Why ‘A Kentish Kitchen’?
For starters, I was born here, to parents who themselves had spent most of their lives in the county, as had their own parents. My childhood was punctuated with long walks in the leafy havens of the North Downs and the Weald, springtime meanders through shimmering bluebell woods, and summertime outings to the bracing beaches of north Kent – and, of course, by food.
In days long before our current obsession with provenance, much of our sustenance came from the garden or the local market. And when the season allowed, our kitchen table bore the fruits – often quite literally – of enthusiastic foraging and pick-your-own missions. What we couldn’t grow or buy, we often harvested from my grandparents’ garden.
My grandparents, having lived through two World Wars, were prolific and skilful gardeners, and I now look back in wonderment at the huge range of vegetables, salad stuffs, and fruits that they grew. I spent many a happy hour wandering in and out of rows of thriving foliage, inhaling the fantastic scents, and plucking off more than the occasional plump fruit along the way.
Mealtimes were simple but fulsome, and embraced the seasons. Rich stews, roasts, and hefty puddings saw us through the winters, while the long summers were all about picnics of cold cuts, 70s’ salads, cheery trifles and cheek-sucking homemade lemonade. Treats, back then, came in the form of Penguin and Club biscuits, 99 ice creams, Golden Wonder crisps, Nesquik, and Nan’s cakes. And I’ll never forget, either, the all-too-rare trips to a brash newcomer in town, Wimpy, at which I’d hoover up egg, chips, and liquid nectar – a glass of Coca-Cola. Heady days.
As my childhood gave way to early adulthood, university and then my chosen career path took me far away from Kent. During those years, the Garden of England lost vast swathes of its green acres, as the irresistible onslaught of progress cut concrete motorways and yet more rail lines across its centre. Centuries-old villages, like those in which my father spent his boyhood, all but disappeared in the face of burgeoning housing developments and retail parks.
Thankfully, however, much of Kent remains untouched. I know, because I’m finally back here again, and living in one of those ancient villages myself. Better still, I’m thrilled to see around me a real pride in local produce and a thriving food ‘scene’. Most of the meat, vegetables, and fruit I buy comes from the fields and orchards within a five-mile radius of my front door. Farm shops and real farmers’ markets proliferate, and neighbourly swaps of homegrown foodstuffs are commonplace. We also benefit from locally-shot game, while verdant hedgerows supplement the wild food larder.
This, then, is my Kentish Kitchen – a kitchen rooted firmly in its surroundings, my own heritage, the odd nod to nostalgia, and my ongoing fascination with the quirky and novel. You’ll find here not only the foods for which Kent is best known, but also some long-forgotten goodies and intriguing newcomers – from Garden through Kentish Kitchen to table. Welcome, and dig in!