Local Christmas shopping: gourmet grub

I love Christmas food. Perhaps it’s a bit greedy of me, but it’s one of my favourite things about the whole festival. Delicious roast potatoes, pigs in blankets, homemade mince pies and Christmas pudding. Fantastic.

What I don’t like about Christmas food, though, is the annual trolley dash. Panic seems to set in the closer to Christmas we get and a pleasant shopping trip turns into WW3. There is strange air of hostility and aggression sometimes in supermarkets that only occasionally rears its head during major bank holidays, but with nothing like the intensity. In our local store they employ queue police to prevent arguments and queue jumping. This year I am trying to buy as much of my festive food from local independent outlets as I can, and thought that this might help me avoid seasonal aisle angst. But will it?

My first port of call was my local butcher’s and I came up trumps. I’d spotted that they were taking orders for everything from free-range turkeys, duck, pheasant and partridge to venison and wild boar. So I rolled up and ordered a free-range duck. The butcher told me it would be about £10 for 2kg and, compared to supermarket prices I’ve checked online, that seems pretty reasonable. I’m quite tempted to go back for the venison and wild boar as I’ve never tasted either. However, it sounds like this butcher’s gets as busy as our supermarket at Christmas. The guy there told me to show up at a non-peak time on the collection day as they usually have a line of people queuing down the street on Christmas Eve. I hate queuing but it’s good to see so many people supporting their local butcher.

On the veg front, we’re spoilt for choice with good quality, well-priced produce in local greengrocers and farm shops – nearly all cheaper than our main supermarket. Not that we’ll be needing parsnips this year as DJ has a stash in the veg patch. I tried one the other night and it was deliciously sweet. But getting my hands on a good quality but reasonably priced non-supermarket Christmas pudding has proved trickier.

I asked in our local bakery if they sold them. The woman behind the counter looked blank. “I think we sold little ones last year but we’re not getting any in this year. It’s a good idea, though,” she said. I’ve made my own two years’ running but I cocked it up last year – I didn’t steam it for long enough the first time of cooking – and have lost my Christmas pudding bottle. Plus it takes hours on the gas hob to steam so, with my Energy Saving Trustgreen voice of the UK’ hat on, I wondered if it might save on the gas bill to buy one and microwave it.

I scoured a couple of farm shops for an independent pud. One I found in a posh part of town had a couple, but they were tiny and £7 each, so I passed. But I did pick up some reasonably priced pork sausages and some lamb shanks there which will do for other seasonal meals. At another cheaper farm shop I discovered some Christmas puddings for just £1 each and which were produced in Essex. But – perhaps unfairly – I was suddenly stricken with pudding snobbery. Would a £1 pud be good quality? There was only the choice of one variety, too, so I decided to go away and think about it first. We have guests for Christmas this year, otherwise it wouldn’t worry me. But perhaps we could try it out first and, if it’s a goer, buy another.

Booze is the only other item we have yet to sort out. We are ok for white wine as DJ has some homebrew still to bottle, but we may have to nip to the supermarket to stock up on red. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without some mulled red wine after all.

A very frugal and merry crimbo to you and thanks for all your great comments, suggestions and emails this year. Wishing you all the best for 2010, and see you in the New Year, Piper xxx

How will you be celebrating Christmas 2009? Have you trimmed your budget or are you going all out to enjoy yourselves, recession or no recession? Leave a message and let me know.

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7 Responses to Local Christmas shopping: gourmet grub

  1. Flo says:

    I\’ll never understand why people buy so much extra at Christmas – it\’s almost as if there will be no shops open again for about a month. You can only eat so much never mind what time of the year that it is. A nicer meal than usual is one thing – but shopping and eating to excess is not exactly good for the earth or the environment, never mind the purse. Surely buying slightly better rather than to excess is the way to go? Which allows you to shop locally and never still not break the bank. However, we have all been trained to think in supermarket prices so often the local shops do seem so much more expensive because they don\’t buy in bulk. However I would question whether local shops supply local produce. We\’ve a co-op here in town and they do produce a lot of their own vegetables in the UK so you can get Uk produce (oh and their farm is only just over the Scottish border here so local). That\’s a hard choice then – local shop or local produce. There\’s always the farmers market mind you and we have a couple of local growers there. And a couple of farms which sell their own butchered products on the meat front. With the fishing off the Northumbrian coast line we can have local caught fish too – buy British then. And now the supermarkets support local suppliers in some cases. Asda and Waitrose certainly do. See it\’s not always an easy choice is it? You have to ask exactly what you are trying to achieve by shopping local. Preserving the high street is one thing though often high streets have a lot of chain stores anyway. But buying from local suppliers is surely more important as this saves a lot of transport and the side effects on the environment. Personally I make Christmas puddings in large sizes for the vegan in the family who is allergic to all dairy products. As she usually feeds a number of visitors that\’s actually not exactly a non green choice in that it\’s feeding more than one household. Mince pies are baked in quantity and this year will supply about four households. So again actually fairly environmentally friendly in that it\’s batch catering. With careful buying both options are also cheaper than buying shop\’s own. Again fruit and vegetables are being bought from local organic growers to fill in the spaces from the allotment. And will be done so in bulk for two or three households. All the vegetables are local, fruit is more difficult as there is little enough at this time of the year from the UK. And few enough nuts are produced in the UK. Which is sad really as we can grow almond, sweet chestnut, cob nuts and walnuts in the UK but seem to only be able to buy produce from other countries in most cases. It\’s a case of weighing up your options and making informed choices about your local buying. I like to support local producers as much as local shops. I have only so much money so buy very carefully indeed but I am not one of the buy the cheapest of everything pensioners by any means. Quality is nice, grow your own is good, buying in bulk is good and a local whole food co-op is very helpful there for cleaning stuff. Frugal means careful shopping rather than cheap shopping.

  2. Bill says:

    piper!Wild Schwein & Hirsch (venison) is dirt cheap on the continent, & I suggest you try the cheapest cuts of each tom test the basic flavour, before spending serious money. Just a kilo of each, would make two seperate goulash at a very affordable price, & for me is even more delicious at this time of year than prime steak, which would inevitably be more expensive.The goulash can be served with mash or boiled spuds, spud or bread dumplings, egg, or even better, non-egg pasta, all home made. A large, lush green, or Italian salat should be served first, & the goulash should be followed by a generous helping of home made (Tyrolean?) strudel, & vanilla sauce.Either way, wild schwein, as also venison, are extremely common, working class, farmhouse fare in both E & W Europe. They cor all be wrong!Enjoy!!!

  3. Bill says:

    p.s.I also met some of the more expensive venison in some of the cheapest Welsh country hotels, in my mispent youth, as a package tour bus driver, the cheapest holiday package in t\’ world.Problem, the younger, cheaper, British hotel cooks/chefs, have little or no imagination or experience with such right royal material. Sad!

  4. e says:

    I always get a \’cheaper\’ christmas pud..a few reasons……a) everyone is usually so well fed they pass on the pud b) I can always \’spice it up a little by bathing it in cider and cointreau…..c) it is great to add to other stuff ( mix with ice cream and re freeze……yumd) doesnt take as long to cook..( save on the fuel costs….and many more….Traditional pud is I am sure very wonderful…but I am not the greatest of cooks and Aldi\’s best has always been great with a little tarting up..Merry Chrimbo!!!

  5. Bill says:

    Hi there, piper!Looks as if the dipsticks have struck again, or it could just be an overdose of Xmas cheer.

  6. Bill says:

    piper!Forgot to mention earlier, any Goulash also sits well with almost any rice, obviously not egg rice, but extremely well with lightly buttered, piping hot, steamed rice, wild or common. A mean trick, cook enough goulash for an entire month, shove the remains in an airtight container in t\’ fridge, & reheat, piping hot as required.Any leftover spud or pasta, also rice, is best kept refrigerated, & served ice cold in mayo, or French dressing, in, or on, a salad.As a tour bus driver, I did have the pick of the card in every hotel & restaurant, & all meals were free. It is standard tradition, & therefore difficult to complain. They do show some respect, as they do depend on us for their bulk business.You could try any leftover goulash sauce from the bottom of the pot, for breakfast. Up to four sauteed Viennese sausages, in piping hot sauce, with fresh Viennese rolls & butter. Hungarian Goulash is best for it, & must contain at least 40% horse beef.

  7. piper says:

    Yes, apologies for the spam. Takes a while to delete it all as they spam so much. Annoying! Happy New Year to you!

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