The Adroitness of Quality Foods and the Strength of Family
Sometimes, something appears in your line of sight and it becomes a target of your admiration, your desire and your satisfaction, which is also something that appeals to the appetite of Iain Robertson, as he rediscovers long-held values.
You can call me a ‘food snob’, if you so desire. I need food to survive. However, I also need my food to harbour appeal. Price has never been the prerequisite, even though squandering money is a well-defined ‘no-no’. Yet, I find myself frequently in the premises of those premier league purveyors of digestible comestibles…Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Selfridges and, yes, on rare occasions, the Food Hall at Harrods (or ‘Hads’, as the Chelsea Set might have it).
Yet, even in the finest of fine quality groceteria, I find myself lifting pots and rotating packets, bags and wrapping just to check the all-important ‘Contents’, as well as the ‘Sell By Date‘. Naturally, despite truly catholic and non-faddy taste-buds, I am immensely concerned about the inimitable fat contents (the ‘right’ sorts are okay, while ‘saturated’ and enhanced fats should be avoided at all costs), the energy aspects (although added sugar is a worry) and precisely how much of the produce is true to description…the problem being that the same European Food Laws that govern the bends in bananas, the orangeness of oranges and those aforementioned ‘fats’ can be circumvented by wilful product marketers, who might have an inappropriate friend-in-a-high-place, somewhere in Brussels.
It is a challenge, or a series of them, undertaken with every shopping expedition, especially as most of my friends regard my trips as genuine ‘experiences’ (there is a queue, should you wish to observe).
Of course, I have my preferences, among which is French butter, for which I shall not apologise, especially when peppered with sea salt crystals. I cannot tolerate Tetrabricks of pasteurised, made-from-concentrate fruit juices and will only opt for ‘Freshly Squeezed’. Were I able to buy true ‘green-top’ unpasteurised fresh milk, where the fat content is markedly more than the notionally acceptable 4%, I would but Jersey and Guernsey milk, despite the plastic pint bottles, serve purpose and make coffee and tea taste divine.
Yet, it was on a foray to Waitrose, where I rediscovered a product, for which I held the highest esteem, although I had believed that it had all but disappeared from supermarket shelves and delicatessens’ displays.
My ancient, Scottish maiden aunt Margaret, who left her various charges a small fortune, when she departed her mortal coil, had lived a parsimonious life. Every other Sunday, after the parentally required appointment at Church, we would visit the old girl, whom I had nicknamed ‘Auntie Bus’, on account of my earliest fascinations with Alexanders’ blue and white charabancs (Bedford OBs, as it happened) to which I would drag her in the misbegotten belief of her willingness to satisfy the transport cravings of the youngest family member. The name but not the habit remained.
While parents clearly enjoyed the culinary lunchtime delights of the local hostelry, we, the children, were entertained by Auntie Bus. Dependent on the free-flowing nature of the Single Malt (my father’s favourite tipple) and not wishing to cast aspersions, this could imply that afternoon tea was on the menu frequently. Auntie would often serve us the Co-Op’s finest de-crusted sliced and toasted bread, with potted beef and some fresh tomatoes that she had nurtured in her greenhouse. The lure of Pate de Foie was prescient.
Even at that early stage in my Highland upbringing, I discovered that the meat was Sutherland’s finest, topped with clarified butter and served in ‘quarters’ over the counter, at Mr Grubb’s grocery shop. I loved it and when my little brother, or my cousins, turned up their noses at Sutherland’s potted beef, I would consume their share too.
Living abroad for several years and resettling in the English countryside has never diminished my desire to eat only the finest of produce. Fortunately, my love of Marmite (but never Vegemite, the Antipodean alternative), Scottish Plain Bread and Mutton Pies in cold water pastry has never left me and no matter where I have resided, I have always been able to obtain ‘supplies’. Yet, potted beef was virtually impossible to source.
My unintentional discovery at Waitrose, drawn as I was to the 110g ‘tulip-style’ crystal-plastic pots bearing the ‘Granny Mary’s Fresh Beef’ label brought a flood of memories (and a wistful tear-to-the-eye) of a childhood past that I feared might never return. It cost me £2.95, which I believe to be a fair price. I had tried various replica products, one produced by a renowned TV chef, none of which passed my intended contents check and none of which could pass muster on either flavour, consistency, or constituent bases.
Yet, Granny Mary’s potted beef was the real thing. Served chilled, it was flavoursome and redolent of my childhood. According to the descriptive label, it was an authentic recipe and my Google-enhanced research led me to the Chesterfield-based factory, where I discovered with open-mouthed wonder and surprise that the company was run by the grandson and great grandson of the Sutherland dynasty, which had formulated the original, epicurean recipe.
Noting the on-line shopping facility, I placed an order for four Fresh Beef with Butter Pate and a couple of pots of Duck with Orange Pate, Chicken with Ham Hock, Venison, Port and Blueberry, Pulled Pork with Honey & Spices, Smoked Turkey with Cranberries & Bourbon and one each of the ‘vegetarian’ options, Sundried Tomato Tapenade and Super Smooth Hummus. Within 24 hours, the goods were delivered in a chilled box.
Armed with a loaf of freshly baked corn bread, I set to a tasting session. The beef I knew and understood; that was stock. The rest were samples.
The Duck was fantastic, full of flavour, with a snap of citrus. The Chicken was elegant, just naturally ham hock-salty enough, with the merest hint of tarragon. The Venison was mild and distinctive, while the Pulled Pork was sweet and beguiling. The Smoked Turkey was deeply engaging, with a luscious peppery edge. However, while the Hummus lived up to nutty expectations, my overall favourite, apart from the gorgeous beef, was the Tomato Tapenade. Packed with Mediterranean spectacle, it was colourful, intensely flavoursome and possessing the right consistency to act as a sun-packed pizza topping, with a teensy after-bite of chilli for an ultimate palate taste-bomb. Wow!
I could not resist making a telephone call to Granny Mary’s. It was revealing. I confirmed the business’s origins. The range of fresh pates was made to the family-protected original recipes, with all locally resourced contents, just as Granny Mary had designated, topped by clarified fresh farm butter. They sell extensively at local festivals, especially of the foodie variety, while a growing number of retail outlets, among which is Waitrose (a company, I feel, that always appreciates some of the finer things in life) and innumerable delicatessens and Farm Shops, stock the line-up.
The bottom line lies in the outstanding quality of the end products. They stand out for their freshness (all are date-coded and have a shelf-life of around three weeks). Yet, Granny Mary’s Superior British Pates are eminently practical and can be served as a formal hors d’oeuvre, a casual evening snack, or a lunch-box treat, chilled, served at room temperature, or warmed and toasted. Wholesome and tasty, they are devoid of chemical enhancements, extra sugar, extra salt and extra fats. They all boast (apart from the pair of veggie alternatives) in excess of 80% meat content, which makes them the highest protein and most nutritious of ALL such pates. You CAN believe what is written on their labels.
However, you know what makes them the most appealing of all. They remind me of my lost childhood. A taste of something good, something authentic, something that modern society seems to have passed by all too readily. Granny Mary’s is now on my regular shopping list and it ought to be on yours too.