“Now these are divine”, the lady serving in Aubrey Allen smiled with a glinting eye, carefully packing the praline quail eggs into a paper bag.
Emmy grinned with confident anticipation that Vernon would agree. The chocolates were another filler for his stocking which was, until a mere half an hour ago, at risk of hanging limply proffering a mere satsuma.
Despite not having planned any Christmas shopping that morning Emmy had managed to acquire the finishing touches to almost all her gift packages. Remarkably this had been accomplished by walking along just one small stretch of shops, on Warwick Street in Leamington Spa.
It had begun when she popped into Clarkes Greengrocers for a quick snack but speedily succumbed to completing a comprehensive larder stock-up, enticed by the luscious greens, burgundies and yellows of the produce on display. Hobbling out of the shop she decided that, as she was going to need to drop her heavy bags at home before she could continue her day anyway, she had may as well go next door to the butchers too.
A trip to Aubrey Allen was always an enjoyable experience, with wonderfully helpful, welcoming staff who offered genuine advice and tips for making the most of their award-winning meat. Emmy had recently become somewhat addicted to their smoked turkey, full of flavour with a delicate salty kick. As she waited for a few slices of her favourite treat to be cut her eyes darted over the rest of the delectable joints in the cabinet – Brumham ham cured with molasses sounded sweetly scrumptious and the dry-aged beef from Suckler cattle made her mouth water with its soft deep pink centre. Beyond such hunks of wholesome fodder were a handsome collection of ready-constructed meal components including peppers stuffed with fine continental cheese, pies oozing thick gravy and buttery tarts sporting juicy chunks of salmon. At the back stood bowls of hob-ready raw ingredients – bases for dishes including chicken curry, beef casserole and warming chilli. Chunks of premium meat and vegetables bathed in all the sauces and spices required to easily cook healthy, delicious meals at home.
En route to the till Emmy paused by shelves saturated with inventive, quirky and superior foodstuffs. A brief scan was all she needed to decide that she could probably find Christmas gifts for just about everyone on her list, so she armed herself with a basket and set to work.
She selected Turkish delight curd for her mother – something she had never come across previously, but felt her mother would enjoy, given her penchant for both the traditional rose jelly and lemon curd. A box of gourmet stuffing mix begged for her attention and made her think of her brother Jay, whose love of the squidgy, sagey stuff meant family Christmas dinners were always loaded with a beyond-ample supply. She chose the praline quail eggs for Vernon, given their grand plan to one day build a quail hutch in their garden, and studied the adorable pastel-iced animal-shaped shortcake biscuits with Jay’s girlfriend Hannah in mind. Hmm, despite the sheep being very cute, Emmy decided she would keep looking for Hannah and her father, buoyed with the realisation that she could pick up such wonderful fayre in her local shops.
As she left Aubrey Allen, seriously laden down, Emmy limped into one last stop before she admitted defeat and went home. Stepping inside the cosy, wooden interior of Warwick Street Kitchen she was instantly enveloped in tastebud-tickling herby aromas from freshly baked breads and pastries. She returned the cheery greeting from the man behind the counter and turned to the rustic shelves sporting all manner of quality jars and bottles. All the while her stomach grumbled with outrage that she wasn’t instead sitting down in the café at the back of the shop and tucking into one of those warm, doughy goodies responsible for the wonderful smell. She appeased it by silently promising that one day she would treat herself to lunch in the popular deli.
Dulche de leche! Perfect – another corner of Vernon’s stocking catered for. Finally, to top off her spontaneous splurge she balanced a jar of anchovy-infused black olive tapenade for her father, a fan of all things savoury, to accompany the crusty bread she planned to bake and contribute to her parents’ Christmas day buffet.
“Almost done?” the guy raised his eyebrow at Emmy’s bulging bags as she handed him her card.
“Yes! And it was so easy – this is all from a short walk through Leamington. I don’t know why I bothered going anywhere else for presents.”
Emmy really meant it. Weeks of internet trawling and trips to London, Copenhagen and New York had not been as successful in the present-purchasing stakes as this little jaunt a mere half a mile beyond her doorstep. Next year, she vowed, she would shop local. Moreover, she would make more of a concerted effort throughout 2017 to support Leamington’s wonderful selection of independent outlets, given that they provided over and above what she needed, with optimal quality and impeccable service.