26 November 1999

Book Reviews

Do you know where to buy buffalo steak?

THERE are people who love to shop until they drop. There are others, like me, who would rather give the whole chore a miss.

But there is something to tempt the jaded shopper back into that quest for a bargain, something special or just something interesting, that doesnt come from one of the name stores that have taken over just about every high street in the country. Its The Alternative Shopping Guide*.

This super little book, small enough to keep in the glove compartment in the car, comes in six guises, each one covering a different region of England. Each is packed with places to visit for specialities, furniture, food, clothes and much more. I delved into the one covering central south and south west England, an area I thought I knew well. I soon found I didnt know it at all. How could I have missed the chance to buy native American indian artefacts from a bison farm in Wiltshire? Yes bison, as in buffalo – that glorious beast beloved of Western movie makers – in Wiltshire. I had to find out more about this.

Bush Farm, where bison roam on 53ha (130acres) farmed by Colin Ellis, is at West Knoyle, barely a cavalry charge from the Little Chef on the A303 near Mere. Now the breeding herd will have been brought in from the fields. In summer, visitors can take a trailer ride to see them. The bulls stand 6ft at the shoulder and weigh about a tonne. The cows weigh about 10cwt. This herd is not just decorative. It has to earn a living and the shop at Bush Farm sells bison meat, burgers, sausages and thinly sliced smoked bison.

"The meat is higher in protein and lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than most other meats, including poultry, and even some fish. A lot of people buy it because it has all the taste and flavour of red meat without a lot of cholesterol," says Mr Ellis. "Stewed it is like good beef but if you try a steak the flavour is much stronger."

Steak costs from £7.90/lb for frying steak to £15.50/lb for fillet. I tried the stewing steak at £5.95/lb. It was superb, cooked very quickly and was really tender and full of flavour.

Other by-products from the bison are the horns, skins and heads. However, recently Mr Ellis has been told that his bison are now to be classified as cattle and as such come under the BSE regulations. "Now we cant have the heads or horns back although we would be allowed to take the horns off a live animal – its crazy.

"The worst thing is the 30-month restriction. All the calves are born in May and we have to push them on now. With the older animals that we can no longer sell it is £2000 of burgers gone on each one, and no compensation," says Mr Ellis, adding that not a single subsidy is paid to his farm.

Sales from the farms gallery (open Thursdays and Fridays until Christmas – Tel 01747-830263) will need to be brisk to make that up. Here you can find a small selection of paintings, books, dream catchers and jewellery – some made in North Dakota by the great grandson of a chief, others made by Mr Ellis. You can also order a bison skin to tan yourself (from £70) – and thats something you wont find in any high street shop.

Tessa Gates

*The Alternative Shopping Guide, by Barbara Cameron, £3.50 plus 50p postage from The Stable Publishing Company, Woolsthorpe by Belvoir, Grantham, Lincs NG32 1NT. State area: Lancs &Lake District, NW England; South East England; Heart of England; Derbys, Staffs, Cheshire & N Shrops; East of England; Central Southern and SW England.

Odd facts and figures youll want to keep

THERE are some books you buy for yourself and some you buy for other people.

At first glance The Old Farmers Almanac – A Millennium Primer* seems to fall into the latter category. But take a peek inside; if you like quirky facts and anecdotes you will want to keep it for yourself.

For instance, had you heard that when the new moon falls on a Saturday the following 20 days will be wet and windy? Or that sufferers of backache should empty their pockets, wear looser clothing and never cross their legs? And have you noticed that cows give more milk when the wind blows from the west? Possibly not, but then the book does hale from America, where it is the oldest continuously published periodical, dating back to 1792.

Of course American measurements are based on the English system and there are some good nuggets of information on how lengths and weights were standardised. The English monarchy had a lot to do with this it seems, Tudor kings decreeing the length of a furrow (220yd) and Queen Elizabeth I increasing the length of the mile to 5280ft from the Roman 5000ft. When Charles I decided to raise extra taxes on milk, honey and wine – all measured by the "jack"or "jackpot", which was half a gill or 4fl oz – he reduced the size of a jack by half. It is thought that the old nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill could be a 17th century protest song about this. After all if the jack fell in value would not the jill come tumbling after?

It is all very interesting, but one little tip stands out: If you dont want anyone to know, dont do it! TG

*The Old Farmers Almanac – A Millennium Primer, published by Time Life, £9.99.