Christmas farmers' markets you should visit this year
PUBLISHED: 11:15 05 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:15 05 December 2017
Working with Kent Farmers' Market Association, this month we look at what Kent's markets are doing for the festive season
Bruce McMichael is an award-winning food and drink writer, cookery demonstrator and Farmers’ Market manager. Based in Tunbridge Wells, he won an episode of the TV cooking talent show Gordon Ramsay’s Culinary Genius. Bruce edits the food website www.thelemongrove.net
Farmers’ Markets across Kent are a riot of colour and fun and expectation throughout December. Customers ask for new ideas about how to prepare seasonal vegetables or perhaps which cheeses go well with drinks made with foraged fruit. Butchers such as Renhurst Farm, who manage stalls at Shipbourne, Penshurst and Tunbridge Wells, offer a range of pork cuts ideal for roast dinners or for having cold with chutney or a spicy sauce from Jane Apps and her company The Fat Carrot, for example. Mixing produce from different stallholders is a great way of creating a Farmers’ Market Christmas feast.
In addition to managing Cranbrook Farmers’ Market (which has a food and craft event on 16 December), Jane is a regular presence at several other markets including Lamberhurst, Tonbridge, Shipbourne and Offham.
Many markets have Christmas cooking demos offering seasonal tips to shoppers using produces from the stalls. Matthew Kearsey-Lawson runs the busy stage at the Tonbridge Farmers’ Market and always has a full line up of stallholders offering tips on using their produce to pep up their seasonal feasts to an expectant audience.
Elsewhere Julie Hardy, manager of Charing’s weekly Thursday market, advises shoppers visiting her market to order hampers, cakes, vegetables, preserves, gifts and crafts for Christmas by 14 December for pick up at the next market.
Tunbridge Wells (Town Hall) Farmers’ Market Christmas market on 21 December offers shoppers a prize draw with a hamper full of Christmas treats donated by stallholders.
Markets such as Penshurst, based in the grounds of Penshurst Place, offer a very different experience to a market held in a village hall, such as Capel-le-Ferne, or in a church and its grounds, which is the case in Rolvendon.
The weekly Shipbourne Farmers’ Market aims to be a one-stop shop for Christmas with a great selection of meats, poultry and game, locally distilled gin, wine and beer, Christmas cakes and puddings plus wreaths, presents and cards.
In the shelter of Rochester town wall ruins, the Farmers’ Market on 17 December and the Dickensian Christmas Market taking place over the first weekend in December will both bring seasonal cheer to the historic naval port.
And for the first time this year, there will be a Herne Bay Produce and Craft Market on 10 December, with several stalls aimed at a younger audience.
In the heart of Kent in Lenham, on 10 December you can expect festive music, treats, gifts and decorations – including mistletoe.
Equally central, Charing’s small weekly market, originally set up as a WI Country Market, has now branched out to become a thriving Farmers’ Market. This year a special Christmas market is planned for 4 December, with the team organising a raffle and a stall selling mulled wine.
Many markets offer a buy-and-collect service for Christmas foods. Tony’s Turkeys has a stall for the final three markets of the year at Penshurst, with orders taken for collection on a non-market day close to Christmas Day.
Other stallholders offer order services so shoppers can stock up on seasonal produce to create Kentish hampers including cakes, mince pies, preserves and, in many markets, gifts such as potted hyacinths and early daffodils as well as hand-made crafts.
Mary Gwynn is a local author and food writer. She writes regularly for Waitrose Weekend newspaper and has published several cookery books, includings The WI Cookbook: The First 100 Years and The Busy Mum’s Cookbook. She is on the committe of Penshurst Farmers Market
Here in Kent with its lush grass and temperate climate, local cheesemakers are well and truly coming into their own with award-winning cheeses that frequently sweep the board at competitions both local and international.
All of which means that I will once again be putting together a local cheeseboard this Christmas to round off the big meal but also to bring out over the holiday period. It makes a good talking point as these cheeses more than stand up alongside traditional favourites such as Stilton.
And if you are visiting friends for the holiday period and not cooking this year, why not suggest you bring along the cheeseboard as a very welcome gift.
With so many wonderful local cheeses to choose from, selecting for a board can be confusing. The answer is to keep it simple. I tend to serve just two or three cheeses as any more can overwhelm the palate when there is so much else going on food-wise and like to serve generous wedges that look appealing on the board rather than little slices. Any leftovers that aren’t eaten later will be used for cooking - just crumble up the cheeses and freeze in airtight containers.
Create a festive Kentish cheeseboard
1 A firm, tangy cheese
Winterdale Shaw is an outstanding unpasteurised Cheddar-style cheese that has been winning awards around the world and is made by the Betts family who have been farming for generations near Sevenoaks but have only been making cheeses since 2006. It’s intense, creamy and beautifully balanced, matured for 10 months in a cave set in the chalk hills of the North Downs outside Wrotham. Use in the fondue recipe below.
2 A blue-vein cheese
Kentish Blue is an unpasteurised blue cheese, hand made by Steve and Karen Reynolds on their family-run dairy farm just outside Staplehurst. Milk from their closed herd of Holstein Friesian cows travels a mere 20 metres from the milking parlour to the purpose-built cheese dairy.
Made in the traditional way, with vegetarian rennet, each cheese is pierced by hand to allow the blue to develop and then matured for around three months. Try using it in a soup with celeriac or serve in a winter salad with sliced pears, walnuts and watercress.
3 A soft cheese
Cheesemakers of Canterbury make the award-winning Bowyers Brie, a pasteurised soft cheese made from cow’s milk which is creamy and perfectly balanced. This rinded cheese is kept in the maturing rooms on the farm for between two and six weeks. It can be eaten young and fresh or, left to mature, will develop more flavour and ‘run.’
SEASONAL RECIPE: Kentish beer fondue
A fondue makes a fun family supper or party dish over the Christmas period and is a great way to use up leftovers. Make this one with a well flavoured, locally-made beer and cheeses for a perfect partnering of classic flavours
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
1 clove garlic
400ml local premium pale ale
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp English mustard powder
500g mature Cheddar-style Kentish cheese such as Winterdale Shaw, grated
250g creamy cow’s milk cheese such as Gruyère or The Traditional Cheese Dairy’s Buttercup, grated
1 tbsp cornflour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cubed brown bread to serve
1 Rub the inside of a cast-iron or earthenware fondue pan with the cut side of a clove of garlic then chop up the garlic and add to the pan with the beer, lemon juice and mustard. Bring to simmering point.
2 Add the grated cheese and stir over a low heat until melted, but don’t allow it to boil. Mix the cornflour to a paste with a little water or beer and add to the mixture. Heat it gently on the hob, stirring all the time, until it starts to bubble and all the cheese is melted and silky smooth.
3 If the fondue is runny, dissolve another teaspoon of cornflour in a little beer or water and add, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens. If it’s too thick, add a splash of beer and stir. Season and serve with plenty of bread to dip into the hot cheese.
The markets mentioned are all members of the Kent Farmers’ Market Association.
To find your local Farmers’ Market, visit: www.kfma.org.uk