The recent return of a butcher shop to our small country town, Millicent, is deeply appreciated , particularly by older townspeople, after most of their past lived with nothing but specialised shops, way before supermarkets glimmered in their creators’ imaginations. Such friendly, welcoming businesses hold special memories — especially for those from butchering families – like myself.
Descendant of a proud line of Master Butchers — his father at one stage owning several shops in the suburbs and one in the city of Adelaide, the following signs on my Dad’s shop vowed they would ALWAYS fulfil every promise.
‘GRAHAM’S MEAT SERVICE- Quality at Lower Prices’
Purveyors of Quality Meat
This was the pledge of yesterday; the tradition I grew up with in the 1950s. The craft of butchering has changed beyond recognition, with butcher shops sadly becoming increasingly rare, and harder than ever to imagine that laid-back service and charm, caring service and attention to detail, AND customers’ specific wishes of yesteryear.
‘The customer may not always be right – but he is NEVER wrong’. Eternally smiling and ready with a cheerful greeting and a joke or two, my Dad was endlessly patient, polite and respectful; the model Master Butcher.
A wide service counter divided public and working area as customers established their dinner plans. “What would you recommend Mr. Graham?” — “What’s on special this week, Wal?” — “I’m thinking maybe something to roast tonight. We’re having my brother and his family to tea. What do you reckon? You’re the expert.” Dad would field all questions, make suggestions and recommendations on the cut, and cooking method too. The choice was placed on greaseproof paper on his large trusty scales and checked against the customer’s wishes and approval.
Then came the moment for the King of the counter — the cash register — an elaborately patterned antique silver National. What a grand machine, cleverly calculating the sum of all the purchases, multiplying individual weights and displaying the total in pop-up tabs in the ‘window’ atop the machine, with a cheerful ‘ding’ of its bell.
What a treasure trove when this drawer opened to reveal numerous compartments with curved bottoms to enable scooping out of change. Heavy wire spring clips held down the various denomination notes in a complete lift out tray. Important things like cheques and special delivery dockets were hidden below. To one side a trusty spike speared the regular shop dockets. In quieter times, Dad dealt with the finances as well as the butchering, but on busier days, like Fridays, Mum took over, taking the money and doling out change and conversation with the locals.
In the past, the working side of the shop was on full view to the public. Unimaginable not to have the customer’s input and supervision of selection, chopping and slicing of the chosen cuts – not to mention the absolute necessity of watching the actual weighing of that focus of the family meal – the meat.
Today’s large supermarkets and their hygienically wrapped and hermetically sealed meats are woeful by comparison. Another baby thrown out with the bath water.