The Square Peg - If You’ve Got the Money Honey, They’ve Got the Thyme
© S. Bradley Stoner
Being as how it is the annual season for me to do the cooking, I decided it was a good time to check my spice rack. I use spices, especially spices like ground thyme, ground coriander, ground and all-spice. And I like to keep rubbed sage, dried parsley, oregano, turmeric, fennel, marjoram. and savory on hand. Sooo, I checked my spices. I was running low on about half of them. That just wouldn’t do. I might need them, and with Thanksgiving bearing down, that just wouldn’t do. I jotted down the ones I absolutely couldn’t do without and added some I could get by without, but really didn’t want to, and took myself off to the store.
One stop shopping, thought I. I thought wrong. When did the grocery store start cutting back on the spices they carry? More to the point, when did they stop carrying the ones I wanted? The big chain here, HEB, didn’t have bottle one of coriander, ground or unground, not one ounce of all-spice, and savory was conspicuously absent. Needless to say, I was just a tad frustrated, so I asked a stock clerk where, oh where, I might find them? He tried to be helpful... walked me back to the shelves I had just spent ten minutes searching.
“They’ll be right here,” he said cheerily. “They’re in alphabetical order.”
“Okay,” said I, “show me where these are in your alphabetical arrangement.” I handed him my list.
Confidently, he stepped up to the rows of spices, running his finger along the shelves. After about ten minutes, he came to the conclusion that I had a few minutes earlier. Then a light bulb came on in his eyes. He whipped out his inventory reader, tapped on the keys and studied the little screen. He tapped again and again studied the screen. He repeated this until he had gone through my entire list. And then he sighed.
“Um, I guess we don’t carry those.”
Now understand, these are not exotic spices. They are commonplace. I know McCormick’s bottles the suckers... I have almost empty bottles of them at home. I told the clerk that. He just gave me a shrug and a blank stare, then said, “Well, most people don’t do their own cooking anymore... they buy prepared foods and they’re already spiced.”
I don’t know about you, but I found that a particularly unsatisfying answer, especially since this same grocery store sells all the stuff that you have to cook yourself. Even the bake aisle, which is where you find the spices, is filled with the raw materials for “make your own” stuff. They’ve even cut the brands and numbers of cake mixes and such, but they've added umpteen formulas of healthy flours, sugar substitutes, and other scratch mixables. While I was there, I asked him about the shrinking number of premixed cakes.
“Oh,” he replied, “most people just go to the bakery and buy already made cakes. The mixes are such poor sellers, we may drop them soon.”
Betty Crocker and I could have crowned him. Not because it was his fault, but for his cavalier attitude about it. I thanked him, recovered my list, checked out what few things I had in my basket without even telling the checkout clerk that, no I didn’t find everything I needed... because you don’t stock it any more, and left my friendly neighborhood store. I would seek those spices elsewhere.
I could have gone to the orient by sailboat and camel on the spice route quicker than I found a store that carried everything I needed. I probably should have. I might have gotten a better deal. I wound up spending more on a few bottles of spices than I did for the New Your Strip steak dinner I was fixing tonight. But, at least the spice rack is full again. Next time I’m gonna look on-line. Matter of fact, I should have done that today.
Oh well, at least my turkey, dressing, cranberries, gravy and pumkin pies will turn out okay now. Y’all have a Happy Thanksgiving... and I’ll see you sometime after... In the interim, I’m going to be cooking and eating... and watching football.