When one of my good friends suggested that I take a trip to Keelham Farm Shop in Skipton for a joint of meat for a family get-together, my initial response was: "No way am I driving 12 miles to buy a piece of meat when I've got Morrison's half a mile away, love!"
But she did a good job of convincing me that ‘I hadn’t eaten meat until I’d eaten meat from Keelham’ on the outskirts of Skipton in Yorkshire, so I decided to give the place a go.
This was my first experience of a ‘local farm shop’ since returning to Yorkshire. For obvious reasons, one doesn’t get ‘local farm shops’ in London. We did have Planet Organic and COOK! and a pretty limited Sunday morning farmer’s market if we wanted to posh-it-up on some ghastly overpriced organic produce.
Being from Yorkshire, I do have some vague memories of my mum dragging me to a local farm shop in Queensbury on the outskirts of Bradford. Muddy puddles in the pothole-filled gravel covered car park. A huge, drafty corrugated steel building with the doors always open whatever the weather. The aroma of manure outside the building and the scent of raw red meat on the inside. The place was always buzzing with young workers dressed in grubby white overcoats and fingerless gloves trying desperately to keep warm.
Keelham, though, is quite simply the Harrods of farmers markets. The electronic double doors open up to a treasure trove of colourful fruit and veg to the right, and a fresh flower stall blooming beyond belief to the left. Centre stage is a juice bar with a freshly squeezed orange machine and a chalk board hanging from the ceiling displaying a menu to rival any London juice bar, but at a fraction of the cost.
I wasn’t sure where to head first; everything looked so inviting. Every stand, shelf, stall and rustic display made from hay bales or Keelham-branded crates strategically stacked up to look as rustic as possible. Chalk boards promoting everything from gift boxes, freshly prepared sandwiches, cakes, pies, nuts, dressings, organic duck eggs, cheeses and storage solutions perfect for any country farmhouse kitchen filled the place in a cleverly authentic way.
…An ideology of middle class Yorkshire; along with Hunter wellies, Barbour wax raincoats, a Land Rover Discovery and a couple of hounds. Still, I didn’t care, I’m a sucker for ideology; I was on culinary cloud nine and so was every other designer flat cap and Mulberry handbag in the place.
While I stroked the shiny peppers and bagged up a few perfectly formed Maris Pipers, I clocked the Bok Choy and Artichokes out the corner of my eye. After mourning the loss of so many wonderful foods and coming to terms with my local supermarkets never stocking anything more exotic than a kiwi fruit, here I was filling my trolley with all sorts of wonderful things realising very quickly that farm shop shopping is the future and Yorkshire can live up to London in the culinary stakes; one just needs to know where to go.
The staff were over-friendly and helpful. The queues for the deli, bakery, juice bar, meat counter, cheese counter and florist were all minimal considering how packed the place was. More childhood memories came flooding back as I browsed the dairy section packed with a huge selection of Longley Farm products – yogurts, cream, cottage cheese etc.
Meanwhile my four-year-old son Teddy was staring wide-eyed at the old-school sweet display showcasing oversized jars of colourful boiled sweets, gums and candy sticks. The sugar-laced exhibit came complete with mini shopping baskets; it’s touches like these that fill women like me with that warm fuzzy feeling – a mix of nostalgia and a love of anything miniature. My husband calls is the ‘white picket fence’ effect (with a strong air of mockery), but he’d made a beeline for the ale section, which in his words was ‘very impressive’.
Even the basket of free clementine’s, bananas and apples with a sign encouraging children to help themselves and eat their ‘five a day’ is an idea that all supermarkets should adopt.
Usually I have a 16-minute window if I take my children to the supermarket. Once they have grazed their way round the first four aisles, boredom kicks and the stopwatch to all hell breaking loose starts. I had a much longer window of opportunity at Keelham. OK, yes, I did let Teddy help himself to the pick-and-mix counter, fill up a couple of litre bottles of fresh orange from the juicer, and fill a little tub with olives, but all of which added to a pleasant experience for us all. As food shopping with little people goes; this is as near to perfect as you are going to get.
Don’t be fooled though by the air of exclusivity to this farm shop. The best surprise is the bill at the end. OK so I overloaded on carbohydrates from the bakery (which I never do), and I treated Iain and I to a couple of overly large lumps of fillet steak, but luxuries aside, all top quality locally sourced produce came in much cheaper than anything of the same quality from Waitrose or M&S.
My only gripe? There was a 45-minute wait for a table in the restaurant so we decided not to bother. I suppose I’ll just have to go back again very soon.
I’ve definitely developed a farm shop infatuation – I’m going to visit every farm shop that calls Yorkshire home.
Check out my Keelam image gallery.
For more information visit Keelham’s official website.