My hunt for currants and “marijuana”

My shopping life has twice been punctuated by currants.

Decades ago, I was committed to make scones for my cousin Ben’s bar mitzvah celebratory lunch. Nowadays, I’d say the hell with it and use raisins but then I was going for uber-authentic currants — although, given the occasion, I had to replace one traditional ingredient, lard, with something that wasn’t.

This happened in Bethesda, Maryland. I took my shopping list to a local Giant supermarket and wandered for miles (they were serious when they called the chain “Giant”) searching for dried fruit.

Eventually stymied, I hailed a store clerk and asked if they carried currants. She looked bewildered. “Currants?” she said. “What are they?”

“Well,” I said, “it’s a dried fruit and would probably be hovering around the raisins.”

Although still bewildered, she began to escort me a few miles on, presumably toward the raisins. It was like the forest scene from Hansel und Gretel, except instead of dribbling bread crumbs so I could get home again, I was trying to find a trail of currants so I could get out of the store.

I thought to offer a bit of help to my Hansel. “Currants are sort of teeny weeny raisins,” I said.

Epiphany. “Oh!” she said. “Karnts!”

Which has nothing to do with yesterday’s search for a key ingredient in a Thanksgiving recipe.

I determined to try several of my local supermarkets, with two caveats: I would not go into Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, both of which I’m boycotting for different reasons, one of which I’ve forgotten. If I couldn’t find currants in my local markets, I’d chop those raisins.

Starting with Jubilee, my usual large market, I’d passed right by the dried fruit shelves before I was escorted back to them. Inspecting the shelves took a while, mostly because I couldn’t believe there was not a box of currants lurking somewhere behind the raisins. Or the dates, or apricots, or…

I moved boxes around but no currants.

Empty shelves?

Oh, and since I’ve read the propaganda about empty shelves, let me attest to the fact the shelves, other than the absence of currants, were fully stocked. Fully. Staples, exotica, ten thousand types of milk, whatever you’d crave, plenty of toilet paper, the supermarket had it.

Except currants.

Back to the currant search

A similar search through Pioneer yielded no currants. As I stood inspecting the dried fruit shelves, I considered chopping up dates. Then I moved on, just in case an antic store manager had decided to secrete currants on a separate weird shelf near the vegetables.

I thought I was getting somewhere when I noticed dried cranberries in bags, not boxes. A moment of excitement and confirmation of my theory about an antic store manager but no. No matter how you package them, cranberries are not currants. Can’t fool me.

What I did find in the vegetables section was a really small package of fresh marjoram. I was out of fresh marjoram — I always buy fresh herbs and dry them myself — so I picked up the package and took it to the cashier.

One very small package of majoram was all I was buying. I apologized to the cashier who smiled and shrugged. Fine with her. She rang it up, $1.99. As I pulled out a couple of dollars, she looked more closely at the package and started to laugh.

“I thought it was marijuana!” she said. We both laughed and agreed marijuana, perhaps similarly packaged, would soon be showing up in the produce section.

I’m thinking they’ll stock marijuana sooner than they’ll stock currants.

A bright thought and a shudder

I don’t like shopping in Fairway “Like No Other Market.” (I think that’s its full name.)

In Fairway, you’re constantly under assault, usually by little old ladies wielding carts as weapons. But Fairway, I must admit, is like no other market. Theoretically, anyway, it has absolutely everything. And, yes, its shelves are fully stocked.

So that was my bright thought (Fairway!) as well as my shudder (Fairway!).

Now, a problem with Fairway is it rambles all over the place, up and down and up some more and in my lady’s chamber. Shopping for one item in Fairway requires stratagem, as well as a thorough knowledge of a number of secret corners where a single container of currants might be hiding.

An upstairs upstairs bin was labeled “currants” but was empty. I glared at the bin for a while and then went downstairs, to the overpriced specialized regular food section (“specialized,” i.e., boutique food companies making regular items like cereal but with strange fruits I’d never heard of).

Sure, I was low on Happy Herbert’s, (in reality, he’s Happy Gary) so I picked up some bags, wandered around some more, studied the dried fruits, passed through the fish section…and thought, “You know, maybe I should try the veggie and fruit section, just in case they sneaked some currants in over there.

I was scrupulously careful and very slow. I found actual turmeric which, unlike the turmeric powder I use, came in ginger-like stems, although turmeric in color. Interesting.

And then and then and then: one very narrow shelf system had those plastic containers stores use when they do their own packaging and there it was: currants.

I was so damn pleased.

And that’s all I have to say.



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