A problem that only “city folk” could have

vinegar section at the 5 Saisons in Outremont

I am not a vinegar snob, I swear! But when you get used to having this as the vinegar section of your local grocery store (and this photo doesn’t even show the full extent of it), it can come as a shock when you can’t find something as ordinary (to you) as white-wine vinegar.

It was a hot summer day in Queensborough, so when Raymond and I were considering what to make for dinner that evening, the idea of barbecuing something from the excellent One Stop Butcher Shop in Madoc and accompanying it with a nice cool potato salad seemed like a splendid one.

Needed, therefore: a potato-salad recipe. While I am happily working up a collection of vintage cookbooks at the Manse (as I’ve written about here and here), I generally don’t go to them for recipes, perhaps for fear of the frequent appearance of things like Jell-O in their ingredient lists. Instead, I consulted my go-to source: the iPhone app for Mark Bittman‘s seminal cookbook How to Cook Everything. I love Bittman’s common-sense and no-fuss-no-muss approach, his love of good food, and his determination to demystify the process of preparing that good food.

So I wrote down the list of ingredients for Bittman’s Classic Potato Salad: potatoes, salt and pepper, parsley, green onions, mayonnaise, and white wine or sherry vinegar, and some of his suggested extras: hard-boiled eggs, radishes and fresh peas. And off Raymond and I went to Madoc to buy groceries.

First stop: Tim Toms’s One Stop Butcher Shop, where the service from Tim and his assistants could not be friendlier, or the meats better. We love that place! It’s a perfect small-town butcher shop.

white-wine and sherry vinegar

A bottle of sherry vinegar or a bottle of white-wine vinegar: was that too much to ask? Apparently, that Saturday afternoon in Madoc, it was.

Next: the Foodland, a big, bright, and also very friendly store that I like a lot. All was going swimmingly, until I got to the white-wine (or sherry) vinegar section. Which actually is not the right name for it, because there was no white-wine or sherry vinegar in it. I could not believe my eyes! I looked through every bottle on every shelf devoted to vinegar, thinking I must just be missing it. There was regular white vinegar, and cider vinegar, and pickling vinegar, and one or two kinds of red-wine vinegar, and ditto for balsamic vinegar – but absolutely no white-wine vinegar, let alone sherry vinegar. “Surely there’s some mistake!” I thought to myself. Wait! Perhaps there was an “imported and specialty foods” section that might have it? Well, there sort of was an imported-and-specialty-foods section – but there was no white-wine vinegar to be seen. Then Raymond, who’d been in a different aisle, came along, and I explained the predicament. “Surely not!” he said – and proceeded to go through the whole vinegar section himself, just as I had.

What to do? It was after 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon. Foodland is the only supermarket in Madoc. Were there any specialty food stores in town that might have it? We thought about Amazing Coffee – which truly does have amazing coffee, and some other great stuff, but we were pretty sure they wouldn’t have white-wine vinegar. Would the Valu-Mart supermarket in Tweed have it? But it’s a 20-minute drive to Tweed from Madoc, we didn’t know if the Valu-Mart would even be open when we got there, and of course we didn’t know if it would have white-wine vinegar either.

What to do?

This is a crisis that only citified people could have.

While there are some things about living in a big city that get to me – the density, the traffic, the constant construction (in Montreal’s case, anyway) – there are other things that I love and (obviously, from this story) take for granted. One of them being a good selection of vinegars at the supermarket. You should see the vinegar selection at the 5 Saisons, the grocery store up the street from us! (Well, actually, if you look at the photo at the top of this post, you can see it.)

In fact, at the risk of sounding very annoying, I have to say that my own home vinegar selection is better than that of the Madoc Foodland: in addition to plain old white vinegar and cider vinegar, I have (and regularly use) not only red-wine, white-wine and several kinds of balsamic vinegar, but tarragon vinegar, sherry vinegar and champagne vinegar. (Though why I have that last one I’m not quite sure. I kind of doubt that anyone needs champagne vinegar.) But anyway, perhaps you can see why Raymond and I were a bit hornswoggled when a simple bottle of white-wine vinegar didn’t come readily to hand in the grocery store that day.

I do want you to know that I did not have a meltdown. I came to my senses and laughed at myself for being, as a friend of ours says, a “citiot,” (“cidiot”?) and thought: what would any ordinary Madoc person do? And it came to me.

People, we used red-wine vinegar instead. And you know what? The potato salad was perfect.

12 thoughts on “A problem that only “city folk” could have

  1. So glad you survived (been there, done that with the Madoc grocery store) and many thanks for the pointer to Mark Bittman’s site; I know I’ll be spending some time there,

    • Bittman is my hero, Brenda. Discovered him through the New York Times, and am very close to being his #1 fan. Here, for instance, is his most recent blog post: all the wonderful things you can do with (very healthy, and delicious) watermelon. Love it!

  2. Aha, you have discovered one of life’s great truths. Many of the cidiot’s needs are simply wants and have no bearing on the preparation of good food!

    • If that’s the store next door to Quinn’s of Tweed, I agree wholeheartedly! And I think I mentioned it to you a while ago, Katherine, when I told you about the recent art show opening at the gallery. That’ll be the place for you when you and Raymond need exotic (ie, everyday) ingredients for your recipes. 😉

      • Yes, The Food Store is a great place. If only I had been able to get there before it closed that Saturday afternoon, I know they would have relieved my vinegar angst!

    • I love that store! And I knew, as I stood haplessly in the aisle of the Madoc Foodland sans white-wine vinegar, that The Food Company would probably have had it – but at 5:45 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, I also knew that my chances of getting there to find it open were very slim. But yes, Raymond and I have already enjoyed great peanut butter and a bunch of other stuff from The Food Company. It is an excellent addition to the regional food suppliers!

  3. Be happy you can enjoy all types of vinegar. I enjoy only Organic Apple Cider Vinegar now as I react to other types. And happily The Food Company carries it. And it makes a great potato salad with a bit of mustard and dill.

    • Jo-Ann, I’m sorry that the wide world of vinegars isn’t available to you, though in the larger scheme of things I’m guessing that it’s not the end of the world and the organic apple-cider vinegar is totally good. And I have to say you are making me hungry with that mention of your potato salad…

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