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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 as hops.

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 found here.

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 Kent.

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.

Recipes

Huffkins

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
1 egg

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 minutes.

Angels on Horseback

8 oysters
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
1 egg
Grated rind of one lemon
Half a cup of currants
Grated nutmeg

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.

Restaurants

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
http://www.bluevinnyrestaurant.co.uk/index.php?source=google&kwd=bluevinny

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.
http://www.wallettscourt.com/

Goods Shed
Station Road West, Canterbury, CT2 8AN, Tel: (0)1227 459153

Jacques
71 Castle Street, Canterbury, CT1 2CQ, Tel: 01227 781000
The average cost of a 3 course meal in both these restaurants is around 30

More Information:

BBC News Reports on Kent's status as the Garden of England
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/5033508.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/5037566.stm

Brogdale National Fruit Collection
http://www.brogdale.org

Hop Farm Country Park
An oast house museum
http://www.thehopfarm.co.uk

Kent Beer Festival
http://www.kentbeerfestival.co.uk

Kent Food Directory
A list of Kent food producers and shops
http://www.yourcounty.co.uk/you/kentfooddirectory.html

Museum of Kent Life
http://www.hoppingdowninkent.org.uk

The National Hop Association of England
The history of hops
http://www.hops.co.uk/sectionone/KentHistory.htm

The Oasts of Kent, by Richard Crowhurst
http://www.timetravel-britain.com/06/July/oasts.shtml

Shepherd Neame Brewery
http://www.shepherd-neame.co.uk/index.html

Whitstable Oyster Festival
http://www.whitstableoysterfestival.co.uk

The Kent Oast House and Hop Garden
The history of oast houses
http://www.digiserve.com/peter/oast.htm

Allens Farm Kent Cobnuts
Information and recipes for cobnuts
http://www.cobnuts.co.uk

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

 

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