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2 September 2015 4 comments

Honesty Box Dinners

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By Juliet Elliott
Honesty Box Dinners
Roughly three years ago when I announced my departure from London, people couldn’t have been more surprised. “But you’re so very London, with your fixed gear bike, your tattoos and your job in the media,” they exclaimed. “Just how will you survive without being able to buy pomegranates at 3am and extremely tiny lukewarm coffee for the best part of a fiver?” I’ll admit that there was a period of adjustment necessary - my husband and I would sometimes forget that everything closed on a Sunday evening and so would have to have for toast for Sunday dinner, but thanks to bicycles I’ve not exactly struggled to make country life my own and I’m happy to forgo Thursday night East London gallery openings with their lashing of free booze and artfully dressed crowd. I'll also concede that I miss the international cuisine and culture and of course, my wonderful friends, but country life is a clear winner in my eyes and I couldn’t be happier. These days, a Thursday night is far more likely to involve cans of John Smiths by the river playing pooh-sticks, or, when I’m looking to combine two of my favourite activities, eating and cycling, an honesty box cookout. So this Friday with my husband gone and only the cats for company, I set off with my Brooks Pickwick Backpack filled with the barest of essentials for a tour of Devon’s lanes in pursuit of dinner.

The great thing about this kind of mini-adventure is that it’s instant and doesn’t require faffing, preparation or much kit. In my pack I had my favourite stove, the MSR Micro Rocket, a set of brilliant titanium Alpkit pans and spork that I won in a Sidetracked Magazine competition, a Wildo Fold-A-Cup from Pedal and Tread and some salt and olive oil. All I needed was something to cook. The term Honesty Box refers to the practice of selling something and leaving the purchaser to place money for the goods they’ve taken in a box without interaction with the seller. It’s something that WHSmith’s have trialed (fairly unsuccessfully) in their stores, but down here in Devon you still see many roadside stalls, tables and stands offering homegrown produce and homemade goods, such as fruit, vegetables, eggs, jams, chutney, flowers, bread, cakes and more. There have been reported incidents of theft, which is a real bummer, but coming from a place where you can barely leave a fully locked bike for more than a second, the presence of these honesty boxes makes me feel good about the world. Honesty box shopping is quite hit and miss but I figured that as it’s harvest time I’d have no trouble finding something fresh, cheap and appealing on offer so I set off hungry and went for an aimless pedal. Devon’s lanes are particularly lovely at this time of year, not least because of all the rain, and it was awesome to potter without a Garmin or a heart rate monitor – I’ve been doing a fair bit of race-training this summer which has made me really appreciate long, languid rides with little agenda. After stopping to gather the first of this years blackberries, which always brings a strange mix of pleasure and sadness  (I don’t hate winter but I’m always dismayed about the days getting shorter) I rode along part of the Templar Way, the 18-mile route linking Haytor on Dartmoor with my favourite seaside town, Teignmouth. My first honesty box stop was disappointing. There was a list of vegetables including sweet corn, marrow, spinach, runner beans and potatoes with their prices written next to them (from 25p – 60p) but sadly not a single vegetable in sight. Had everyone else decided to cook out on this lovely summer’s evening? Down at Staverton I found a lovely display of flowers for sale, but again, no veg. The next honesty box empty too. Where was the bountiful harvest I’d imagined? I was happy to finally score some eggs from the farm in Broadhempston and carefully slipped them inside my backpack before continuing to seek something a little more substantial to fill my growling belly. I continued on my merry way heading back towards Bovey Tracey when I remembered a really brilliant looking roadside stall I’d passed on previous rides, but never when I had any money. I rode over to Granny Pat’s stall to see what the mysterious lady had on offer and it turned that she’d been very industrious, making jams, pickles and even wine to bolster her offerings of veg. Not particularly fancying a hedgerow brew and the inevitable hangover, I scooped up some runner beans, pattypan squash and an ill-thought out jar of orange and beetroot pickle that I never ate, before retiring to a nearby field for a picnic in the last of the evening’s sun. The hastily assembled result was a slightly peculiar meal of boiled veg and fried eggs rather than the gourmet feast I’d imagined but the ambiance was far better than anything you’d read about on the restaurant pages, plus salt and olive oil make anything taste ok! As the cheerfully swooping swallows circled the skies above me and an extraordinarily furry little caterpillar shimmied his way along a leaf, I felt extremely content with their company and my frugal feast. Who needs pomegranates at 3 in the morning when you've got your own pop up restaurant? Sure, I might not get any Michelin stars for my cooking, but love live honesty box dinners! Posted by Juliet Elliott
There is an honesty box somewhere between Truro and Newquay in Cornwall that warns you: we have CCTV and can see whether you pay and your registration plate (but not if you're a cyclist wearing a balaclava of course).
David 23 May 2016 at 19:06
Thanks Jack! I wonder why Suffolk does so well? Maybe a visit is in order. And I very much like the sound of doing this in New York!
Juliet 23 May 2016 at 19:06
What a great idea. I am terribly jealous
doowaroda 23 May 2016 at 19:06
Great idea for a ride, Juliet. Round here (Welsh borders) it's overwhelmingly just eggs for sale, and the occasional surplus runner bean. The part of Britain that I remember the most veg stands is Suffolk. No idea why. Maybe the sunshine. Also remember one very good one in upstate New York with just about the most delicious peaches I've ever eaten.
Jack Thurston 23 May 2016 at 19:06