I am a big advocate of using local produce. Before you buy anything online at least think about whether you could buy it in one of our independent retailers. I firmly believe that you will be surprised at just what is available and how cheap it is. I’m sick and tired of hearing about the “lack of choice” from people I hardly ever see making their way into our town centre but are happy driving down to Marks and Spencer’s. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the satisfaction of foraging and how food collected by hand somehow tastes better. The same is true of shopping locally. Good, fresh, locally sourced produce will always be better than something which has been processed, frozen, packaged, carried on a van for a couple of hundred miles and then has rested for a couple of days on the shelf. Spending money locally is like charity gift-aiding; it costs you nothing to do but has a hidden impact on the local economy. The money stays locally and gets recycled a few times rather than just disappear off to a distant Head Office.
Consider your weekend food shopping. Instead of buying your breakfast bread for toast in a plastic wrap from a supermarket, get a loaf from the Gingerbread Shop, one of Pete’s sourdough loaves or feed off the Great British Bake-Off frenzy by baking a loaf yourself using local flour. Mark’s butchers sells Ashbourne honey to go on it. I love the French habit of buying a daily baguette and walking home proudly with it, tearing pieces off to eat as you go. The ritual of the journey and the relationship with the baker is as much part of the heritage as the chateaux. Of course, the vile, watery fake-coloured “value” bacon rashers from the supermarkets will end up surrounded by water in the pan and are a false economy compared to the bacon you can get in the local butchers – don’t get me started on sausages! Oatcakes, Staffordshire or Derbyshire, are available from lots of places in the town. Our older residents regularly just go to the local butchers and have one or two to see them through the weekend. For cereal you can try the excellent muesli, oats and granolas from Natural Choice – or have breakfast at one of the excellent cafes in the town centre rather than at home. My own favourites are the Courtyard and Impromptu at the moment.
For a light lunch you can make a Ploughman’s. Our butchers make rather good (award winning) pork pies and pasties. You may have forgotten what a good pork pie tastes like fresh – with a tasty, crisp pastry and a filling of dense meat. Fresh seasonal salads are a must and Julie’s market stall, Derek’s and Fresh Choice are wonderful suppliers. The range changes weekly but there is something exciting about the locally grown heritage tomatoes which occasionally appear, varying salad leaves, freshly cooked beetroot in Fresh Choice and excellent salad potatoes. Cheddar Gorge or Bramhalls can offer you some zingy Hartington cheese and there are umpteen places to get some chutney to set it all off.
Saturday night is a big night for going out and we have some very good local restaurants and pubs that appreciate our support. Competition gets fiercer all the time and we are the lucky winners as variety and quality is increasing all the time. The pop-up Mediterranean cafe in the Green Man is a welcome addition and hopefully is one of many street food options that will emerge. There was a time when eating out was the only way to try something different. I can remember a time when Chinese and Indian food was exciting because the ingredients as well as the dishes were unknown and inaccessible. To be fair, where I was raised Italian was a novelty, and could be translated as spaghetti Bolognaise, and Thai cuisine could have been part of the Space Programme for all I knew. Today Natural Choice has a far larger selection of herbs, spices, pulses and flours than any supermarket – all served in affordable and sensible quantities. Fresh Choice stocks fresh herbs at low prices and our delis mean we no longer have to substitute cheddar for every cheese used in cooking and bacon for every cured meat. You can buy any cookbook these days and find all the ingredients right here in Ashbourne while only visiting local independent retailers.
Our Sunday lunches are enriched by the great local producers giving us top quality meat. Personally, although I’d rather enrich Scottish and Welsh farmers than Brazilian or French ones, but by preference I would much prefer to support farmers in Derbyshire or Staffordshire. A supermarket sticker on a plastic wrap saying “British” is better than nothing but why not ask Nigel or Mark which local producer their meat comes from? In addition they’ll happily bone, roll and tie it, offer advice on cooking and even offer you sauces and rubs to make it a little special. The same is true at Hulme’s where they have breadcrumbs which complement the fish but are also a good larder ingredient to add to stuffings and give a bit more crunch to crumbles.
We can even support local business with what we eat off and drink from. Sarah Heaton’s beautifully designed tableware is meant to be used (dishwasher and microwave-friendly), not just displayed, and her ranges are now stocked by John Lewis and White Stuff as well as by our very own Vintage Bluebird.
I hope my point is well made. You don’t need to be a martyr to shop locally. Instead you save money, eat better quality food, with greater variety, support the town’s prosperity and therefore hopefully feel a little better about yourself while you do so. With the money you save you can treat yourself and the family to an evening at one of the very good pubs serving terrific beer (look out for local brewers from Burton or new up and coming breweries like Derventio, Amber Valley wines and Kniveton Ciders). Of course you can do a little homework at the Ashbourne Beer Festival in October where you’ll discover there are far more local producers with a much broader range than you imagined.