“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chefs, Bath Buns and Markets

Yesterday Sis and I had some errands to run around Ashford way. Afterwards we decided to head out towards Brenzett and have a bite to eat at the Little Chef. When I was growing up Little Chief (as we referred to it) did not have a great reputation. Most of them were located in motorway service areas and were little more than a franchised transport caff, with soggy chips and general nasty greasy-spoon atmos. The last time I went to one must have been in 1990 or 91, and that was more out of necessity than desire, and I don't recall being too impressed with it. I had heard good things from family members about this one in Brenzett though, so I looked forward to going, especially since celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal recently gave the company a makeover.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. The restaurant was nice and clean and, as all restaurants are these days in the UK, smoke-free. The menu was fabulous and full of great food, some of which was vegetarian or could be made vegetarian (such as the Bangers & Mash) and there were Gluten-Free choices too. My coffee was brought to me in a little French Press a.k.a. a cafetière,  and I ordered the Salmon and King Prawn salad after much debate. Sis ordered a cheeseburger. After a minute or so the waitress came back and apologised because they had no salmon available, but I wasn't upset. I just ordered another of the many that I had considered. (side note: why people get upset in restaurants is beyond me. If they're out of something, order something else. If you go to eat at a restaurant where you only like one thing on the menu then you're asking for trouble. But then again, it seems to me from an experienced waiter's point of view that some people come in just spoiling for an argument). I went instead for the Gammon and Egg, with a baked potato. When it came even I was amazed at the size of it. A veritable slab of Gammon (that's a Ham Steak for you Stateside peeps) with a sunny-side-up egg on top, a monster baked potato, a mound of peas and a side of coleslaw. Whoa. True, it was £7 and some change, but my sister was finished before I was, and that, as anyone will tell you, is unusual. It seems Blumenthal has had a great effect on the Little Chefs, and they're well worth a look. Oh, and by the way, for you nostalgia buffs, the Olympic Breakfast is still there, unchanged and just as massive as ever.

After we left we drove back through Snargate and Appledore, into Leigh Green where we stopped at Gibbet Oak Farm Shop. When I was very young my Grandparents Kath and Eric lived here and worked the orchards. They moved to Wittersham in the early '70s and so I had not been back to Gibbet for over 35 years. The house had changed a little bit with walls where there never were walls before, and high gates and a garage that was fairly new, and the pack-house which also seemed smaller (I guess because I'm a lot bigger now) was now the farm shop.
The shop was full of locally produced merchandise, from chocolates and baked goods to bacon and yoghurt, as well as fresh produce of course. Sis purchased a large Bath Bun, or really a large round Bath Bun Loaf, which had wedges marked in the top so you could tear it apart into individual buns. We had that with our afternoon tea, and it was great.
One thing I noticed about the shop is the prices vary from the good bargains to the wildly expensive, so you've got to make sure you're getting a good deal, unless you have pots of money, in which case, forget what I said and just splash the cash.

This morning after breakfast I went with my Mum and Christopher to Rolvenden to the local Farmer's Market. It's held inside Rolvenden Village Hall (it used to be in the nearby Church also during the Hall's renovation) and there were lots of vendors there (click here for the complete list). Many of the vendors were offering samples of their ware, and you know me, I can't resist a freebie, especially if you can eat it.
The first one I noticed when I walked in was Milbank Olives. Besides a fine selection of olives there were sun dried tomatoes and garlic with herbs and chilli, and an interesting orangey substance called Johnnie Mix. I asked Johnnie (for it was he behind the counter) what it was and he explained that it was "his mistake", one of those happy accidents that occur from time to time in a kitchen, when he was making a red pesto and some juice from one of the other products (some Rose Harissa, I believe, which is a staple of Tunisian cooking) slipped into the mix and so he tasted it and liked it. I like it too, it would be great on some tortelloni or something like that.

Moving on, I  sampled wares from various stallholders, first a lady selling some preserves and chutneys as well as some organic herbs (I bought a bag of fresh coriander for 80p) then there was a lady who made jewellery (Lisa Townsend) and then I came to Silcocks farm who produce Organic dairy products right here in St. Michaels, including their own cheeses, of which I had a sample. Oh my. There were three to try, one was a fresh unripened cheese called, appropriately enough, Saint Michaels cheese, the next was a ripened Camembert/Brie type called Boresisle (Boresisle was the original name of the town of St. Michaels) and the third was a Blue cheese, the name of which escapes me for the moment, which was not the blow-your-head-off type but still had a pretty good twang to it and a freshness I liked. I just checked the website and the Blue cheese isn't listed but I suspect it's a fairly new product, although I've been known to be wrong so it's probably best not to assume. The prices are good too, £3.75 for a 250g Camembert-style cheese is pretty decent.

Next we stopped by Amy Cup Cakes, a mother/daughter baked goods stall which specialise in, you guessed it, cupcakes. I sampled a Mocha one, Mum sampled the chocolate. They also do a gluten free cupcake which Mum bought and evidently it's very good and quite rich. My mocha one was excellent.
Next, Mum bought an organic chicken from Farmer Palmer and I was mooching some more free samples at VJ Game, including chorizo and wild boar, beer and apple sausage (to die for).
Next was The French Deli with more sausages and imported cheeses, some of the more obscure ones like Fourme De Montbrison and Comte and Crottin de Chavignol, and another table of some nice preserves including a Curried Mango and Apple preserve which was lovely and sweet and had a bit of an after-kick. Yum.
Then we got to the table for Buster's Farm Produce. These folks do a lot. They are based in a little place in Sussex called Salehurst, which is near Robertsbridge. They have a 400 acre farm  that produces beef, lamb and Gloucester Old Spot pork. These are offered butchered in their shop (and also at the Ringden Farm Shop in Hurst Green) along with bacon, a selection of sausages (including Pork & Apple, Old English Beef, Lamb & Apricot and Venison & Red Wine), meat pies, locally-produced cheese and much more. The table was groaning with Cornish Pasties, pies and sausage rolls so we picked some out for lunch. Chris' was the straightforward Cornish Pasty and I had the Lamb & Leek Pasty, purely because I was intrigued, and I was not disappointed - there were plenty of huge chunks of lamb with potatoes and loads of lovely leek in there. Both of these pasties were on the huge side. Mum had the sausage roll which was no slouch in itself. Buster's Farm Produce do have a website at www.bustersfarmproduce.co.uk but it appears to not be up and running correctly - this is hopefully a temporary glitch and I am leaving the link here anyway in hopes it'll soon be fixed. You can find when and where they will be on The Kent Farmer's Market Association website, under 'Stallholders'.

I love Farmer's Markets and could easily have wandered for another half hour as there were some tables we didn't really investigate fully. One I noticed was selling handmade woollen items made from locally produced wool. Another had different kinds of local honey. Another was selling fresh local produce and plants. There was a fishmonger and a stall selling organic and fair trade items.
There are many reasons to support your local farmers' markets. They help to stimulate the local economy, reduce food packaging and waste, reduce food miles, and they give you a wide range of fresh local produce, including stuff you may never find on a supermarket shelf. Plus, they're fun! You get to meet and talk with the people who actually produce the items for sale, and, I have to tell you, as a foodie, that's where the enjoyment lies.
To find your local Farmers' Market online, a good place to start is http://www.farmersmarkets.net/  or The Foody. Make a little morning jaunt out of it. I have always been a fan of buying what's in season and building your menus around that, and what better place to buy fresh, in-season produce than a little Farmers' Market?

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