Broad beans, peas, mackerel and strawberries – simple summer eating this June at the farmers’ market

The glorious weather we’ve been enjoying this May seems to be continuing into June and although the lack of rain is not so good for farmers and my garden with its newly planted hedges, it means dining al fresco is a pleasure. With so much wonderful choice at the market, preparing a meal couldn’t be easier as at this time of year produce needs little enhancement to be enjoyed at its best.

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Mackerel is the perfect fish for the barbecue this summer

Tomorrow, June 3rd, I’ll be cooking mackerel with Paul from Arcade Fisheries for our annual Fish Day at Penshurst Farmers Market. This silvery summer fish is perfect for outdoor eating. Cheap, tasty and best served as simply as possible, its natural oils keep the fish from drying out on the barbecue or griddle pan. It can be baked whole in the oven or served raw as sashimi or ‘cooked’ in lime juice for a ceviche.

Serve with something acidic to counteract the richness of the flesh – a simple squeeze of lemon juice, traditionally with a seasonal rhubarb or gooseberry sauce,  or with a salad of wafer-thin fennel tossed with chopped fresh dill and a dressing of cider vinegar and rapeseed oil.

We are all being encouraged to eat oily fish at least once a week for its many health benefits. Mackerel is rich in healthy omega 3 fatty acids that lower the risk of heart disease, contains high levels of potassium which is beneficial to maintain healthy blood pressure levels, and is an excellent natural source of vitamin D. Studies have found it could help reduce the risk of dementia and prostate cancer. So make mackerel your fish of choice this summer. Buy at the market where your fishmonger can prepare it for you (ask him to butterfly or fillet for easy cooking and no bones) to ensure it’s at its freshest and best, .

What else to look out for this June

IMG_1707By the summer solstice on June  21st  the sun will be rising by 4am and setting at 10pm as we mark the middle of the summer. Longer days mean growers and producers are at full stretch, and the fruits of their labours should now be in glorious evidence at your local market. Spring lamb, mackerel, asparagus, broad beans, new potatoes, strawberries and cherries – all the ingredients of a perfect midsummer celebration and at their very best this month so head off into the countryside on a quest for the best.

There are also early cucumbers, peas, French beans, spinach and courgettes, alongside all kinds of salad leaves now in season. It’s also the ideal time to plant out ‘ready to plant’ herbs and summer bedding plants. And don’t miss the last of the asparagus as the short season comes to a close this month.

The long days and the warmth also herald the start of the great English soft fruit season with strawberries in abundance – one of the great advantages of local markets is the chance to try some of the finer flavoured varieties rather than the more robust berries grown to withstand the rigours of the supermarket supply chain that may not have the same flavour. Gooseberries (wonderful paired with elderflower) are a seasonal pleasure in fools, crumbles and for jam, and it’s also the month to get summer puddings in the freezer, making the most of raspberries and currants for a traditional treat.

Local eggs are also full of flavour now as chickens enjoy the lush summer grass. A short supply chain means market eggs are really fresh. I buy a tray from Jennie’s Eggs at Penshurst every month, laid the day before the market, so they are good to eat boiled or to cook with until the next market. A frittata is a summer favourite – try this broad bean and pea version below.

Spring lamb is now at its finest, local crabs and lobster are meaty and full of flavour, and if you can find wild salmon or sea trout, simply bake them whole smeared with butter and serve with samphire, asparagus and new potatoes for the finest of English eating.

 

Broad bean and pea frittata

pea & broadbean frittata

Perfect for a simple lunch or picnic, this Italian egg cake makes the most of summer flavours

Serves 4/Prepare 15 minutes/Cook 25 minutes

3 tbsp olive oil

3 – 4 spring onions, thinly sliced

6 – 8 cooked new potatoes, sliced

100g each podded fresh peas and broad beans

6 free-range eggs

50g hard local goat’s cheese, cubed

3 tbsp chopped fresh chives or mint

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Preheat the grill. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan and add the onions, potatoes and seasoning. Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes, turning, until golden brown. Blanch the peas and broad beans in boiling water for 2 minutes then drain Add to the onions and potatoes and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in the goat’s cheese and chopped herbs.

2 Beat the eggs with the seasoning and add what is in the pan. Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan until smoking and pour in the egg mixture. Cook over a medium heat for 4 – 5 minutes until the egg is set and the base is golden. Put the pan under the grill to cook the top. Turn onto a plate and serve warm or at room temperature.

 

 

 

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Beetroot, nettles and rhubarb are the real superfoods of spring. Try them in my seasonal ‘Yogalife’ menu…

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The best kind of PYO – nettles and wild garlic growing along the banks of the Medway

Last Saturday, March 17th, yoga teacher Julie Bickerton and I ran our first seasonal yoga and food workshop here in Hartfield @theyogahub Hartfield, Julie’s very special new yoga studio on the boundaries of the glorious Ashdown Forest.

Every season has its own special energy with particular lessons to teach us, if only we take the time to pause and listen to what our bodies are telling us. This quality, inherent in the year’s changing cycle, was reflected in the style of both our yoga practice and the accompanying cookery demonstration. The focus was on local seasonal produce, giving us the perfect opportunity to tune in to what nature is showing us both internally and in the world outside as the countryside emerges from the cold into new life.

One of a series of quarterly workshop which we plan to run either for one day or across a weekend, last Saturday saw us welcome our first group. The day began with a flow practice session to encourage participants to tune into their breath, bodies and the energy emerging in the surrounding countryside. Energised and soothed, we then enjoyed an interactive cookery demonstration and talk about ingredients and cooking methods in Julie’s welcoming country kitchen, a session which morphed effortlessy into lunch and plenty of chat around the subject of food and yoga.

A short walk to appreciate the spring life going on outside the yoga studio followed by a restorative yoga session with yin elements, and we sent our students on their way with tea and chocolate chip cookies. All-in-all a wonderful way to celebrate the longer days, new life and energy of the season.

Here is the menu I cooked and served with recipes adapted from my The Busy Mum’s Cookbook.

Yogalife Spring Equinox Menu

Roasted beetroot hummus with crudites and warm pitta bread

Wild garlic and nettle soup

Local cheeseboard with fig and walnut bread

Rhubarb and almond cake with creme fraiche

I planned this menu around fresh seasonal ingredients to give sluggish immune systems coming back to life after the winter a welcome boost. Cooked simply to preserve nutrients, they promote a healthy gut whilst strengthening and enlivening all the body’s systems. These ingredients have been valued for their effectiveness in aleviating everything from arthritis to bladder infections, hayfever to eczema. Now modern medical research is backing up the value of these traditional remedies as part of a healthy diet.

Roasted beetroot hummus

Hummus has a permanent place in my fridge – it provides an easy healthy lunch or snack and, if I also keep a bag of prepared vegetable sticks ready plus plenty of pitta bread in the freezer, the young graze happily on it rather than on bags of crisps. But I do always make my own as it takes minutes, is much nicer than shop-made and far cheaper…

And adding beetroot brings a glorious technicolour to the finished dish whilst adding sweetness and flavour and plenty of very useful minerals, vitamins, especially C  to aid absorption of the iron in the chick peas and K vitamin which helps the body build bone density. One nutritionist I read referred to beetroot as having ‘exceptional nutrional value”! When I’m organised I soak a pack of dried chickpeas overnight, cook them up and freeze any I don’t need for other dishes, worth it for the best texture for the finished hummus. But if I’m busy, a can will do fine….

Serves 4 – 6/Prep 20mins/Cook 45 – 50 mins plus soaking time overnight

100g dried chickpeas (or 400g can chickpeas) 2 medium raw beetroot, scrubbed and trimmed
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 – 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp tahini paste (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil to finish
warm pitta bread and vegetable crudités to serve

1 Cover the dried chickpeas in cold water and leave to soak overnight. The following day Preheat the oven to 200C/fan oven 190C/Gas mark 6. Drain the chickpeas and place in a pan covered with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil, boil for 10 minutes then simmer for a further 35 – 40 minutes until just tender. Leave to cool in the cooking water.

2  While the chick peas are cooking put the beetroot into wedges and arrange on a baking sheet. Drizzle with half the olive oil, scatter with the cumin seeds and seasoning. Roast for 45 minutes until tender, turning once during cooking. Leave to cool.

3 Place the drained chickpeas in a processor or blender (reserve the cooking water from the chickpeas) with the garlic, lemon juice and seasoning and whiz until almost smooth and thick. Add some of the cooking juices if the mixture is too thick to let it down. Add the beetroot with any cooking juices and tahini and whiz again to give a brightly coloured paste then drizzle in the olive oil and blend again quickly to mix. Check the seasoning.

4 Spoon the hummus into a serving bowl and add a splash of olive oil. Serve with warm pitta bread and vegetable crudites. Keep covered with cling wrap in the fridge for 2 – 3 days.

Cook’s tip: Both the cooked chick peas and hummus freeze well so I tend to make a large batch then keep chickpeas and hummus in my freezer ready for emergencies. Freeze in rigid containers for up to three months. Defrost overnight loosely wrapped in a cool place.

Wild garlic and nettle soup

The first shoots of nettles and wild garlic are emerging along the banks of streams and in hedgerows, and are a wonderful source of useful minerals and vitamins. They are a seasonal favourite of mine at a time when there isn’t much choice of fresh greenery around. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall was encouraging us to eat more nettles last week on the Today programme and I don’t need much encouragement. I love the idea that I am picking my wild food in the same places that the people who have lived in my cottage over the past 500 years it has been in existence have done at this time of year.

I use both together and separately in soups, potato dishes such as the Nettle Champ recipe in The WI Cookbook: The First 100 Years, in risottos and pasta dishes. Wild garlic also goes into salads, shredded in omelettes or stir fried with ginger as a vegetable, rather like spinach.

Pick just the top six leaves of newly emerging nettles with rubber gloves. Wild garlic can be used with its flowers. Pick away from traffic or where farmers have sprayed. Nettles will lose their sting as soon as you heat them. They have a fresh intense green flavour similar to spinach and are packed with useful vitamins – including A, C, and K – and minerals such as iron and calcium, high in protein, and traditionally valued for their blood thinning and diuretic properties. Wild garlic has a milder flavour than traditional bulbs of garlic and is lovely wrapped around fish fillets before baking, shredded into egg dishes such as omelettes. You can eat the white flowers as well as the leaves. Remember to pick a few leaves from each clump rather than decimate your local patch so the plants are there for others.

For four, chop an onion, celery stick, carrot and leek and cook gently in a tablespoon of cold pressed rapeseed oil – I like to use Claire Ecksley’s lovely PureKent oil as it has a lovely mellow flavour and lacks the harshness that I have found in some other oils. Add a large potato, peeled and cubed, and cook for a few minutes more. Add a litre of good vegetable stock, season and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Pick over and wash 250g each of nettle tops and wild garlic and add to the soup. Simmer for a couple of minutes until wilted. You can either serve the soup as it is or blend – I use my  Bamix stick blender which I like for its powerful motor and ease of use and cleaning. Add more stock if the base is too thick. Season to taste and serve in warm bowls with a dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche. If you haven’t got access to wild garlic and nettles, this is my basic soup recipe and I add whatever veg is around – broccoli, spinach, kale, chard, etc. It’s a great way to use up leftover veg in the bottom of the fridge. You can also add a can of canellini beans or borlotti beans with the green veg. I then freeze any leftovers.

Rhubarb and almond cake

This cake is a favourite stand-by dessert in my home at any time of year, usually served warm with ice cream following a Sunday roast. I just add whatever fruit is in season so it becomes apple and blackberry in autumn, raspberry and redcurrant in the summer and mincemeat and cranberry for Christmas. At this time of year in the spring I use lovely pink forced rhubarb. It’s another super food Whatever version I serve, people love it – the perfect recipe! And any leftovers go into the cake tin for later in the week

Makes one 20cm cake/Prep 15 minutes/Cook 1 ¼ – 1 ½ hours

175g plain flour ( I love PureKent’s Stoneground Wheat and Barley Flour)
  2tsp baking powder
200g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
150g butter, melted
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
500g rhubarb, trimmed and sliced
25g flaked almonds

1 Preheat the oven to 170C/fan oven 160C/ Gas Mark 3. Butter and base line a loose-bottomed deep 20cm cake tin.

2 Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar and ground almonds then beat in the melted butter and beaten eggs to give a soft mixture that drops easily off a wooden spoon. Spoon half the mixture over the base of the cake tin. Arrange the apple slices and blackberries over the cake base then drop the rest of the mixture over in spoonfuls, leaving gaps. Scatter with the flaked almonds.

3 Bake in the preheated oven for 1 ¼ – 1 1/2 hours until well risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre emerges clean and dry. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then remove from the tin and leave on a wire rack to cool. Serve with creme fraiche or good quality vanilla ice cream.

 

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Scallops, rhubarb and purple sprouting broccoli – it must be March at the farmers’ market

 

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No better place to be than Penshurst on an early spring morning

Hurray for longer lighter days! As March progresses the daylight increases by a wonderful two hours every day so that, by the end of the month, we will once again be enjoying days that are longer than nights. And once the clocks go forward on 29th March, it feels like spring is properly underway. Any precious sunny days this month hold all the promise of the new season and tempt us out into the countryside.

For market visitors, what’s on offer can seem rather restricted as we wait for kinder weather conditions for animals and crops, which will respond to the increasing light and warmth with bounty to come. That’s why March is traditionally known as the hunger gap or famine month. But it’s a great opportunity to make most of the last treats of the winter and enjoy some wonderful comfort foods before they disappear again till the last quarter of the year.

I’m off to Penshurst Farmers Market this rather grey Saturday morning. A couple of girl friends are coming over tonight to watch the latest Bridget Jones movie and I’m torn between the mussel recipe shown below and my favourite Scallop and leek risotto from my Busy Mum’s Cookbook (and will probably get the ingredients for both and decide later!). Then I’ll make another favourite at this time of year to follow – a rhubarb fool made with rhubarb I’ve scattered with brown sugar and cinnamon and roasted in the oven. Then having just had a perfect version at the completely wonderful Handverk & Found in Margate’s old town, I’ll take inspiration from them and rather than mix the puree into whipped cream and custard, I’ll layer up the rhubarb puree and the combined cream and custard in layers in my vintage French wine glasses. Then as you take a spoonful the rhubarb and cold cream delightfully combine in the mouth.

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Meaty and full of flavour, scallops are my favourite treat this month…

So top of my list will be Rye Bay scallops, a net of mussels, creamy full fat milk and double cream from Karen at Kingscott Dairy , wild boar and apple sausages from Keiron’s Game for a lentil, sausage and roasted butternut squash dish later in the week (recipe will appear on this blog later, I promise!), and all my other regular purchases. Once my cash is spent and baskets are full, I’ll put all the perishable purchases into a cold bag in the boot, and drop into Penshurst Village Hall for a browse round the Penshurst Brocante to see if I can find any treasures for my finally more or less completed and restored cottage.

What to look out for this March

As days lengthen cabbages, cauliflower, spring greens, purple sprouting broccoli, leeks and kale are all good. They need little cooking and are at their best simply shredded and steamed. Or try quickly stir-fried with garlic, ginger and chilli for an accompaniment to good local sausages. Beautiful rhubarb is the only locally grown fruit around now. Use in fools, ice creams and sauces – it goes particularly well with a large pinch or two of ginger, or in chutneys, cakes and as a sauce for oily fish like mackerel.

 

Beer-glazed roast chicken

I like to brush my chicken with a paste of butter, ground ginger and paprika then baste it with local beer for a tender richly-flavoured bird..

 

For meat eaters, pork is an excellent choice (local spring lamb won’t be around for till well into April and May) and it’s still ideal weather to enjoy a hearty roast on Sunday with all the family, after a (probably muddy) walk enjoying the spring flowers. Try a shoulder joint for the best combination of flavour and texture. Or what about that eternal family favourite – a roast chicken? A slow grown bird has more flavour and better texture and goes really well with roast wedges of sweet potato tossed in cold pressed rapeseed oil and a sprinkling of ground ginger before cooking. Serve with purple sprouting broccoli.

 

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One of nature’s works of art – fresh mackerel straight of the boat in Hastings

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Scallops freeze well so pop a pack or two in the freezer when you get home to enjoy later in the month

For fish lovers, sea bass is a good choice or spoil yourself a little with wonderful local lobsters and native oysters, clams, cockles and mussels. Storms permitting, Kent and Sussex scallops are at their finest now so enjoy one of the great pleasures of the season. Mackarel and sardines  are also good with the cold waters around the coast producing sparkling fresh fish with bright eyes and firm flesh. Salmon, wild if you can find it, is also an excellent choice in March and April – ideal for Easter entertaining – and many markets offer good local smoked and cures that make a lovely light lunch dish or starter for a special meal.

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One of my favourites at Penshurst – wonderful breads and cakes from local bakers 

 

And if you don’t have time to cook your own, why not try a locally baked cake or sweet tart this month when the range of seasonal fruit is limited? I go to Debra’s Cake and Bake for her unsurpassable Battenburg and Rusbridge’s hot cross buns are far too good to only eat at Easter. Cold weather, the arriving spring, the first daffodils in the garden – they all make a great excuse to celebrate with local produce, if you really need one!

Mussel chowder with chorizo

 

Mussel, chorizo and new potato chowder P3210035

I know this recipe uses frozen veg but mussels are so good at the moment and this really doesn’t work with cabbage or purple sprouting broccoli! To get your greens serve with a salad of the early new season spinach.

Serves 4/Prep 10 minutes /Cook 25 minutes

15g butter

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

100g local produced chorizo or smoked bacon, cubed

1 kg waxy potatoes, cubed

750ml full cream milk

1kg mussels, scrubbed

250g frozen sweetcorn or peas

small bunch of fresh chives, snipped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Heat the butter in a large pan and add the onion and garlic. Cook over a low heat for 3 – 5 minutes until soft but not browned. Add the chorizo and cook for a couple of minutes until the fat runs then add the potatoes and stir to coat in the juices for a minute or two.

2 Pour in the milk and bring to the boil. Simmer for 12 -15 minutes until the potatoes are almost cooked through.

3 While the soup is cooking, prepare the mussels. Rinse in cold water, discarding any that are cracked or don’t close when tapped to the pan and remove the ‘beards’. Add to the pan with the sweetcorn, cover and simmer gently for 4 – 5 minutes, shaking the pan until the mussels open. Discard any that stay closed. Stir in the chives and season to taste. Serve with good bread.

 

 

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What to put in your festive basket this December at the farmers’ market…

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Wreaths and the rest at your local market….

Quite a year 2016 has turned out to be! Whatever it has meant for you, what with Brexit and the extraordinary pantomime that has been the US election, it’s now time to celebrate that we have made it through one way or another. There are sure to be some heated debates during the festivities over that last glass of port or mulled wine but sharing good food and drink around a table is one of the best ways to enjoy being together and a little debate is healthy, as long as it remains good-natured!  Plan accordingly so that everyone, including the cook and bottle washer, can participate in relaxed style.

Just like stir-up Sunday and opening the first door on the advent calendar, a visit to your local Farmers’ market is the perfect way to get into the true spirit of Christmas. The sights, scents and sounds of the season are all around you so whether you are there with a lengthy list of favourite goodies to hunt down or simply want to soak up the atmosphere, browse and pick up some presents and special treats, you’ll have a better chance of success with a little preparation. Whether it’s shopping for tried and trusted old favourites, getting advice on the best way to cook your carefully selected produce from those most qualified to offer it, or maybe trying something new for the first time – it’s all a world away from pushing an overloaded trolley round an overcrowded supermarket.

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Cold and clear at Penshurst – the perfect way to shop!

This coming Saturday 3rd December I’ll be at Penshurst Farmers Market as usual signing copies of my books in the company of all our regular stall holders plus some special guests but also other talented local authors, carol singers, goose and turkey tastings, Wild at Heart’s wonderful seasonal canapes to try, and for even more Christmas shopping ideas, the Penshurst Place Gift Shop (my favourite place to buy really good cards!) and in the village hall, the annual Christmas Craft and Gift Market. So come prepared…..

Plan ahead to get the most from your trip

To make sure you get the best from your visit and spend your budget wisely, be sure to plan ahead and do a bit of research. Sit down a few days before your market and make lists of the essentials plus a few treats and surprises to help take the hard work out of all the cooking. Check on line at the Kent Farmers Market Association website www.kfma.org.uk/ for advice on individual markets, which suppliers you will find where, and what’s at its best to buy. If you’ve forgotten to order items ahead such as the turkey or maybe a goose, phone or email individual suppliers to see if they can fulfill your order ready to pick up at the market.

The big day…

Whatever you are planning for the big event – maybe a succulent goose or magnificent roast of rare breed beef or pork, or just going with tradition and sticking with turkey check what size you will need. You might be catering for smaller numbers so a pheasant or wild duck could be the best choice. And wonderful sea-fresh turbot or halibut are both very special for all kinds of celebrations. Whichever you choose, buying locally makes sense on every level. Smaller producers can select the best breeds for flavour and respond to local conditions to ensure the very finest results. You’ll also be supporting vital regional industry and have the satisfaction of caring for the environment too.

Once you’ve made your list of what you intend to buy at the market (and don’t forget it’s also the ideal place to pick up all kinds of special foodie gifts too), it’s a good idea to make a few simple preparations for your trip. If you haven’t ordered ahead and there is something you can’t manage without then aim to get there early so you don’t miss that special purchase. Make a trip to the cash machine ahead of your visit. Some producers do accept cards but many smaller ones don’t have the facilities so be prepared. It’s intensely frustrating to run out of money before you’ve bought all your essentials. Come with plenty of bags to carry away your goodies, and a freezer bag is always a good idea if you want to leave perishable goods in the car (unless we have a repeat of the arctic weather of some recent winters!) And before you leave home it’s a great idea to check you have enough fridge and freezer space for your purchases – storing them properly is vital to maintain flavour and quality.

What to choose this month…

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If you don’t want to make your own….

The wet June, followed by a warm late summer sunny autumn have been good for many growers and producers which means there is a wealth of great produce out there from which to choose. And we’ve had some sharp frosts to add flavour to winter vegetables, and sharpen the appetite for warming dishes full of spice and rich tastes. Celebrating the winter solstice with feasts, frolics and fun goes back way beyond Christian traditions. With the harvest all safely gathered in and a long dark winter to face, country folk have always turned to celebrating the short days with fire and feasting, and many of the foods we associate with the season have been featuring on menus for centuries. Cranberries, turkey and pumpkins may have come to us from the new world but we can more than match these imports with chestnuts, celeriac, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, goose, pheasant, partridge, venison, wild duck, oyster, mussels and sea bass. Plan your menu around these and you won’t go far wrong.

Don’t forget the extras such as sausagemeat and bacon for the trimmings, maybe a chicken liver pate or local hot smoked salmon to serve as a starter, and to round up, traditional Christmas pudding served with thick cream or ice cream, warmed mince pies and a platter of carefully selected local cheeses.

As well as all the traditional festive produce, there are plenty of speciality foods and dishes at the market to help save time and feed crowds over the holiday. A cooked gammon or ham, pates and terrines, soups and curries, all are worth finding a space for in the fridge or freezer to bring out for unexpected guests or when you are just too overwhelmed to prepare yet another meal. Also don’t forget to stock up on chutneys, preserves and relishes to go with your cold cuts. And a few extra loaves of good bread tucked in the freezer for turkey sandwiches or to go with a bowl of soup will always come in handy.

When it comes Christmas presents it’s a great idea to stock up on local produce as gifts for families and friends. A hamper of goodies is a wonderful way to say thank you to a special friend for help during the year, and an over-worked host or hostess will welcome a carefully selected basket of treats, if you are going to others for the big day. Offer to bring the Christmas pud, put together a locally sourced cheese board or choose a beautiful savoury pie with pickles for Boxing Day. The changing climate and fashion for micro-production has seen a growth in local wines, spirits and beers, many of them award winning.  And they make a great talking point so why not match your food gifts with a special chosen tipple.

 Spiced pumpkin and sweet potato gratin

(from The Busy Mum’s Vegetarian Cookbook by Mary Gwynn published by Simon & Schuster)

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Photograph by David Merewether

I often make this satisfying bake several times over the festive period! It goes perfectly with the Christmas turkey or goose, so much so that I find all the non-veggies want it too so make a huge one for the table. And a large dish makes a great Christmas Eve supper – either with a cooked glazed gammon joint and spiced red cabbage or simply served with a salad for when everyone gets in from carol services, as it sits happily in a low oven once cooked.

Serves 4 – 6/ Prepare 15 minutes/Cook 1 hour

500g  pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cubed

500g sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 tbsp chopped fresh sage

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cumin

150ml  vegetable stock (or white wine)

150ml  single cream

25g  seed mix

25g white breadcrumbs

50g hard goat’s cheese, grated

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Preheat the oven to 180C/fan oven 170C/ gas mark 4. Place the pumpkin and sweet potato in a shallow 2litre (3pint) ovenproof dish or roasting tin. Scatter over the garlic, sage, ginger, cumin and seasoning. Pour over the stock, cover loosely with foil and bake in the oven for 40 – 45 minutes until the squash is almost tender.

2 Increase the oven temperature to 200C/fan oven 190C/ Gas Mark 6. Pour the cream over the vegetables and scatter with the seed mix, breadcrumbs and goat’s cheese. Return to the oven for a further 12 – 15 minutes until the top is bubbling and golden. Serve with bread and a green salad.

 

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Remember, remember… what to buy at your farmers’ market in November

Where has the year gone? This weekend I’m back at Penshurst Farmers Market for our annual Game Day with wonderful Kieron and Lucy of Kieron’s Game, cooking up the very best of locally sourced birds and beasts on my portable hob for visitors to try. Last year was so blowy we had to call it a day after an hour or so when the gazebo under which I was cooking threatened to take off but, as the glorious autumn colours in my garden testify, this autumn hasn’t yet seen many gales and, as I write, the forecast for Saturday is cold but clear.

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The very best game, and as local as it gets..

I’m always so pleased at the enthusiastic response from many who come up to our stall as I cook up different dishes, many vowing they really don’t like game but once they try it, are persuaded otherwise. I’ve said it before – the modern version is a world away from the strong, overly ‘gamey’ tough meat that many remember having tried and not enjoyed in the past.

Make local game the meat of choice this month as the season is well under way for birds such as pheasant, partridge and wild duck. Venison is available both farmed and wild in many markets, and makes a healthy choice as most wild game has 5% to 7% fat, compared to red meat such as lamb with 25% or more, depending on the cut. The lower fat content means careful cooking to avoid letting the meat dry out, so the old traditional slow cooking methods in stews and casseroles should be reserved for older game birds. Today’s meat has been very carefully selected and prepared by your game dealer; it’s no longer hung to quite the same stage of ‘gameyness’. Less strong and much more tender, it calls for more modern, time-friendly techniques such as flash-frying, grilling or even home smoking are better suited to lean, tender cuts.  Look online for ideas as plenty of chefs are discovering the joys of cooking with game. Amongst the dishes I’ll be preparing will be my own favourite pheasant breast recipe, marinated in thyme, lemon and red chilli then griddled. I’ve just put it into writing as part of a menu for Waitrose Weekend newspaper so pick up a copy next weekend (it may be the one after that?).

What else to look out for this month….

We’ve had a glorious autumn with golden days and enough rain to keep the garden growing but now the clocks have gone back and it’s that time of year again when short days and cold nights mean we all crave a little comfort from the kitchen. Slow-cooked casseroles, homely dishes such as the mashed topped game pie recipe below, rich flavoured roasts and warming puds all fit the bill perfectly. So wrap up, put on some sensible shoes and head out for a trip to your local market for inspiration.

This is the month to get organized and place your orders for Christmas treats to pick up at the December markets so go prepared with your shopping list to ensure you get just what you want. Spread the shopping load in the run up to the festivities next month and stock up on chutneys, mincemeat, jams and jellies along with goodies for the freezer to keep you going during the party season. Pates, Scotch eggs, pies, breads and cakes are made with locally sourced ingredients and will all freeze well, perfect for feeding unexpected guests.

If you want to slow cook for great comfort eating, look out for the cheaper cuts of venison and pair with some fattier pork to keep the dish moist, or choose beef, lamb and pork – shin of beef, belly pork, or lamb neck all cook down to meltingly wonderful mouthfuls of flavour, perfect for colder days. Remember that most stews, pies and casseroles actually improve in flavour from being cooked and stored for a day or two in the fridge before serving. I double up and put some in the freezer to make the most of this keeping benefit!

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Join the queue for great fish from Paul @ArcadeFisheries, one of the most popular stalls at Penshurst every month

Colder coastal waters at this time of year make for the highest quality fish and seafood, and as the temperature drops the range available just gets better. At the luxury end of the scale, treat yourself to the very best crab, lobster and oysters. For fish, Dover sole, turbot and halibut are rightly considered the very finest eating by cooks and chefs. But also this month why not try some of the lower cost alternatives as many are at their best. Brill is a real discovery if you haven’t tried it before – a firm white flesh full of clean flavour that only needs simple cooking. Or opt for healthy mackerel and herring, full of valuable Omega 3 fish oils. Shellfish including oysters, scallops and mussels are also all good this month.

Root vegetables are at their tastiest now and perfect for mashes, gratins and roasts – they improve with the cold and you will notice a marked difference in flavour from locally sourced varieties compared to supermarket specimens. Look out for parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, swede and turnips. Try cooking peeled, cubed celeriac with a couple of cloves of garlic in the cooking water then mash with a big dollop of locally produced butter to go with venison or roast beef (or use in the recipe shown here). Main crop potatoes are full of texture and flavour and the varieties available in your own area are worth exploring. Ask the stallholder for advice on which potato to buy – the right one, floury or waxy, will make all the difference to the finished dish. The brassicas really come into their own this month too – kale, spring greens, Brussels sprouts and all kinds of cabbages are wonderful in stir-fries, soups, and hashes or just steamed with grated nutmeg and more butter! And red cabbage cooked with apple, spices and red wine is another seasonal treat to go with rich pork, or maybe a roasted wild duck.

 Apples, pears and plums have been in abundance this year, all benefiting from the cool wet spring so try as many local varieties as possible – Bramleys are perfect for using in mincemeat and Christmas pudding so buy them ready for stir-up Sunday at the end of the month. Carry on making chutneys and pickles and remember the eating varieties can also be used in tarts, puddings and cakes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘Stalker’s’ pie

 An everyday favourite, shepherd’s pie, transforms into something even more satisfying than usual when made with local game such as venison – perfect comfort food! And we are all lucky enough to have easy access to the best quality game here in Kent by simply visiting the local farmers’ market. I’ve made it with venison mince here with some pork to stop the mixture being too dry but you can use wild boar, rabbit or pigeon or a mixture. You can also make it with leftovers from a roast venison joint but just cook the base for 10 – 15 minutes

Serves 4 – 6/Prep 20 minutes/Cook 1 hour

2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
500g venison mince
250g minced pork
1 – 2 tsp Ras al Hanout spice
1 – 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp redcurrant jelly
4 tbsp chopped flat-leafed parsley
500ml good beef or game stock
500g floury potatoes such as King Edward, peeled and cubed
1 large swede, peeled and cubed
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
30 – 50g butter (I like my mash buttery so add to your taste)
50g strong cheddar-style cheese (I like to use Winterdale Shaw), grated
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Preheat the oven to 200C/fan oven 180C/Gas mark 6. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan or sauté pan and cook the onion and carrot for 3 minutes until softened. Add the minced venison and pork and break up with a fork. Sprinkle with the Ras al Hanout and fry for a few minutes until lightly browned.

2 Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, redcurrant jelly and chopped parsley. Add the stock and seasoning and bring to the boil. Simmer half covered for 25 – 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the liquid is reduced.

3 While the mince is cooking, place the potatoes, swede and parsnip in a pan with enough cold water to just cover. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes until tender. Drain the vegetables thoroughly, return to the pan and mash until smooth. Add the milk and the butter to the pan and beat into the mash. Season well and spoon over the top of the mince mixture. Rough up the surface with a fork then scatter with the cheese. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the top is golden and bubbling. Serve with peas or steamed broccoli.


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A basket of delights – July at the market

P8040141These are a few of my favourite things – cherries and broad beans, crab and English lamb…..

What a difference a month makes! Just four short weeks ago when I wrote the copy below for the Kent Farmers’ Market Association web site for July, the sun had just started to shine and I was beginning to believe the forecasters might have got it right for a change and we were in for a lovely summer. But here I am on the 1st July and it’s officially been one of the wettest Junes on record. In eight days time my eldest daughter marries her wonderful partner of nine years with a Sussex country wedding in the garden (at his parents’ glorious setting on the edge of the Ashdown Forest). Then the following day I host lunch here in my newly designed and planted garden (created from what was essentially a pile of mud just four months ago by my talented sister, Jane King). Well, at least I have been spared the watering and everything has grown like gangbusters. But the fat new rose buds are rotting on the bushes, the slugs are partying amongst my delphiniums and my new Big Green Egg in its bespoke oak housing has yet to be christened…

Whatever the weather, July has ways of making up for the wet. The wedding meal/s (which, thank goodness, I am not cooking) will be showcasing the best of seasonal local produce, and I will be proudly serving local sparkling wine from Plumpton Estate to my guests. Add a really great band, lovely setting, the best friends and lots of family on both sides, of course the most beautiful bride, and the day will be special whatever the weather. I was lucky enough to meet the team from Plumpton College who run their Wine Production courses when I judged the Food Village stalls last month at the South of England Show; their enthusiasm, knowledge and of course the wines themselves, won them second place (just pipped by the folk at Flavit Seaweed Seasoning, whose product I have been using ever since in my cooking with great success). I am currently making the wedding cake (the lemon layer is baking as I write this!), honing my rusty cake-decorating skills on a four-tier, four-flavoured buttercream cake to be decorated with fresh herbs and garden flowers that provides something of a challenge to one who used to make a lot of wedding cakes but of the dried fruit, marzipan, fondant and sugar flower variety. If it all goes well there may be pictures so look out…

In the gaps between baking and icing, tomorrow morning I’m off to Penshurst to buy food to keep us all going in the run-up to the wedding next week. Here’s what I’ll be putting in my basket

Don’t miss this month….

As I write this, the countryside is finally basking in the sunshine of high summer after the long cold spring, which means that now is the perfect time to indulge in some wonderful locally-grown produce, especially outside (well fingers crossed that might be the case this month, unlike in June!). There really is no better way to enjoy any precious warm days than with a feast of wonderful summer foods, grown and produced close to home. At this time of year, everything is so good, you can follow the less is more precept and keep preparation and cooking to the minimum.

Grass-fed summer LAMB is now at its very finest and, as a more fatty meat than some (the fat gives the meat flavour and keeps it from drying out), it’s ideal for the BBQ. A boned-out leg or shoulder can be marinated overnight and cooks perfectly in under an hour. I like to make up a paste of ground spices, lime juice and yogurt or try the Moroccan spice Ras al Hanout rubbed over the skin before cooking (try on cubed lamb for kebabs). On the fish front CORNISH SARDINES are all the rage now – as they should be as another wonderful barbecue choice.

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Sparklingly fresh fish from Paul at Arcade Fisheries

And look out for MACKAREL – bought silvery fresh from the market and cooked the same day to enjoy at its very best. Serve with a pickled cucumber and dill salad. Midsummer is a great time to enjoy CRAB – all you need to make a feast is to serve dressed crab with simply buttered new potatoes and good mayonnaise, home made if possible. Serve with a chilled glass of one of the excellent English white wines that are now coming onto the market, such as the award winning Ortega from Biddenden Vineyards.

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Broad beans – perfect in a risotto or salad with feta and mint

Amongst an abundance of produce at this month’s market, you’ll find tender BROAD BEANS (freshly picked little pods can be enjoyed whole), fresh GREEN PEAS, radishes, beetroot, spring onions, spinach, and of course, new potatoes. Cucumbers, beans, both French and runner, and courgettes should be there alongside all kinds of salad leaves and great bunches of fresh herbs.

The slow cooler start to the season has been good for STRAWBERRIES, especially now that the weather is warming up to ripen the fruit – so indulge yourself with the best of the British summer fruit all at its peak this month. You’ll discover a completely different experience from the pale imitations that can be found all year round in supermarkets, varieties grown for flavour rather than ease of transport and keeping qualities. Serve with rich golden pouring cream from cattle fed on the lush summer grass and a sprinkling of sugar – add a grounding of black pepper to really enhance the flavour. And don’t miss out on CHERRIES with the season now in full swing (Kentish cherries are justifiably world famous), gooseberries, black and REDCURRANTS, and wonderful raspberries. This is the month for jam makers and you don’t have to make huge vats of the stuff – just a few jars are incredibly satisfying to produce in your home kitchen, taste marvellous and make wonderful gifts.

 

Black forest chocolate cherry cheesecake

Black forest cheesecake

Black forest cheesecake – definitely one of my best recipes ever…

This may just be the best cheesecake recipe ever! I created it for a menu for Waitrose last year to fund raise for Marie Curie so it has appeared here before. But with English cherries in season it seems the ideal time to bring it out again. It’s perfect for summer parties and celebrations (such as weddings!) as it can be made ahead

Serves 8/Prepare 25 minutes/Cook 35 – 40 minutes plus overnight cooling and chilling

175g dark chocolate digestives, crushed
50g unsalted butter, melted
400g fresh cherries, stoned
400g full fat soft fresh cheese
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
100g good quality dark chocolate, broken into chunks
150ml double cream
1 tbsp cocoa
100ml soured cream
dark chocolate curls to decorate

1 Preheat the oven to 170C Gas mark 3. Mix the crushed biscuits with the melted butter and press into the base of a 20cm greased and base lined spring-release tin. Arrange two thirds of the stoned cherries over the base.
2 In a large mixing bowl, beat together the soft cheese and sugar until smooth, then gradually beat in the eggs and egg yolks. Melt the chocolate with the cream and cocoa in a small pan over a very low heat and stir until smooth. Cool then fold into the cheese ingredients. Spoon into the tin and level the surface then bake for 35 – 40 minutes until only just set. The top should still wobble a bit when you shake the tin. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven for a couple of hours then remove from the oven and chill for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
3 To serve, carefully remove the cheesecake from the tin and place on a serving plate. Spread the soured cream over the surface and top with the reserved cherries. Scatter with dark chocolate curls.

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Joyful June at your farmer’s market

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Make the most of wonderful local asparagus before it disappears until next year

The end of the asparagus and new season’s strawberries from Michael Bourne of New Park Farm and the Groombridge farm shop, superb lemon sole and tiny little courgettes – I made it to sunny Penshurst market on Saturday and came away happy with a full basket. Family were staying ready for a wonderful ‘family’ hen party for my daughter at St John Maltby  that night – it made a wonderful setting for a very special evening with all the amazing women from both families. We feasted on pig’s cheeks and dandelion salad, baked white fish, braised lamb with broad beans and aoilli, followed by a sumptuous rhubarb pavlova – total heaven. To get them in training for the evening,  I fed us a perfect post-market lunch of Naked and Ready‘s wonderful Gloucester Old Spot pork pie, Thai sate Scotch egg and crab pate, chilli jelly from Sugar and Spice, rhubarb and cobnut chutney from Potash Farm, new potatoes and salad, followed by strawberries and cream. Oh, and slices of the best Battenburg cake from Debra’s Cake and Bake for tea – I turn to her amazing cakes and tarts when I’m too busy to cook myself – something that seems to have happened far too much since my build started a year ago. And my blog for June is only a week late!

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A truly great pork pie is a joy forever!

Better late than never however, as with building work on my cottage nearly complete bar the shouting (and there will be some of that, I’m sure), I can finally start thinking about daughter’s wedding in a month, and hopefully get back to work properly at last. I’ve a new book project on the go and plan to get the first chapter written over the summer…

What to buy this month…

After a slow start from the cool spring, growers and producers are now at full stretch as we lead up to the summer solstice in the latter half of June. June is Kent Farmers Market Month and many of the county’s local markets will be holding special events – tastings, cookery demonstrations, local craft displays and much more – so that you can sample the very best that the Garden of England produces. As regulars know well, the county’s markets have far more to offer than just traditional fruit, vegetables and meat. Many sell everything from fresh fish and game to a wide range of ready prepared dishes and ingredients such as pasta sauces, handmade chocolates, vegetarian dishes and wonderful cakes and breads.

And the benefits of buying locally at a market are wide ranging. Not only will you get the chance to taste before you buy so you know exactly what you are getting but by going directly to the source, you can find out at first hand how the produce was grown or made. Most producers will also be able to give you storing and cooking tips so you can really make the most of your purchase. Remember that because you are buying locally and seasonally, pricing is likely to be competitive with the supermarkets and often cheaper so don’t fall for the idea that markets are an expensive luxury. For details of special events plus locations and opening times visit www.kentfarmersmarkets.org.uk or follow @KentFarmers on Twitter.

The vagaries of the weather are nowhere more in evidence than with the asparagus crop at this time of year. A cold start meant the season didn’t get going till mid May and growers will be stopping the picking before the end of the month to allow the plants to generate growth for next year, so make the most of the green spears while they are around now. Eat your local asparagus traditionally, steamed and served with melted butter or Hollandaise, or brush with olive oil and griddle the spears on the barbecue until tender then scattered with shavings of a sharp hard cheese such as Lord of the Hundreds, or maybe Kentish Bluebell or tart fresh goat’s cheese crumbled over.

Try the spears in soups, vegetable gratins or make into a perfect risotto paired with the first tender broad beans (freshly picked little pods can be enjoyed whole) and fresh green peas. I like to stir in a herb butter at the end of cooking once the grains are tender (just whiz butter up in a blender with a handful of mint, parsley, basil and chives). Other veg to look out for are crisp radishes, spring onions, spinach, and of course new potatoes. There are also early cucumbers, runner beans, spinach and courgettes, alongside all kinds of salad leaves now in season. It’s also the ideal time to plant out ‘ready to plant’ herbs and summer bedding plants.

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Don’t miss out on local cherries this month

The long days and the warmth also herald the start of the great English soft fruit season with strawberries now appearing as the month progresses – one of the great advantages of local markets is the chance to try some of the finer flavoured varieties, rather than the more robust berries grown to withstand the rigours of the supermarket supply chain that may not have the same flavour. A cool start to the year has meant early strawberries might be slower to appear than last year but they will have benefited from a slower growing period for flavour. Ditto the finest local cherries (Kentish cherries are justifiably world famous), gooseberries and early raspberries.  A favourite way to serve raspberries, cherries and strawberries is to crush them slightly, sprinkle with a little Kentish cherry brandy or Italian vin Santo and sugar then leave to macerate for an hour. Serve spooned over vanilla ice cream.

Spring lamb is now at its very finest now and a boned-out shoulder or leg is perfect on the barbecue or simply roasted and served with baby new potatoes and minted broad beans and peas. Look out for salt marsh lamb this month – perfect with buttered samphire. On the fish front it’s really has to be mackerel – bought silvery fresh from the market and cooked the same day to enjoy at its very best. Try it the traditional way for the month – grilled and served with a tart gooseberry sauce. Also good this month are lobster, plaice, sardines and clams.

If your visit to the market coincides with a sunny weekend, plan the perfect picnic. Fill your basket with locally made cheeses, pates, maybe a raised pie or Scotch egg. Then just add a loaf of artisan bread baked that day, some chutney or relish, a bag of cherries and maybe a punnet of strawberries and you are all set. A bottle or two of a local beer, cider or chilled white wine and you have all the makings of a feast….

Green summer risotto

(taken from The Busy Mum’s Vegetarian Cookbook by Mary Gwynn Simon & Schuster)

Risottos are my (and my family’s) idea of the perfect comfort food and so convenient as there is always the makings of one in the cupboard or veg drawer. I make risottos in all the colours of the rainbow, just by following the basic method and adding a vegetable. Pumpkin, aubergine and courgette are all favourites but this one is a particular favourite

 

Green summer risotto

Prepare: 15 mins/Cook: 25 mins/Serves 4 – 6

500g prepared seasonal vegetables (such as small courgettes, podded peas, green beans, broad beans and asparagus tips)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
350g Arborio risotto rice
about 1.5 litres simmering vegetable stock
100ml dry white wine
50g butter
50g fresh mixed herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, basil, chives, tarragon, dill or chervil, finely chopped
50g freshly grated Parmesan or Lord of the Hundreds
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Cook the vegetables in simmering water for 2 – 3 minutes until almost tender then drain and plunge into iced water to cool. Drain thoroughly and set aside. Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the shallot and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes until softened. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil.

2 Add a ladleful of stock and the white wine and simmer over a medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Continue adding stock, a few tablespoons at a time, stirring frequently, until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is tender and creamy but still with a slight bite. This should take about 20 minutes

3 While the rice is cooking, place the butter in a blender or food processor with the herbs and seasoning and process until well blended together. When the rice is tender, add the reserved vegetables and cook for another minute or two to heat through. Stir in the herb butter and Parmesan cheese and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately.

Busy mum’s lifesaver: To get ahead, use the chef’s tip for risotto and cook up to the stage of adding the rice and first amount of liquid. Then just remove from the heat and set aside. Then when you are ready to serve the risotto reheat the base and complete as directed.

 

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