Market Tours: British Pork Pies, Scones, and Salad Cream at Myers of Keswick
It's easy to walk past 634 Hudson without as much as a glance. It's just another pretty brick building in an Old World corner of the West Village, where everything is equally charming but you're likely on your way somewhere else. But if you do stop to look, you'll discover a British expat's Union Jacked dream.
Inside, faux-yellow postcards of the Royal Family are stacked by the door, next to Jacob's cream crackers and marmite-flavored potato crisps. The far corner's commandeered by an impressive display of teapots, stickers, football scarves, and mugs printed with keep calm and carry on, and I <3 British girls. Triangle bits of the Union Jack are strung along the butcher counter, and above it hangs a large photo of Prince William and Kate snogging on their wedding day.
A slight, brown-haired woman emerges from the kitchen with an enormous tray of fresh-from-the oven Scotch Eggs (deep fried, hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage meat and coated in breadcrumbs). Her name is Jenny.
"I was a Myers, I'm married now, so my last name isn't Myers anymore, but I'm the daughter of the original founder, Peter, who is from Keswick in the Lake District in England." She smiled, accepting a second tray of fresh-from-the-oven sausage rolls from Elena, the store manager. "Dad opened [the store] twenty-seven years ago. He was out of work and very homesick, and in England all his family were butchers, so, he had all these recipes [from his family]. He did some research and realized that there were no British food stores in the area and that there were, at the time, 250,000 expats living in the tri-state area. So he talked it over with my mom, and opened the store. That was 1985."
When Mr. Myers opened his tiny West Village butcher shoppe, he went all-out British. "Typically in a butcher shop in England you don't just serve meat, you also serve cooked pies, sausages" explained Jenny. Twenty-seven years on, the Myers are still making the family recipes that have customers calling in advanced orders lest items run out. Most popular are the pork pies and their variations, Gala pies (with a hardboiled egg baked into the middle); Wensleydale pies made with homemade apple sauce and topped with Wensleydale cheese; and pork & stilton and steak & kidney pies. Also available are sausage rolls, Cornish pasties (and a vegetarian version), small pockets of Shepherd's Pie, Scotch eggs, and, because Myers is ultimately a butcher, lots of traditional British bacon and sausages, including the ever-popular bangers.
With time, Mr. Myers expanded his offerings to include the British goodies his equally-homesick fellow expats would come in asking for. For example, beans. "Heinz baked beans are by far the number one seller. They're sweeter, different from baked beans that Americans would know. Also, HP Sauce, similar to what Americans would call steak sauce. And salad cream." Jenny paused. "I love that, it's one of my favorites. You can use it as a salad dressing, or a mayonnaise."
Unsurprisingly, there's an inordinate amount of tea (and Cadbury drinking chocolate!), and all the digestives and biscuits you could want for dipping into them. For a special treat, pick up a fresh scone, made daily, and served on the spot with jam or clotted cream. There's clotted cream, lemon curd and jam for home, too, from Mackay's and Wilkin & Sons (with some fun fruits: Dundee orange, Victoria plum, Morello cherry.) You'll find boxed Yorkshire pudding, several kinds of chutney, Crosse and Blackwell Branston pickles, and boxes of Weetabix, that popular British breakfast cereal. And of course, there's a small but carefully curated selection of British candy and crisps to fill out the selection good-for-the-homesick offerings.
Jenny and her husband took over the business in 2008. She renovated the kitchen, added a website, and built up the mail order side of things. Still, it's very much a family affair: "My dad is still very involved, it's always fun with a family business. We're partners, he would say. And I want him here, his opinion if very valuable." For the most part, she's kept the store as is.
Elena, who's been at Myers for thirteen years (and keeping in the tradition of the family business, is married to the chef, who's been with the Myers for twenty-five) chimed in: "You know, Mr. Myers is more of an old school guy. One thing that changed [when Jenny took over the business] is that she gives everyone the opportunity to get what they want. In the past we didn't experiment with new products, but now if someone comes in asking for something, she is willing to try. One of the good sellers she started to bring without Peter's permission was percy pigs; they're jellies, and very popular." The customer ringing up his pork pies next to me interjected, excitedly, have you got any?! (Unfortunately for him, and me, they were presently sold out. But as he left he encouraged me to return at Christmas, to get the "best mincemeat pies in New York City.")
Still, it's not only expats who seek out Myers' pork pies and blue-tinned Heinz beans. Sometimes Americans get a bit Brit-crazy, too. "We were crazy for Prince William's wedding. Not prepared at all. The day of, we served prosecco with elderflower, and we all dressed up, we put crowns on. But the scones—we didn't realize people were taking it so seriously. We were here till 8 o'clock that night and there was still a line of people."
Jenny goes to England when she can, but otherwise, she contents herself with what she has on Hudson Street at her fingertips. And her favorite? In addition to the salad cream, it's ribena. "Ribena is a black currant cordial that you dilute with water, or sometimes they sell it ready made. I grew up drinking it. I think that's why I have cavities." She laughs. "My dad used to put it in milk. The smell and the taste—when I close my eyes, I can still taste it."
Myers of Keswick
634 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014