Smells like a proper Greengrocers

As I walked down our High street the other day the smell of tar hit my hooter and took me right back to being a kid in the late 70s early 80s. The smell was coming from a flat roof being repaired but to me I was suddenly a 10 year old boy again!

I grew up in North West London in a place called Dollis Hill which is in between Neasden and Cricklewood. N.W London is most famous, for Camden, Baker St and Wembley and is definitely NOT North London as you will often hear it described on a news report or by a sports commentator.

I can feel Shelly’s eyes rolling as she reads this as she will often hear the cry of “It’s not North London!!!!” Bellowing from the living room when I’m watching the box.

As I said I grew up in Dollis Hill, a big Irish area but it was mixed with people from all over the world. It was an industrial area which had fallen into decline so there were a lot of abandoned warehouses and industrial estates.

Which was a perfect playground for a 10 year old, his younger brother and their mates!

It was also a good place to park independently owned tippers, you know the lorries that carry earth and hardcore away from the building sites. Well these were our climbing frames and many of them had been used for tarmac, so the burnt sticky remains were still in them, which our mums loved, all over our jeans and shoes, so that smell takes me right back to that time.

Food seems to be one of those smells that can also do this, the smell of roasting chestnuts takes me back to the street vendors selling them on Oxford St during the Christmas period.

Strawberries remind me of the big carts full of berries being sold on a London High Street during the summer season and fish frying always reminds me of me Nan cooking it on a Friday in her small kitchen.

So I love to hear when people come into our shop and say to one another “smells like a proper Greengrocers” and I know that they are being transported to a place and time only they knew, in a mini mind time machine and it always makes me smile.

I also love it when kids come into the shop with their mums and dads, I like to make a fuss of them, as it might make a point in time in their minds in the future, when they smell a Greengrocers they are taken back to a Harris tweed hatted, mustachioed fool searching for the stickers on the fruit to add to the never ending till display.

Because my friends that type of thing makes me happy and as long as I’m happy all is good!

Vegetarians and Vegans are a Greengrocers Best Friend!

Newsflash!!!

A Greengrocers is a Vegetarian and Vegan shop!!!!

Most of us Meat eaters wouldn’t think of it like that but it’s true. I have recently been searching out other Greengrocers on Instagram 1. To share ideas and get ideas from and 2. For a bit of support and to give support to others as sometimes it can feel like you’re the only one trying to keep this ancient trade alive!

They have also confirmed to me what I have thought for a long time now. Many Greengrocers are evolving into a one stop shop for Vegans and Vegetarians.

It totally make sense, the Veggies and Vegans that shop in our shop spend the most money, mainly because Fruit and Veg is so cheap compared to meat, so they can afford to buy the best. So now many Greengrocers are starting to stock grains, beans, pulses, plant based alternative milks such as Almond milk, Oatly etc.

With meat becoming more expensive (and lets face most us can only afford chicken these days) Celebrity Chefs such as Jamie Oliver have caught onto the Instagram foodies such as @hemsleyhemsley @rawveganblonde and @deliciouslyella way of thinking. In Jamie’s latest TV series Superfood fruit and veg seem to be the main star of the show.

This is a sea change from the snarling and mickey taking of past celebrity chefs towards vegetarianism and veganism. As a non veggie half of my meals a week are probably veggie if not vegan. Ok this might have something to do with my wife being a vegetarian but also I’ve learnt that a meal doesn’t have to contain meat to be enjoyed.

I’ve never got the petty contempt on both sides the Meat vs Vegetarian and Vegan argument. Ok from the veggies/vegan side of things it’s about compassion for Animals which drives them but surely it’s better to communicate rather than isolate the meat eaters, and the Meat eaters……………… well you haven’t got any reason to dislike a Vegetarian or Vegan what difference does it make to you unless one’s coming to dinner.

The truth is us meat eaters better get used to the veggies/vegan way of thinking cos its growing in popularity due to health reasons, meat scares and the rising price of meat, we will all be eating more veggie dishes in the future.

This can be seen by the rise of vegetarian/vegan eating establishments in our towns and cities these a few years back would never have survived but now they are flourishing! Near to where I live in Colchester, a Vegan Cafe opened up The Den at twenty three http://www.thedenattwentythree.co.uk/ the first of its kind in the area.

I’ve been there a few times and its bloody lovely and that’s the key to get us non vegans/vegetarians through the door and show us how good this food is and that you don’t have to be a vegan or vegetarian to eat there, good food is good food!

I suppose what I’m saying is that maybe the Greengrocer isn’t an old fashion way of doing things maybe its the new way of doing things. A dog that’s learnt a new trick, I certainly hope so! So why not try a veggie/vegan dish even if its only once a week what harm could it do?!?!

Off to Market we must go……

It’s 11.45pm Sunday night and it’s time to get ready for my trip to the market, first task, music for the journey.

Tricky one this, nothing to dreamie like Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating in space but on the other hand you don’t want to be racing down to Prodigy’s Invaders Must Die. So I plump for The White Stripes Elephant.

With heavy jacket and flat cap donned I turn the ignition to start the journey as Jack and Meg smash out Seven Nation Army and I get on my way.

I make my way down the pitch black A12 only illuminated by the glow of the big towns like Witham and Chelmsford, then off at the junction for the M25. Yes I know the A12 leads all the way to New Spitalfields but I hate speed cameras, traffic lights mixed with empty roads so I take the 6 mile detour.

The M25 is lit like a race track and empty apart from the odd lorry and vans going to the market. Next off the M25 and onto the M11 and back to the pitch blackness until I see the red dots of the Docklands skyline appear, I’m almost there apart from a quick hop back on the A12.

As I arrive at the market I glance at the giant digital timepiece on the gate house as I enter, 1.30am not bad time I think to myself and drive to the back of the market and park up. As I drive round to the back of the market it hits me for a place purpose built as a fruit & veg market this place is chaos, lorries delivering and vans picking up mixed with forklift trucks loading and unloading its crazy!

I walk into the market through Gate 3 to a swarm of activity, I bustle past the No Smoking and High Viz vests must be worn signs into cloud of cigarette smoke coming from a Turkish looking man in a shiny suit. Rules mean nothing at this time of night.

The first thing that hits you is it’s a Mans world down here the only women you see, seem to be the Eastern European coffee girls who rush around with trays of hot drinks and sandwiches from the cafés to the stall holders. I have seen a few women buyers but not as many, it’s a man world alright!

I make my way to the stalls that know my face as this helps with the prices, you build up a relationship with certain people and they’ll tell you what’s good and what’s not. You’ll be lucky if you can get all your stuff from one stall, some sell only fruit & some only veg.

The English Firms are the first port of call, now I know this may sound a bit iffy ” THE ENGLISH FIRMS” but what is meant by this, is the firms that sell what you would call your everyday fruit and veg from mushrooms, cabbages, apples, potatoes and sprouts etc and they have been there for donkey’s years!

Then I’m off to explore the more exotic stalls and there are loads Indian, Chinese, Turkish and many more and I look to pick up a box or two of something a little different, something that you might not find in our local supermarkets it’s what makes us a little bit special.

A few years back we started stocking Flat (Donut) Peaches from one of these stalls and they flew out off the door but eventually everyone started stocking them and as they are a tough fruit to keep, the big stores started to chill them and this affects the taste so slowly people started going off them, we still sell a few but not as many. Some of the stuff I see just wouldn’t sell in our little town although we thought that of Medjool dates but they must be one of our best sellers now!

Hmmmm what shall I buy?

I head back to my vehicle with a milky coffee from the café and a couple of boxes of ravaya aka baby aubergines and the porters have delivered my pallets of gear. Every stall has to employ porters and the porters have to have a porter’s license, they bring your goods out to the car park for a Portage fee which is added to your bill when your pay by card at the stalls.

For more about information about the porters see http://spitalfieldslife.com/2011/12/16/jimmy-huddart-spitalfields-market-porter/

I said rules mean nothing at this time of night early in this piece but the one rule that does mean something is you don’t touch someone else pallet of gear. They can stay out in the car park on their own for hours and they’re quite safe no one will touch them. It shocked me at first that there was so much trust but it would be more trouble than its worth so nobody does.

I load up and head off back up the same route and arrive back in Brightlingsea around 4.30am and unload. I’m knackered but am very happy with the gear I’ve got. Then it’s home where I sneak back into the house and into a warm bed safe in the knowledge our little shop is well stocked for the new week ahead.