Oxford’s best fruit and coffee (and jeans)Posted: July 31, 2011
Today I went in search of fruit. This is no small order these days, as most supermarket fruit tastes like cardboard, so I’ve sworn off it except for taking the occasional chance at Waitrose (the posh supermarket — bought some lovely cherries there recently).
We usually order fruit from our box scheme (this is sort of like a community supported agriculture or CSA farm in the USA), but forgot this week. So I headed for Oxford’s Covered Market. A brief chat with the only remaining greengrocer at the market revealed that the only British fruits available were apples and plums, with a few of the last punnets of British raspberries. I passed on the berries (at £1.95 for a small punnet, and because we’ve had some from our garden already). But I knew the plums must be really sweet as I’ve seen them squished on the ground all around the nature reserve where I live, suggesting they’re very much ready to eat. It seemed a bit daft buying a kilo of plums when they grow wild around my house, but then many are too high for me to reach without a ladder, and frankly I wasn’t in a foraging mood. I chose a few British apples as well, then decided to dash my locavore cred with some Spanish nectarines … they just looked so good.
I feel incredibly lucky to have the Covered Market nearby — not only do they stock British fruit and veg, but it’s an atmospheric place to shop, built in 1774, milling with locals and tourists, and nothing like the sterile environment of a supermarket. Though I know some supermarket chains sell good produce, fruit is one thing they rarely get right. Often this is because the fruit they stock has to be tough (and unripe) enough to make the journey (often from abroad) and still look good when it arrives — i.e. it’s built for travel rather than taste. So it’s one thing I insist on buying as local and seasonal as possible (or foraging for when possible).
While on my fruity excursion I picked up a copy of Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved: Markets, power and the hidden battle for the world’s food supply, which I can’t wait to devour. But must first finish Michael Pollan’s excellent Omnivore’s Dilemma: The search for a perfect meal in a fast-food world, which has riveted me for weeks, causing me to make my excuses for not wanting to watch a film with my husband and instead go to bed early to read. Great books can be hard on a marriage…
Before heading home, my bike baskets stuffed with fruit and books (and, if I’m being honest, a new pair of jeans … not local or seasonal, but then jeans don’t really have a season, do they?), I stopped in for the best coffee in Oxford, at The Missing Bean. It was lunch time, but because I’ve committed to eating big, filling lunches and small dinners (a la Spain, Italy, France … more on that in another post), I decided to have something small to hold me over until I got home and could cook a proper meal.
I managed to get a table, which is rare at this busy place, and ordered my usual: a flat white (steamed milk from the bottom of a pitcher poured over a single shot of espresso …similar to a latte, but somehow tastily different). Though I hadn’t yet had lunch, I couldn’t resist a beautiful red sponge cake with white icing that winked at me from the cake case. It was red velvet cake (described by the barrista as a cross between chocolate and vanilla). As with all of their cakes, it was homemade and absolutely delicious. And as I hadn’t been to The Missing Bean in a while, I forgot how good the coffee is. Net result: I’ve decided there’s nothing wrong with having dessert and coffee before a big lunch.