can’t buy that at a supermarket. Off we went to the glorious farmers market before breakfast or coffee. Which meant that I was Shopping While Hungry. I bought a loaf of crumbly, moist, gorgeous bread, a jar of jam from miscellaneous local berries, and a Greek spinach pie as big as my hand. We walked back via the regular supermarket so Xander and Miranda could finish their weekly shopping, and I was as happy as a pig in mud taking pictures of the exotic offerings.
I love how the Twix "biscuit fingers" comes with "Free Tea with Every Pack". Claim your Cuppa!
The "boozy" pie. In a can.
The walk back to the house was long, so we decided to stop midway at Costa Coffee on Cowley road for some caffeine and The Guardian. Miranda went for the coffee, Xander found the newspaper, and I planted myself at the table – starving. My Greek spinach pastry was looking awfully good. I figured that since we were getting three coffees, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if I ate my pastry. Three bites in and Xander goes out for a cigarette. We have our coffee, lug the groceries home, and I dive into the bread and jam.
Hours later, or maybe the next day, I’m telling them how some of the English peculiarities are surprising me. Like the invisible queuing system in pubs that only the English see and only the bartenders understand. We begin talking about some of the differences in manners one might not expect, and it turns out I committed a horrible faux pas. A faux pas so severe that Xander was driven out in shame to smoke a cigarette: I had eaten a pastry in the coffee shop which had not been bought there. He explains that if an English person had committed this offense, another English person might very well have scolded the perpetrator, ensuring mortification through public embarrassment. But because I ate my pastry in a perfectly natural and entitled way, bystanders likely assumed I had somehow received special dispensation. As an American, it’s news to me that there are bystanders staring at me eating a pastry in a coffee shop. This seems a bit paranoid. But, it was enough for Xander to not want to be seen in my company, so I felt extremely sheepish.

The offending pastry.

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