I am lucky enough to have one of the best farmers’ markets in the country on my doorstep – Penshurst, which takes place on the first Saturday of every month. In fact it’s so wonderful – the perfect location, range of stalls and products with some great characters amongst the stallholders – that I had to join the committee and get involved! So now I attend the regular planning meetings and run cookery demonstrations and tastings there too. It’s Fish Day this weekend (Saturday May 4th)and I’ll be with one of my favourite people at the market, Paul Saxby of Arcade Fisheries in Hastings, cooking and tasting fish together and offering lots of cooking advice. Paul’s superb fish (and cheery banter!) is one of the key reasons many visitors come to the market.
Here are ten reasons I tend to carry home a packed basket….
1 As already mentioned, the freshest and tastiest fish I’ve found from Arcade Fisheries of Hastings – beautifully presented and cared for fish by a family-run business that really knows its product and how it is sourced. In fact Hastings has won awards fro m the Marine Stewardship Council for sustainable fishing for its mackerel, Dover sole and herring. Paul always has great special offers which I buy, take home and freeze on the same day to enjoy later in the month. His own smoked haddock is a particular favourite with my family but I also love the Dover sole, halibut and skate, and Paul recently introduced me to Brill, which lives up to its name!
2 Great locally produced meat from Graham and Miranda Palmer of Farmer Palmer from their own farm in Egerton in the Low Weald of Kent. They specialise in producing local pork, lamb and beef all sold through local markets. I keep their sausages permanently in my freezer, especially the leek ones, really love their rolled shoulder joint of lamb, and tend to treat myself to their sirloin steak cooked very simply with home made Bearnaise sauce on the Saturday night after the market. (Also love the shin of beef for stews in the winter!)And if I’m feeling really lazy I might treat the family to one of their pies, made for them by a local cook using all their meat.
3 Bread made traditionally by Alan Rushbridge at his family bakery in Southborough. I really love the granary sandwich loaf for bacon sandwiches after the market (smoked streaky bacon for choice from Farmer Palmer), hot cross buns and the very moreish cheese straws, perfect for picnics. And the walnut and cranberry loaf they produced at Christmas was the ideal partner for the great cheeses I also buy (see 5.)
4 Vegetables – locally grown and totally seasonal. There are two good veg stalls at the market but I tend to visit Cherry Garden Farm, and particularly for their cauliflowers and parsnips, two veg which have a completely different flavour when bought fresh and local, compared to their supermarket cousins! Now I am minus my own veg garden having moved house last year, I crave tasty veg even more. And it makes such a difference to the final results of my cooking. I don’t think Michael Bourne at New Park Farm will have any asparagus this month but I will be buying it in June (and visiting his farm shop at Groombridge on a regular basis to buy the first spears when they do arrive!) Then for tree fruit such as apples and pears I’ll visit the other stall Farm Folk fruits…..
5 Award winning cheeses – working with the Taste of Kent Awards over the last three years has introduced me to some of the truly inspirational cheesemakers now working in this area. Most are small local farmers who put all their knowledge and passion into their products. My own particular favourite is the Bluebell from Karen Reynolds at Kingcott Cheese. It’s the perfect eating cheese for a cheeseboard but I also love its flavour for cooking and use it in soups and crumbled into salads.
6 The chicken liver pate from Nicky at Home Gurrown. Nicky is a really talented cook and caterer who uses the produce from her own small-holding and local suppliers to make the tastiest treats. I would normally make my own quiches and pates but now I can buy Nicky’s I am getting lazy as they are so good – a favourite is the smoked salmon and dill quiche. I wouldn’t make scotch eggs though as I am not a big home fryer so need no excuse to buy hers! All perfect for summer picnics…..
7 The really exquisite flowers from Flowers in the Forest. The little bunches of spring flowers arranged in jam jars make the most unusual and perfect seasonal present if I am visiting friends – if not I just treat myself to my own. Later in the year their sweet peas are heaven!
8 A jar of local honey from Wishfield Honey of Horsmonden. Honey is such a magical product and I love it on Rushbridge’s granary toast or to cook with…..
9 A bottle of cold pressed rapeseed oil from Pure Kent. This oil has a high burning point so it is ideal for frying or cooking roast potatoes that are really crisp and light. I will be using it to cook Paul’s great fish this weekend. Unlike some rapeseed oils I’ve tried this one is clean and fine flavoured without the harsh rather bitter note that some have (this is because rape comes from the mustard family and can have a similar burn). I also use it with lemon juice for summer salads.
10 My perfect market lunch on a Saturday is a plate with chicken liver pate and Bluebell cheese, Rushbridge’s walnut bread and a spoonful of the beautiful Quince Cheese from local jam and chutney makers’, Wild at Heart. (It also goes really well with a griddled venison steak from Keiran’s Game!)
So that’s what I’ll be eating this weekend – how about you? There are so many other favourites at the market that I will be repeating this exercise every other month of so, to introduce you all to a few more of my discoveries. And I’d love to know what other visitors can’t leave without……
And by the way, don’t forget to make time to visit Penshurst Place and Gardens when you have finished your shopping. The house is fascinating but I am a particular fan of the wonderful gardens – they are set out like a series of magical rooms, each opening onto the next, with inspirational planting and beautiful sight lines……