Local food writer Mary Gwynn, author of titles that include The Busy Mum’s Cookbook and The WI 100 Years Cookbook, is a big champion of homegrown produce. Here she tells us why she is so passionate about sourcing good quality ingredients from the suppliers on her doorstep and includes some of her favourite seasonal and delicious recipes for you to create
June is Kent Farmers’ Market Month and many in the county have been holding special events including tastings, cookery demonstrations, craft displays and much more so you can sample the very best the Garden of England produces.
As regulars will know well, Kent’s markets have far more to offer than just traditional fruit, vegetables and meat. Many sell fresh fish, game, handmade chocolates, cakes and an impressive range of ready-prepared dishes, homemade pasta sauces and vegetarian offerings.
And then there are the benefits of buying locally. Not only will you get the chance to taste before you buy so you know exactly what you are getting, but by going directly to the source you can find out first-hand how the produce was grown or made.
Most producers will give you storing and cooking tips so you can really make the most of your purchase.
Remember that because you are buying locally and seasonally, pricing is likely to be competitive with the supermarkets – and often cheaper – so don’t fall for the idea that markets are an expensive luxury.
The Kent Farmers’ Market patron is Michel Roux Jr, who was born in Pembury and grew up in Shipbourne. He says: “Markets don’t just offer fresh produce, meat and cheese, you’ll find stalls selling the freshest fish, speciality breads, deli-style pies, beer from the region’s growing number of microbreweries and a wide range of unusual jams and chutneys.”
Veg to look out for include crisp radishes, spring onions, spinach, and new potatoes. There are also early cucumbers, runner beans, spinach and courgettes, alongside all kinds of salad leaves.
The warmer weather also heralds the start of the great English soft fruit season. One of the great advantages of local markets is the chance to try some of the finer flavoured varieties, rather than the more robust berries grown to withstand the rigours of the supermarket supply chain which may not have the same flavour.
If your visit to the market coincides with a sunny weekend, plan the perfect picnic, with locally-made cheese, paté and a pie or Scotch egg. Then just add a freshly baked loaf of artisan bread, a bag of cherries, a bottle or two of a local beer, or chilled wine and you have all the makings of a feast….
Baked eggs with spinach
Serves 2 or 4 (as a starter)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10-12 minutes
What you will need:
450g fresh spinach, washed
25g butter freshly grated nutmeg 4 large free-range eggs
4 tbsp double cream
4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan salt and freshly ground
Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/gas mark 5.
Tear the spinach leaves from their stalks and place in a large pan with any water from washing.
Cook, covered, for a couple of minutes until the spinach is wilted.
Drain thoroughly, pressing out any excess liquid, and then return to the pan with half the butter, nutmeg and seasoning.
Divide the spinach between two buttered shallow gratin dishes (or four large ramekins).
Make a well in the spinach, break in the eggs and season. Spoon over the cream. Sprinkle with the freshly grated Parmesan and dot with the remaining butter.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until the eggs are just set.
Serve with crispy bread to mop up any juices.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 1¾ hours
What you will need:
1 good quality free-range chicken, about 1.5 kg
stock vegetables (a carrot, onion, celery stick, leek all cut into chunks)
a bay leaf, 6 peppercorns, sprig or two of fresh thyme
1 medium onion, chopped
50g plain flour
50ml single cream or full-fat milk
3 tbsp chopped flat-leaved parsley
100g smoked ham, shredded
350g puff or shortcrust pastry made with butter
beaten egg, to glaze
salt and freshly ground
Place the chicken in a large pan to fit snugly with the stock vegetables. Pour over enough cold water to almost cover and a large pinch of salt.
Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer very gently for 45-50 minutes until the juices run clear when the thickest part of the leg is pierced with a skewer.
Cool in the stock for a really good moist finish. Strain the stock and measure out 600ml. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/gas mark 6.
Melt the butter in a large non-stick pan and add the onion. Cook gently for 3-4 minutes until soft and pale. Add the ﬂ our and stir for a minute to cook.
Off the heat gradually whisk in the hot stock then return to the heat and simmer, stirring until thick and smooth.
Stir in the cream, parsley and the seasoning.
Remove the chicken meat from the bones, discarding the skin. Tear into pieces and mix with the ham in the base of a 2-litre ovenproof dish or a roasting tin with a wide enough lip to hold the pastry.
Pour over the sauce (you can make the pie to this stage then cool and chill overnight).
Place an egg cup or funnel in the centre to support the pastry. Roll out the pastry on a lightly-floured surface to a rectangle 5cm larger than the dish.
Cut a strip of pastry about 1.5cm wide and place along the edge of the pie dish.
Brush the pastry edge on the dish with cold water then lift the pastry over and settle it gently over the filling.
Pinch around the edges to seal and make a hole in the centre to allow steam to escape.
Chill for 15 minutes to allow the pastry to rest then brush with beaten egg and bake for 45-50 minutes until crisp and golden. Serve.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20-25 minutes
What you will need:
50g caster sugar
100g self-raising ﬂour, sifted
1 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
50g rolled oats
2 tbsp golden syrup dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water
For the ﬁlling:
50g icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp cocoa powder
few drops vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/gas mark 4. Cream together the butter, lard and sugar until pale and ﬂuffy then slowly work in the ﬂour, cocoa, oats and golden syrup. Roll the mixture into balls the size of a large cherry.
Place on greased baking sheets and ﬂatten with a fork dipped in water to stop it sticking to the dough.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until puffy and set.
Cool on the trays for 5 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
For the ﬁlling, cream the butter and work in the icing sugar. Beat until light then beat in the chocolate powder and vanilla. Use the filling to sandwich the biscuits together.
Ensure your has food real market value
The theme for this year’s Kent Farmers’ Market Month is ‘bring a friend’ to encourage existing loyal shoppers to act as ambassadors for their local market by inviting along someone who has not yet experienced the joy of mooching around a market.
Michel Roux Jr says: “Word of mouth is the most credible marketing because who do you trust more than your own friends? So please invite someone who hasn’t been before to join you, and hopefully they will be converted by the quality of products and friendliness of producers.”
Find your nearest market or one you’d like to go to by visiting: www.kfma.org.uk/FindAMarket.asp
All recipes extracted from The WI Cookbook by Mary Gywnn (Ebury Press, hardback £20)
Photography | Jan Baldwin