A TASTE OF KENT:
Clotted Cream, Splits, Scrumpy and Gin
by Dawn Copeman
Kent is often referred to as the Garden of England, and for a
very good reason: for many a century this county with its low
rainfall and mild climate has provided Britain with a plentiful
supply of meat, fish, fruit and a wide variety of vegetables such
Hops were first brought to Kent by the Romans, who also
introduced cherries and vines to the county. Hop tops, the
leaves of the hop plant, were originally eaten as a salad
vegetable or cooked in butter in dishes like Hopscotch -- a
recipe for which can be found at http://www.kentdowns.org.uk/produce.html.
In the 16th century, however, hops began to be used in the
brewing of beer. Prior to this the British drank ale, which was
made with malt and honey. Beer brewed with hops had first been
brought to England by Flemish merchants during the previous
century. This beer was viewed with scepticism at first; London
pubs that served it were even prosecuted. But eventually, the
preservative effect of hops on beer was recognised and beer
brewing and hop growing became big business in Kent.
Hop-picking became an annual working holiday for the people of
London and even George Orwell had a go at it. At one point
80,000 Londoners were coming to Kent every autumn to pick hops.
This stopped just after the Second World War, when machines began
to be used instead. The hops also gave Kent its famous Oast
Houses -- huge barns with conical towers that were used to dry
the hops and which are now desirable, expensive homes. (See our
article on The Oasts of Kent.)
Given that Kent was the home of the hop industry, it is not
surprising that Britain's oldest surviving brewery should be
Shepherd Neame of Faversham, Kent, can trace its roots back to
1698, when the Mayor of Faversham, Richard March, founded a
brewery. Marsh's brewery expanded rapidly and was soon the
biggest brewery in town. On Marsh's death, the brewery passed to
his wife and then to his daughter. When she died in 1741, it was
taken over by Samuel Shepherd. The brewery stayed in his family
and over the years they took on several partners, the last of
these being Percy Beale Neame, who joined the company in 1864.
Percy's great-great grandson, Jonathan Neame, is in charge of
the brewery today, a brewery that now owns around 370 pubs in
Shepherd Neame's most famous beer is Spitfire, which was
developed in 1990 to commemorate the Battle of Britain and to
raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund. If you are in the area
you can tour the brewery yourself and also taste its beers; visit
its website for further details.
Alternatively, you might prefer to visit the Kentish Beer
Festival instead. This festival promotes beer and cider brewed
locally and takes place from the 20th to 22nd July in Canterbury.
Although Kent is still known as the Garden of England, it has
officially lost that title. According to a BBC news report in
June 2006, North Yorkshire is now the Garden of England. This is
because not only has Kent lost over 85% of its orchards over the
last fifty years, but also because of the increasing number of
homes that have been built on the countryside. To get an idea of
what the Garden of England used to be like you should visit the
Brogdale National Fruit Collection at Faversham. Here you will
find 2300 varieties of apples, including ones dating from Roman
times; 550 varieties of pears; 750 varieties of plums and 220
varieties of cherries.
The cherries were often used to make Cherry Batter Pudding, a
recipe that was apparently brought to England by the Normans. A
recipe for this can be found at http://www.kentdowns.org.uk/produce.html.
Cherries were also the traditional filling for Huffkins, a type
of teacake with a hole in the middle. A recipe for them is below.
One traditional Kent crop that is still growing strong is
cobnuts. Cobnuts are a type of hazelnut that have been grown in
Britain since the 17th century. Unlike many other nuts, which
are sold dried, cobnuts are sold fresh and retain their freshness
for many months. Cobnuts can be used in a variety of dishes such
as Watercress and Cobnut soup, Damson and Cobnut Mincemeat or
Ginger Cobnut Cake -- a recipe for which you'll find below.
In addition to its rich farmland, Kent is also bordered by the
sea and provides such delights as Oysters and the delicious Dover
Sole. Whitstable in Kent is the county's foremost fishing port
and is even mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Although you can buy
most varieties of fish in Whitstable, it is for its oysters that
the town is really celebrated. You can see what all the fuss is
about if you are in Whitstable from the 22nd to the 20th July
when the Whitstable Oyster Festival takes place. Or you can try a
traditional Kentish Oyster dish at home instead; the recipe for
Angels on Horseback is below.
A cake you cannot try at home is the Biddenden Cake. Famous in
Kent, these cakes are only available in the village of Biddenden
on Easter Monday. Interestingly, no recipe for this cake can be
found. But if you feel like making something Kentish around
Easter time, why not try Lenten Pie? Also known as Folkestone
Pudding Pie, this is a delicious and simple cheesecake that you
will want to make all year round.
Kent is an unusually rich source of foodstuffs; so much so, that
I simply haven't got the space to talk about Kentish lamb,
pheasant or wild boar, or its honey, wines and new cheeses. If
you want to get a true taste of Kent; you'll have to go there.
4 cups all-purpose flour
Half a stick of butter
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Half an ounce of fresh yeast
Half a cup of milk
Half a cup of water
Sieve flour into a bowl, rub butter into the flour. Then add
salt and sugar. Leave in a warm place for five minutes. Pour
the milk and water into a pan and heat until slightly warm.
Crumble the yeast into the liquid and stir until blended. Pour
the liquid onto the flour mixture and mix well. Knead the
mixture on a floured surface until smooth. Put in a bowl and
leave in a warm place for an hour. Divide the dough into twelve
pieces. Roll into balls and then flatten onto a greased baking
tray. Use your finger to make a hole in the middle of each cake.
Leave to rise for twenty minutes then bake in the oven Gas Mark
7/425ºF/220ºC for 20 minutes. Fill the hole with
cherries or jam and serve.
Ginger Cobnut Cake
2 cups self-raising flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 oz roasted, skinned and chopped cobnuts/hazelnuts
Sift flour and ginger into a bowl and rub in the butter. Add the
sugar and nuts then mix in the beaten egg. Turn into a greased
cake tin and bake at Gas Mark 4/350ºF/180ºC for 20
Angels on Horseback
8 rashers bacon
4 slices buttered toast
Remove oysters from shells. Wrap each oyster in a rasher of
bacon. Place on a skewer and grill until bacon is cooked. Serve
on hot buttered toast.
Kent Lenten Pie
8 oz short crust pastry
Three-quarters of an ounce of ground rice
One cup of milk
A quarter of a stick of butter
1 tablespoon sugar
Grated rind of one lemon
Half a cup of currants
Roll out pastry and line a greased 7-inch shallow pie tin. Use a
little milk with the butter to mix with the ground rice. Gently
heat the remaining milk. Add the rice, milk and butter mixture
to the hot milk. Stir until thick, then add the sugar and stir
until it dissolves. Remove mixture from heat and allow to cool
slightly before whisking in the egg. Pour the mixture into the
pastry case and scatter the currants over the top and add some
grated nutmeg. Bake in a hot oven at Gas Mark
6/400ºF/200ºC for 10 minutes, then reduce the
temperature to Gas Mark 2/300ºF/150ºC and bake for 20
minutes until the filling is set.
All these restaurants serve British food made with locally sourced produce.
- Blue Vinney Restaurant
- The Bakery, High Street, Elham, Canterbury, CT4 6TB
- 2-course set menu lunch at £13.95 a head
- Wallett's Court Restaurant
- Wallet's Court Country House Hotel, Westcliffe, Dover
- £35 for 3-course a la carte menu. This restaurant has been featured in The Good Food Guide.
- Goods Shed
- Station Road West, Canterbury, CT2 8AN, Tel: (0)1227 459153
- 71 Castle Street, Canterbury, CT1 2CQ, Tel: 01227 781000
- The average cost of a 3 course meal in both these restaurants is around £30
- BBC News Reports on Kent's status as the Garden of England
- Brogdale National Fruit Collection
- Hop Farm Country Park
- An oast house museum
- Kent Beer Festival
- Kent Food Directory
- A list of Kent food producers and shops
- Museum of Kent Life
- The National Hop Association of England
- The history of hops
- The Oasts of Kent, by Richard Crowhurst
- Shepherd Neame Brewery
- Whitstable Oyster Festival
- The Kent Oast House and Hop Garden
- The history of oast houses
- Allens Farm Kent Cobnuts
- Information and recipes for cobnuts
For more great recipes, see the rest of Dawn Copeman's Taste of Britain series.
Dawn Copeman is a freelance writer and commercial writer who has had more than 100 articles published on travel, history, cookery, health and writing. She currently lives in Lincolnshire, where she is
working on her first fiction book. She started her career as a freelance
writer in 2004 and has been a contributing editor for several publications, including TimeTravel-Britain.com and Writing-World.com .
Article © 2006 Dawn Copeman