We all like to make sure the Christmas presents are done and dusted and under the tree well before last-minute bedlam breaks out at the shops. But one thing will always draw us back to the shops in the week leading up to Christmas: food.
After all, mangoes will only keep so long.
But with every stall groaning under the weight of all the traditional meat and veg, it can be hard to know where to turn when time starts running out. Have no fear – help is at hand.
Not surprisingly, being a butcher, Bede from Market Meats at the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets says it’s over to him to provide the proverbial fatted calf for his family’s Christmas lunch.
“I’m one of eight kids, so by the time you add husbands and wives and nieces and nephews, there can be 40 people there,” he says. “And owning a butcher shop, guess who’s providing the meat?”
Bede has run the local butcher shop at the markets for 21 years, so he knows what’s what.
“You want a good muscle ratio and nice light-coloured fat. When it comes to beef, you want the creamy-white fat and good, bright, vibrant colours in the muscle itself, which means it’s fresh and healthy.”
He adds that as a general rule, anything with some visible blood in the bone implies it’s from a younger, healthier animal.
Most of the produce at Market Meats comes from farmers in regional NSW: beef from Bungendore, pork from Holbrook and Wombat, and chicken from Young. The only exception is lamb, which comes from Victoria.
Bede says that at this time of year, it’s all about the pig.
“We buy the pigs from the farmers before doing the breakdown, trimmings, and smoking ourselves here at the shop,” he says.
“I won’t name names, but a lot of the ham and pork from the larger chains comes from a male pig and is imported from overseas. You can really taste the difference.
“Getting good meat comes down to trust with the business you’re buying from.”
The Christmas menu in Bede’s household usually consists of a big ham, butterfly legs of lamb and cutlets on the barbecue, and some seafood “from one of the blokes here”.
Elsewhere in the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets, Mic from Tom’s Superfruits says a Christmas can’t go by in his household without a major family event.
“Last year, we did a pig on a spit, so this year it’s the turn of the lamb. Eating, eating, eating until we explode is the plan.”
The fruit and vegetable store has been at the site since 1997, with produce predominantly coming from the Sydney markets.
“The majority of locals go through agents at the Sydney Markets because it’s very hard for a grower to sell their produce themselves,” Mic says.
Christmas time has always been about the cherries, with mangoes and stone fruit scoring a worthy mention too, but this season has been a challenge.
“Not only is there a massive shortage of produce, but when it rains, the growers can’t go out and pick, and when the fruit stays on the tree when it’s been excessively rainy, the fruit ends up splitting.”
But looks aren’t everything when it comes to picking a good piece of fruit. Mic says that sometimes, the ugly ones taste the best.
“It all comes down to variety. You can have the best-looking peach in the world, but it might be a horrible variety.
“Even the feel varies from fruit to fruit. Some you want firm, some you want soft. No one rule fits all when it comes to fruit and vegetables.”
“Peoples always associate cherries and stone fruits with Christmas, but it’s the vegetables that everybody buys. Everybody is making Christmas lunch, and it’s generally something savoury with vegetables.”
Belconnen Fresh Food Markets are open up from 8 am to 6 pm all this week, closing from 25 to 28 December.