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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Stuff the mushrooms, I’m staying loyal to my butcher

I’m no Delia. With long dark wig, sticky lip gloss and breast implants, I’d never be mistaken for Nigella either... not even on one of her fat days.

But last night I stuffed a mushroom.

My mum – borrowing wisdom from Shirley Conran – always taught me life was too short to stuff a mushroom. Nevertheless, I stuffed two.

Big, flat, saucer-like mushrooms they were. By the time I’d finished, they were burbling with two types of cheese, tomato, red onion and breadcrumbs.

And do you know, without a word of a lie, they were disgusting. Just goes to show, a girl should always heed her mum.

The vegetarian palaver is, I have concluded after brief but forensically scientific flirtation, no kind of game for a grown-up.

With all respect due to any who has taken the herbivore’s pledge, there are in this life two kinds of dinner. A veggie one and a proper one. And I’m off back to the butcher.

Obviously I haven’t been absent for long. One stuffed mushroom (the second was binned) does not a convert make. But I find I now have two very good reasons to rejoin the queue at my local Cranstons.

First is that a plate is rudely naked without a piece of meat on it. The second is yet more irresistible... my butcher needs me.

Young people, it seems, are scared of butchers. A study this week revealed a quarter of British shoppers buy their meat from supermarkets because they feel intimidated by all that weights and measures stuff; they don’t know their rib from their topside and believe anything not vacuum-packed in plastic couldn’t possibly be edible.

The under-24s are the worst. Confused by cuts, perplexed by portion-control, they’d rather have a takeaway or a can of corned beef than learn how to ask for a pork chop and half a dozen rashers of smoked back.

That, to my mind, makes the independent butcher reliant on the more mature customer; the kind of gal-of-a-certain age (but looking much younger) who’s been round the roasting tin a time or two; one who can’t claim to be an expert but who can bravely place her life and her week’s menus in the hands of a man who can. Me.

Not having bought food anywhere but in my own little home town’s shops for more than five years now, I’m proudly and evangelically a buy-local devotee.

So, for those who feel coy of the butcher’s counter, I can offer a few tips. It goes like this:

“I’d like a steak for my dinner please.”

“Sirloin, fillet or rump?”

“Yes please.”

“Weight?”

“You’re getting a bit personal aren’t you?”

“No. How big would you like the steak?”

“Big enough for a greedy person on a diet.”

“Perfect!”

And it always is. My butcher and I don’t waste time on metric measures and other such foolish incidentals. He reads my mind and offers precisely what I’ve been fancying. I ask him how to cook it and he tells me.

The last man with whom I had such a close relationship was my ex-husband – but in all sincerity, I couldn’t have trusted him with a meat cleaver.

“Some Cumberland sausage please.”

“How much?”

“Kind of from your middle knuckle to your elbow.”

“No problem.”

Try that in a supermarket aisle of pre-packed chops and cutlets. Buy one get one free – whether you like it or not. That’s no longer my style. Though I confess it used to be, many moons ago.

There are four simple steps to shopping with a local butcher. Walk in looking dim – it helps. Tell him what you like and how much you want to pay. Take his advice and trust it.

The fourth is a little trickier. While you’ll soon feel you can’t cope without him, resist all temptation to propose. His wife wouldn’t like it.

Local butchers are the lifeblood of Cumbrian communities. We use them or lose them – and nobody wants that. While already feeling a Sunday roast coming on, there’s just one more thing to say.

You can stuff the mushrooms – if you must. Because I’ll not be doing that again.

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