9 of Kent’s traditional dishes
PUBLISHED: 15:02 14 September 2018
‘Kent, sir, everyone knows Kent. Apples, cherries, hops and women,’ proclaims a character in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers. We have gathered some traditional dishes from around the county that were borne of the fruitful orchards and seas of Kent
1. Gypsy Tart
This sweet dessert with a caramel flavour is made with just three ingredients: a pie crust, evaporated milk and brown sugar.
Perhaps the most iconic of Kent’s traditional foods, the gypsy tart was supposedly first made in East Kent by a local lady who threw together some ingredients from her pantry for some gypsy children who seemed hungry. The tart is still made today and many Kent locals may remember having the dessert at school. See our recipe for gypsy tart.
Huffkins are very soft rolls traditionally pressed with holes in the middle by the baker. A small amount of lard is used in the slow-rise dough which results in a fluffy crumb and a golden crust, and should be wrapped in a cloth afterwards so it doesn’t harden.
Huffkins were often eaten for tea with pitted cherries placed in the hole and continue as a traditional Kent delicacy to this day, sometimes filled with bacon at breakfast time.
3. Canterbury Tart
A Canterbury Apple Tart is characterised by its grated apple and lemon filling and sliced apples that decorate the top. This is such a crowd pleaser, that even Mary Berry has a variation.
The origin of the Canterbury Tart is unclear but some say it could be inspired by the Canterbury Tales, in which the first mention of an apple pie was made by Geoffrey Chaucer.
4. Kentish cherry batter pudding
Similarly to the French dessert, cherry clafoutis, the Kentish cherry batter pudding is made by adding cherries to a thick batter resulting in an almost Yorkshire pudding-textured dessert. We like this recipe.
The cherry batter pudding originated naturally in Kent because of the abundance of cherries from the tens of thousands of acres of cherry orchards planted on the order of King Henry VIII. A much smaller number exists today but the Kentish cherry batter pudding remains in recipe books across the country.
5. Ginger cobnut cake
Crumbly in texture and nutty in flavour, this recipe makes use of cobnuts roasted to bring out their distinctive taste and ginger for a warming hit of spice. But cobnuts can be used in lots of recipes both sweet and savoury.
According to the Kentish Cobnuts Association, cobnuts are a “cultivated variety of hazelnut”, and were extremely popular in Kent with over 7,000 acres of cobnut orchards in the year 1913 – although significantly less remain today.
6. Folkestone pudding pie / Kent Lent pie / Kentish pudding pie
Folkestone pudding pie is made with filling a pie crust with a “pudding” filling of milk thickened with ground rice and flavoured with lemon and nutmeg or bay leaves. With a resemblance to the texture of cheesecake, the filling is also often dotted with currants (perhaps soaked in brandy).
Originating in Folkestone, the pudding pie is sometimes called a Kent Lent pie or Kentish pudding pie as it became ubiquitous in the county.
7. Kentish rarebit
This version of Welsh rarebit is made with apples, an inseparable part of the history of the county. This snack was enjoyed by fruit pickers in Kent’s orchards during the 20th century and is still a delightful snack today. Mix melted cheese and sliced apple then spread on bread before grilling. The Kentish rarebit can be made with Kentish huffkin for a doubly traditional treat. See our recipe here.
Kent is known for its apple production with orchards that used to sweep across the county (25,000 acres in total!) bursting with the fruits every year to be shipped off to London. Apples are still grown in Kent to this day as visitors to local farms and orchards can attest.
8. Whitstable Dredgerman’s Breakfast
Before heading out dredging the salty seas of Whitstable, it’s not hard to imagine the workmen tucking into a Whitstable Dredgerman’s Breakfast consisting of bacon and succulent oysters on thick bread.
Oysters are a big deal in Whitstable: The Whitstable Oyster Company has been growing and selling them since at least the 1400s and the annual Whitstable Oyster Festival celebrates the oyster with events, costumes, music and lots of food!
9. Biddenden cakes
Picturesque Biddenden’s town sign depicts a pair of conjoined twins - Eliza and Mary Chulkhurst - two women joined at the hip and shoulder who lived for 34 years in the village during the early 12th century. They left land when they died called the Bread and Cheese Lands, in aid of the poor.
Biddenden cakes are simple, hard biscuits made with flour and water in a mould that depicts the sisters. These cakes are still traditionally distributed to the poor around the village of Biddenden and the surrounding area during Easter.