December at the Farmers Market
Where has the year gone? 2015 has flown by, I’m still living in a sea of mud as the work on my new extension extends on into the new year (the builders have promised that, barring natural disasters, my new kitchen will be in action in time for festive cooking so fingers’ crossed!) and suddenly it’s time yet again to get ready for a bit of Christmas feasting.
And there really is no better way to get in the festive mood than with a visit to my local Farmers’ market. It really is the perfect way to feel some of the true spirit of Christmas so I’ll be at Penshurst Farmers Market (this year’s winner of the best Farmers market in the Kent Life Food Awards!) this Saturday morning signing copies of my books and trying to do a bit of shopping at the same time. Markets are not only great ways to shop for food but for many country communities, they are a real social occasion too. The sights, scents and sounds of the season are all present as you mingle with other food enthusiasts, all intent on selecting the best produce to enjoy at this special time of year or simply there to soak up the atmosphere. 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, maybe trying something new for the first time. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a world away from pushing an overloaded trolley round an overcrowded supermarket.
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.
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…
The wet summer, sunny autumn and mild early winter have been good for many growers and producers which makes this year a great opportunity to feature foods from the area for your Christmas entertaining. Celebrating the winter solstice with feasts, frolics and fun goes back way beyond Christian traditions. With the harvest all in and a long dark winter to face, folk needed a lift and many of the foods we associate with the season have been featuring on feasting 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 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 take the opportunity to stock up on chutneys, preserves and relishes to go with your cold cuts. In fact why not go the whole hog and serve a special local market spread on Boxing Day or for a party – platters of local meats, cheeses, with a couple of salads and the trimmings are excellent grazing food. 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 be popular.
And if you have time to think ahead, 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.
Cranberry and mincemeat palmiers
As an alternative to classic mince pies, especially when I’m short of time, I make these puff pastry twists using frozen all butter puff pastry and a jar of a locally made good quality mincemeat. They freeze well so make up a batch ahead. Serve with clotted cream or a rum and orange butter
Makes about 25 – 30/Prep 20 minutes/Cook 50 minutes
500g block all-butter puff pastry
450g jar mincemeat
200g fresh cranberries
beaten egg and golden granulated sugar to glaze
flaked almonds to finish
For the orange rum butter:
100g unsalted butter
100g icing sugar
100g light brown muscovado sugar
juice and rind of 1 orange
3 – 4 tbsp spiced rum
1 Pre-heat the oven to 220C fan oven 200C gas mark 7. Roll out the pastry to a rectangle about 30 x 35cm. Spread with the mincemeat leaving a 5cm border around the edges. Scatter over the cranberries and press down into the mincemeat. Brush the pastry edges with water. Roll in the pastry from the two long sides towards the middle keeping the rolls tight until they meet in the centre. Brush along the edge where they meet with a little water. Lift onto a baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes.
2 Make the butter. Cream the butter until smooth then beat in the icing sugar, brown sugar and orange rind and continue beating until pale and fluffy. Beat in the juice and rum a little at a time. Transfer to a serving dish and chill until needed.
3 Using a very sharp knife, slice the roll of pastry into 1cm thick pieces. Place on the baking tray, cut-side up, and press down gently with a palette knife or knife blade. Brush well with the beaten egg, scatter with granulated sugar and flaked almonds. Bake in the oven for 12 –15 minutes until puffed up and starting to brown then turn down the oven to 180C fan oven 160C Gas mark 4 and cook for a further 15 – 20 minutes until golden and sticky. Leave to cool on a rack and serve warm or cold with the rum butter.