I am writing a book based on family letters from 1910. www.tighsolas.ca/page10.pdf.pdf
I also have the complete household accounts for this family from 1883 to 1921. (They were Scots, after all. )
The family, the Nicholsons of Richmond, Quebec, ate a lot of beef and only an occasional chicken as that fowl was expensive and available only half the year.
Indeed, their purchases hardly changed in 5 decades. A five dollar barrel of flour, beef and pork, about 10 cents a pound for small amounts, graham flour (cheaper than wheat flour despite it being the Wheat Boom years in Canada) lots of butter (17 cents a pound) and yeast cakes.
They grew their own veggies, mostly. They bought bananas. And an occasional can of salmon.
During WWI, in 1916 in fact, a local grocer tried to get the family matriarch, Margaret, to try a new baking product, Crisco shortening, as the cost of butter had doubled to 40 cents a pound.
They sent around a colourful cardboard flyer (in a signature style created by female advertising legend Helen Resor of J. Walter Thompson) with a coupon. It didn't work, I have Margaret's 1917 butter bill.
I have the Direct Mail ad on me. (It features a cute Norman Rockwell style drawing of a child peeking over a table top at some steaming biscuits.) I discovered it with the letters. The coupon, however, is gone. They were Scots after all.
Well, I found something else pretty rare, just the other day. A real nice tasting piece of fruit. Hallelulja. (I can't spell that word, ever).
Seems the bartlet pears from the US are terrific this year. They ripen to a firm but tender, tart and juicy perfection - instead of going all brown and pulpy on you before they ripen.
I've complained a lot, on my blogs and elsewhere, about the fruit we get these days, especially the peaches. The ones I bought this summer were simply awful. Even the ones from the outdoor markets. Spit up horrible.
Anyway, since I had these nice tasting pears, I decided to cook with some of them, before they did turn. (I'm an empty nester.) I made a baked chicken dish with the fruit and some fennel. Mistake.
You can't bake with chicken anymore. The flesh turns to mush. These days, chicken is industrially bred to be fast fried or bbq'd.
This is why I've stopped buying chicken breasts.. I made a chicken breast dish in a clay pot a while back, and the meat turned to mash potatoes. Degoulasse, as they say in French. (Although I'm not sure of that spelling, either.)
This time I used deboned chicken thighs, purchased from Costco. Usually chicken thighs are good for baking, but now, I see, they are going the same route as breasts.
The poor genetically modified franken fowl we ingest today doesn't make use of its leg muscles.
Crappy and expensive, that's chicken these days. Here in Montreal, Canada, anyway.
It's much cheaper in the States. (In the US Costco meat is a bargain: here it is the same price as in the other stores.) I suspect we pay as much for our meat as Americans pay in Whole Foods or Britons pay at Waitrose.
Let me check. (Time passing.) Hmm. Whole Foods doesn't publish its prices. (I guess movie stars need not ask the price of their zucchinis.) Waitrose does. 15 dollars a British pound for their deboned chicken thighs. That's way more than our 1 dollar a thigh.
But their meat is organic. So maybe it has taste and texture. Maybe it's good. Organic meat is much more expensive here,too. About 20 dollars for a 6 pound chicken, and organic may mean free range or not, antibiotic free, or not. It's all very confusing.
But I can't afford that anymore.
So checking out Waitrose's prices agains our stores' prices is like comparing crispy 1960's apples and dry, tasteless 2010 oranges, I guess.
Food prices have skyrocketed here in Montreal over the past two years. I have stopped shopping at upscale IGA or Loblaw's and instead go to the Super Carnival, a relatively repulsive 'everyman' store, where the meat is all gray and the packaged goods all displayed in huge dishevelled heaps. (I exaggerate for effect.)
And where the price tags are only a suggestion as they all say "Prix Ecrase" (as in crushed prices).
But Super Carnival still charged me 7 cents for a plastic grocery bag. A lot of Eco Bull -I think and I often complain to the poor check out ladies about this. This green initiative is not about helping the environment: it's merely a money maker for the corporations, that's all, as well a conscience-appeaser for us food and fossil fuel garburating modern consumers.
Over the past decade, you must have noticed, grocery stores have introduced more and more 'convenience' products, tiny portions of whatever with lots and lots and LOTS of packaging. That's how they make their money, it's clear.
If they could sell us one lonely pea encased in 50 pounds of styrofoam and plastic, and charge us 10.o0. for it they would. The environment be damned.
The other day I bought five small filets of Pacific salmon, tiny, for a dollar and EACH ONE was double vacuum wrapped in thick plastic. It was on sale for a dollar; down from the usual two dollars. I can buy a piece of nan bread, one little piece, comprised of about 1/2 oz of flour and a few grains of salt, for about the same price, albeit nicely packaged like a 50th wedding anniversary present.
And the way things are going, that may be all my hubby will be able to afford to give me, come that landmark event in twenty some years.
Only the ethnic store, Adonis, doesn't charge for plastic grocery bags. It's mostly immigrant clientele wouldn't put up with such nonsense. They have too much common sense.
But not for long, Adonis seems to have been bought by Loblaw's (that also owns Selfridges in the UK, by the way). I can see their President's Choice products being slowly introduced. So when the next generation forgets how to make their own tasty, inexpensive Pad Thai they can buy it ready-made, or an oversalted microwavable facimile thereof and pay 6 times more for the pleasure of being a real North American.