This month our guest food blogger Mary Gwynn avoids the supermarket scrum and heads to the farmer’s market to discover the best local produce to enjoy over the festive season. Check out Mary’s recipe below for Christmas Spiced Red Cabbage… a quick and easy way to add colour, flavour and interest to your festive menu.
There is nothing quite like a visit to your local farmers’ market to get into the true spirit of Christmas. The sights, scents and sounds of the season are all present as you mingle with other food enthusiasts, intent on selecting the best produce to enjoy at this special time of year, or simply to soak up the festive atmosphere. Whether it’s shopping for tried and trusted favourites, getting advice on the best way to cook your carefully selected produce from those most qualified to offer it, or perhaps trying something new for the first time – it’s all a world away from pushing a frenzied trolley round the supermarket!
To make sure you get the best from your visit and spend your budget wisely, be sure to plan ahead and do a bit of research. Sit down a few days ahead and make lists of what you want from your trip to the market. Check online at the Kent Farmers Market Association website for advice on individual markets, which suppliers you will find there and what to buy in season. Then look at your favourite suppliers’ own websites to see if you can order ahead and collect from the market.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the traditional roast turkey, you could consider a succulent goose or magnificent roast of rare breed beef or pork. Or if you’re catering for smaller numbers, a pheasant or wild duck would be a good choice. Alternatively, a wonderful sea-fresh turbot or halibut are both very special for all kinds of celebrations. Whichever you choose, buying locally makes sense on every level. Smaller producers can select the best breeds for flavour and respond to local conditions to ensure the very finest results, while you’ll be supporting local businesses and have the satisfaction of caring for the environment too.
Once you’ve made your list of what to buy at the market (and don’t forget those special foodie gifts too!) it’s a good idea to make a few simple preparations. Make a trip to the cash machine ahead of your visit as some smaller producers often don’t have card facilities. Be sure to bring plenty of bags to carry away your goodies, and a freezer bag is also a good idea if you want to leave perishable goods in the car. Before you leave home it’s a good idea to check that you have enough fridge and freezer space for all your purchases as storing them properly is vital for maintaining flavour and quality.
Keep an eye out for speciality foods which will help save time and feed the crowds over the holiday. A gammon or ham, pates and terrines, soups and curries are all worth finding a space for in the fridge or freezer, to bring out for unexpected guests or when you just can’t face preparing yet another meal.
Don’t forget to stock up on delicious chutneys, preserves and relishes to go with your cold cuts. In fact why not go the whole way and serve a special local market spread on Boxing Day or for a party? Platters of local meats, cheeses, with a couple of salads and the trimmings are excellent grazing food. And a couple of extra loaves of good bread tucked in the freezer for turkey sandwiches or to go with a bowl of soup will always be useful.
DECEMBER RECIPE: Christmas Spiced Red Cabbage
This old favourite fits perfectly into my “Christmas cook’s really useful” list. It can be served hot or cold, gets better when left to mature for a day or two, goes with all kinds of dishes, and everyone loves it! Serve with the main event on Christmas Day but make enough for leftovers to go with the cold meat on Boxing Day.
Preparation: 15 mins
Cooking time: 1 1/2 – 2 hours
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
750g red cabbage, finely shredded
1 large eating apple, cored and chopped
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
5 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp cranberry or redcurrant jelly
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oil in a large heavy pan, add the onion and cook for 3 minutes until softened. Stir in the spices and cook for another minute. Add the shredded and cabbage and stir to coat in the spices then stir in the apple, sugar, vinegar and 4 tbsp cold water.
2. Season and bring to the boil, then cover and simmer very gently for 11/2 -2 hours, stirring occasionally, until really tender and the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the jelly and serve hot or cold.
Cook’s tip: The classic sweet and sour flavours go wonderfully with all rich meats so serve with sausages and roast pork, creamy potato dishes, and cold with pates and sliced hams.
Aga cooking: Cook step one on the boiling plate then bring to the boil, cover and place on the floor at the back of the simmering oven for 11/2 – 2 hours.
Mary was the founding editor of BBC Vegetarian Good Food and subsequently editor of M&S Magazine. She has worked as a consultant editor for Waitrose and has written three cook books, including The Busy Mum’s Cookbook. Her latest book The Busy Mum’s Vegetarian Cookbook will be released in January.
Photography: Ell Brown, Fabcom, Katybird, Failing Angel, Kirk Siang, Antiapathy, Vic15, Crystalluxmore, A Culinary Photo Journal, Main Street Preacher, Shelley and Dave, Stijn.