This weekend will be cold, cloudy but dry here on the Kent/Sussex border – perfect for a visit to Penshurst and some really satisfying Christmas food shopping. I’ll be at our regular monthly market in the carpark at Penshurst Place from 9.30 to 12.30 on Saturday 7th December, cooking up some Christmas favourite recipes, offering some ideas and advice for festive eating, and chatting to visitors about what they might be cooking this year. There will be carol singers and an early visit from Father Christmas on his way through to The Penshurst Christmas Fair, which is taking place in the village hall on Saturday and is well worth popping into for some really good quality gifts. Apparently there is going to be a Narnia themed grotto set in a wardrobe this year which sounds quite magical!
So what will be going on my own shopping list to look out for on Saturday? With over 38 stalls at Penshurst offering a wide range of really superb produce, I know I’ll have plenty of choice and have already cleared a space in my freezer ready for action plus planned some foodie present purchases. My regular favourites will all find a place in my shopping basket, plus we’ve got a couple of old friends back with us just for the Christmas market, alongside new stallholders who have joined us this year.
1 Great meat and fish
Really superb meat and fish are one of the main reasons for my market visit every month and I stock my freezer to keep me going between markets. Many of the products you can buy at the market freeze really well including the fish. Just make sure you freeze it on the day of purchase, don’t store too long as it will lose flavour, and defrost thoroughly before cooking. Paul at Arcade Fisheries will have prime Rye Bay turbot, a king of fish that makes a perfect choice to serve at Christmas when you might want to push the boat out and serve a whole fish. A large flat fish with firm flesh and a wonderful subtle flavour that benefits from simple cooking, I like to roast my turbot on a bed of fennel and cherry tomatoes, dotted with butter and with a splash of white wine poured over. Once cooked till the flesh is just translucent I serve it with a quick hollandaise sauce alongside.I will also cook fillet of turbot the same way but prefer to cook my fish on the bone for the improved flavour.
Paul will also have plenty of wild seabass and another of my favourites, halibut, another meaty white fish which I might cook the same way as the turbot. Scallops and potted shrimps from Botterells will also go into my basket. Like all the fish available at the market, they freeze really well and then I can get some out in an emergency to use in a risotto or wrap in streaky bacon to roast and serve as canapes.
Penshurst Beef are another regular whose meat I keep ready in the freezer for special occasions and everyday eating. Their minced steak is superb in my favourite lasagne recipe (see The Busy Mum’s Cookbook for my recipe which my children ‘unbiasedly’ think is the best ever!) but my favourite of all is the wonderful sirloin steaks. The South Devon cattle they rear are slow-growing friendly beasts that live on local pasture in the summer, overwintering in barns fed on the farm’s own hay. And the results of this stress free life are evident in the taste and texture of the meat.
This year for the first time there will be a stall selling Kelly’s famous free-range bronze turkeys. I’m not cooking a turkey this year but have been a Kelly’s fan for years. Not only are their birds really well flavoured and seem to retain all their natural juices when cooked, they come with sensible cooking instructions which I have always followed with complete success. Our own local Kelly Bronze farmer will be selling these great birds at Penshurst – ask on Saturday about pick-up and delivery options.
Game is another excellent choice for Christmas, and as I’m not cooking for my usual 20 plus this year, I am considering buying a couple of Keiron’s pheasants or maybe a brace of wild duck for a change. I’ll serve them with all the usual trimmings as I am a total traditionalist at heart and really enjoy my Christmas lunch but will make the most of cooking for less people and try to make some changes with my choice of bird. I also like to keep his venison sausages in the freezer as I have a great recipe for a pasta sauce with chestnuts that works well with them (a veggie version is in my Busy Mum’s Vegetarian Cookbook with tips on how to add meat!)
2 Preserved meat and fish, pates and terrines
Bits and pieces for emergency meals and snacks are on my list. So hot smoked salmon from Paul the fish for serving with little blinis with a dollop of soured cream make a good starter or canape (I’ll be cooking my beer blinis recipe with Hepworths beer with ideas for different toppings on Saturday); the air-dried oak smoked lamb from Tobin at Woodside Farm also works well with the blinis and I add a little chopped gherkin and mint sauce to my soured cream as a partner (Tobin will also be selling biltong at the market on Saturday which I will buy for my stepson who is a fanatical fan of the stuff!); Nicci Gurr of Home Gurrown is back with us for December’s market and her chicken liver pate is far better than I can make myself! But her Scotch eggs will be in competition with this from wonderful Dine Thyme and I will probably have to go for both. They make great snack food for easy lunches but also cut up well for handing round with drinks.
3 Cheeses, savouries, chutneys and relishes
We are really spoilt at the market for great cheeses (see my blog piece on putting together a Christmas Kent cheeseboard that I did as an info sheet for the market last year and will post before Saturday). I will be eating and cooking with a selection but the Kentish Bluebell from Karen at Kingscott Cheese is an absolute favourite and so are any of the goat cheeses from Nut Knowle Farm. I’ll be putting together a cheeseboard and serving it with Rushbridge’s walnut bread, Dine Thyme’s cheese straws, and the chilli jelly and quince paste from Wild at Heart.
I may have written a vegetarian book with a big Christmas section but as life seems to get busier than ever and I’m just starting to write a new book, I’ll be paying a visit to Jane at The Fat Carrot for her really good Mushroom and Stilton Wellingtons, perfect for veggie niece on Christmas Day whilst everyone else will want her Parsnip and chestnut patties as they go well with the main meal or make a lovely supper with a salad.
4 And the rest…
Eggs from Fair Acre Farm, locally grown veg from Vivienne Cross and the folk at Farm Folk fruits, honey from Matthew Noakes, the wonderful cakes and bakes from Debra and desserts from Bake and Craft, hand-made chocolates from Sally, luxurious pasta sauces from Marina, and my dogs’ favourite treats from Beach Dog Bakery. Plus the really magical flowers, wreaths and table centres from Flowers in the Forest (I bought one of their beautiful wreaths last year and cant wait to get another). And even Christmas trees, holly and mistletoe from the Penshurst Place shop. Phew, just make sure you bring bags, maybe a cold box in the car, and plenty of cash. Several stall holders take other methods of payment but it’s awful to have to miss out because you haven’t got enough money with you – I’m speaking from experience here!
I’m going to be at Penshurst cooking some of my favourite quick recipes for Christmas using market produce, so come and try my spiced parsnip and chestnut soup finished with creme fraiche and a market chutney – not sure which one yet but I’ll be spoiled for choice. Plus I’ll be cooking up some little beer-raised blinis to serve with hot smoked salmon and herb cream, and a sweet version – little scotch pancakes dotted with mincemeat and served with a spiced rum and brandy butter. I’ll be posting the recipes separately and have copies of my books to sell. I think they make perfect Christmas presents but I would say that!