Our first house was in upstate New York – between Rochester and Buffalo. I was a beginning cook and learned a lot from three friends who lived there. They taught me to can using local produce. By the time we left eight years later, we had become used to having sweet cherries, pears, plums, peaches, grape juice and tomatoes on the shelves and tart cherries and apple pies in the freezer. And the Polly-O delivery guy stopped at my house to deliver cheese and flour for a coop we set up – because I was on his way to local restaurants. Life was good.
Then we moved from New York to Utah in the early 80s. People warned me things would be different. For one thing, there weren’t whole aisles in the grocery store devoted to all the various shapes and sizes of pasta. With a large Mormon population, grocery stores stocked some rather large sizes of products. And, about this time, big box stores were just beginning to be popular. Costco (even before it was called Costco) sold 25 pound bags of sugar. I had no trouble adjusting to this. I had a freezer and storage in my house and it almost assured that I would never run out of things.
You wouldn’t think being on one coast or the other would have much to do with what’s in the grocery store. You might be surprised. For example, butter sticks are shorter and fatter in the West, for no apparent reason. And no one makes a butter dish for this shape. East coast apples are not sold in the West because of an agreement New York made with Washington state. I found this hard to believe, but was assured this was true by grocery store employees. Brands were different – sometimes this was good, sometimes bad. Availability of national brands was iffy at best. The store would have all the ketchup you could ever want, but if you wanted some other product by that brand, you may or may not find it. We did get most of our fresh vegetables and fruit from California, a definite bonus.
Our recent move from Utah to North Carolina meant I got to adjust all over again. Big box stores are now ubiquitous and I should be able to get whatever I need. Or so I thought. You may know I bake a lot of bread and now suddenly getting large bags of flour became an issue. Costco does sell 50 lb. bags of flour but not unbleached. I did finally find a restaurant supply store that had all the baking supplies I needed. But there are other items that I’ve grown accustomed to that are hard to find. I’ve developed a liking for Salemville Smokehouse Blue Cheese. No one around me has it or any smoked blue for that matter. I like a specific brand of whole wheat spaghetti and only one store carries that. I get my extra virgin olive oil from Costco in the fall when the first pressing comes out. I get my favorite Valrhona chocolate from Trader Joe’s and found my Valrhona cocoa at Sur La Table. The lack of concentrated juice in the stores is surprising. There’s two aisles of different kinds of grated cheese and only one shelf of frozen juice. Go figure. But all in all this doesn’t sound too hard. And it hasn’t been.
Until now. I am moving to a small town near the east coast. There’s no Costco, no Trader Joe’s, no Sur La Table, no Publix (that I have recently learned to love). There is a Walmart, but I don’t shop there. (That’s a whole other post.) These stores are in nearby larger towns, so we’ll be making a shopping trip on occasion.
So should where you live affect how you cook? Clearly, it does. Some ways are obvious. If you’re near the coast, fresh seafood will be abundant and cheaper. So, of course, you would add those to your diet more often. If you live in New York, every Italian ingredient known to man will be readily available.
I’m sure I can adjust to new brands, but it will take a little time. I also make almost all the bread we eat. It is important to me to get unbleached bread flour in quantity along with unbleached pastry flour and one pound bags of yeast. I may have to go back to ordering it from Honeyville Farms, my former supplier in Salt Lake. (They still only charge $5.00 for shipping!?!)
So some things will change with this next move, and I will work to make other things remain the same.