Shoppers taste before buying in California supermarket

"Calimari is the best-kept secret in the country," says Bill Frazier. "Very few people know that it is an excellent source of inexpensive protein." Customers at Frazier Farms supermarket in Escondido, calif., find it easy to learn about calamari, the Italian word for squid. They can order a calimari sandwich at the store's own restaurant, and when they buy calamari from the store's fresh fish department, the man behind the fish counter will suggest ways to cook it.

This total immersion approach to buying and preparing food is only part of the philosophy of Frazier Farms, a new chain of natural foods supermarkets in southern California. C. William Frazier, president of Frazier Farms, remembers the way food used to taste on his family's farm in Virginia. He is translating that memory into full-service supermarkets that sell preservative-free food at competitive prices.

A visit to the Frazier Farms store in Escondido shows some of the Frazier family's innovative ideas. The Country Fare Restaurant, located to the right of the checkout counters, serves continental breakfast, lunch and dinner in an atmosphere of hanging plants, and fresh flowers on every table. The baker with a wide glass window lets customers watch bakers preparing breads and desserts. Emphasis is on whole grain breads. Wheat and corn are stone ground on the premises. Breads made of completely sprouted grains and no flour at all are popular items.

"Clean meat," that is, meat free from hormones or preservatives is available at a full-service butcher shop.There is no preplastic wrap here. Prices are slightly higher than at other supermarkets but this meat does not shrink when it is cooked.

Cheeses from 17 different countries include a line of raw cheese made especially for Frazier Farms.

Fruits and vegetables include jicama, a Mexican root vegetable that can be eaten raw, and cherimoya, a tropical fruit that is a cross between a banana and a strawberry. Alfalfa and mung bean sprouts are sold both packaged and loose along with dried beans, dried fruits, nuts, flours, and grains.The savings in packaging costs are passed on to the consumers.

The housewares section carries convection ovens, juicers, food processors, slow cookers, and yogurtmakers as well as smaller kitchen utensils. A large corner bookcase holds cookbooks.

Tucked away behind housewares and cookbooks is a demonstration kitchen for the cooking school where there are classes in French, Chinese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Mexican, and vegetarian cooking as well as bread-baking.

Kathy and her husband, Norman, one of Bill Frazier's six sons, spent their honeymoon in Paris in 1978. Kathy stayed on for 11 weeks to study at La Varenne Cooking School. "I had to study at night to keep up," she admits, "but it was good experience for learning techniques. Here we do more with Chinese cooking."

Norman is the idea man of the family, in charge of product development, trying to get the junk ingredients out of juices, mayonnaise, Italian pasta sauces. "I want to please customers with quality," he says. "If food copanies cannot produce chemically free food, we will create our own line of foods." Kathy helped Norman develop the Frazier Farms Basic Italian Sauce made of water, tomatoes, olive oil, spices, herbs, and salt. It retails for $1.49 for the 35 -ounce jar. Peanut butter, honey, safflower, and corn oils, and soy margarine are among the foods now carried by Frazier Farms under their own label.

Here is one of Kathy Frazier's recipes, part of a dinner planned to feed six people at a cost of $6. Lamb Stuffed Cabbage Leaves 1 large cabbage 1 pound lean ground lamb 1 medium onion, chopped 1 1/2 cups cooked long grain brown rice 1/3 cup currants 3/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon each pepper, allspice, cinnamon, crushed rosemary leaves, and thyme 4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced Sauce 1 35-ounce can whole Italian plum tomatoes in puree 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon pepper 3/4 teaspoon salt

Cut out core from head of cabbage and discard with broken outer leaves. Bring large pot of salted water to boil and add whole cabbage. Cover pot and let simmer 4 minutes. Drain, cool, and gently remove whole leaves.

Cobine lamb, onion, rice, currants, seasonings, and mix well. Divide mixture into 12 equal balls. With leaves lying flat, curly side up, put one portion of lamb mixture on each leaf. Fold over sides, tuck under ends, and lay folded side down in ligthly oiled 9-by-12 inch pan or Dutch oven.Sprinkle garlic slices over all.

Combine tomatoes with cinnamon, pepper, and salt in blender or food processor and whirl to break up large pieces. Pour over cabbage; cover and bake 50 to 60 minutes at 350 degrees F. Serve with additional rice, noodles, or hard rolls. Serves 6.

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