A Local Christmas Dinner
We’ve got a lot to thank the Victorians for. Apart from changing the face of industry as we know it, inventing the steam train, postage stamps, rubber tyres, concrete, flushing toilets, and the London Underground (to mention only a few of the ideas we still use), it was the Victorians who really created Christmas; or at least the Christmas we know and love today.
As for Christmas dinner, is there any other time of the year when family and friends are so happy to gather together and enjoy good food, good drink, and good company? This is the meal of meals, the one that needs to beat all others in terms of size and splendour, and everyone knows what it includes – there has to be turkey, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, gravy, cranberry sauce, parsnips, roast potatoes, carrots… and to finish there must be mince pies, or a Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.
But it wasn’t always this way. The ‘traditional’ Christmas dinner has evolved greatly over the last hundred years or so. Turkey only became the favourite meat after Queen Victoria was said to have chosen it for her Christmas fare; before that it had been goose, or perhaps rabbit. The middle classes wanted to follow the queen’s trend, so they began using turkey as their centrepiece instead. And of course, as more people bought it, turkey became cheaper, so the poorer classes could get in on the act too. Today, around 90% of Christmas dinners include turkey, making it by far the most popular meat to eat on 25th December.
Potatoes are yet another addition to the menu by Queen Victoria (although she ate them mashed rather than roasted; the poorer classes couldn’t afford to ‘waste’ the butter and milk required make a good, creamy mash, so they were the ones who began roasting the spuds instead since goose fat was plentiful). The idea caught on, and potatoes, which had been used to bulk out stews and soups and were really only eaten by the lower classes, were soon embraced by everyone when it came to Christmas lunch.
The classic Christmas veggie has to be Brussels sprouts. Love ’em or hate ’em, Christmas isn’t Christmas without ’em… They can be pretty controversial, but try to serve lunch on 25th December without them and you could be looking at mutiny! Over 750 million of the little green sprouts are eaten at Christmas, and they date back far further than turkey or potatoes; they’ve been around for 400 years (coming, as the name suggests, from Belgium). They were initially used at Christmas because of their hardy nature, meaning they were easy to grow in the winter months.
Mince pies are wonderful things. Crumbly, fruity, sweet, and filled with spices, this is the ultimate Christmas treat. The name is confusing though, or at least it is today, conjuring up images of savoury minced meat mixed with sweet pastry for the uninitiated. However, that is exactly what they once were! The recipe was brought back from the Middle East by the Crusaders, and it was ideal for those who couldn’t afford to stop work during the festivities, as it was an all in one meal on the go. Olive Cromwell despised the little pies, saying they were too decadent for his Puritans, so he banned them, making it illegal to eat them on Christmas Day. Amusingly, this law has never actually been abolished!
As for our own Christmas dinners, we all have our special family traditions and our own ways of doing things that are passed down from generation to generation. Everyone thinks their roasties are the best, their way of serving the turkey is the only way, and their little quirks when it comes to pudding is the ultimate in Christmas cuisine. That’s what makes Christmas. But one tradition that we should all get behind is shopping locally for our Christmas produce. After all, this is the most important meal of the year, so you want to ensure it is absolutely perfect.
The supermarket is not the only place you can go to find your turkey and all the trimmings. In fact, we suggest shopping around and looking at your local butcher, baker, grocer, and farm shop – you can often order in advance and pick everything up just before the big day, saving you time queuing in a supermarket, and giving you the freshest food possible. You won’t find yourself running out of time and fighting over the last bag of sprouts if you do it this way.
Not only that, but if you can’t make it to the shop, local shops are often able to bring your shopping direct to you (although do make sure this service is available first). Ask and see what they say; you might find that you can have your entire Christmas dinner delivered this way, which means all you have to do is cook it!
Another bonus of using locally produced food and drink is that you can talk to the farmers and producers and find out exactly how the food is grown, how the meat is reared, and the processes used to make the lovely bottle of sparkling English wine. Find out the story behind your Christmas food, and you can pass that information on to your guests.
We all know that Christmas can be expensive, and the general consensus seems to be that buying locally only adds to that cost, but that’s not necessarily the case. Since local butchers and grocers deal directly with the farmers, the prices can actually be much lower, and you get more for your cash.
Where To Buy
In Kent we are lucky to have a plethora of farm shops, butchers, and producers all across the county where you can purchase your Christmas goodies locally. Here are a few examples, but there are plenty more out there!
Broadditch Farm Shop, Southfleet // www.broadditch.co.uk
There is so much produce in Broadditch Farm Shop, and it comes from the local area (including Glover’s Farm, Harvel Farm, Southfleet Honey, and The Granary). You could buy your entire Christmas dinner here, and since the shop is located right on the farm itself, you know the vegetables are as local, and seasonal, as it gets.
Holwood Farm, Orpington // www.holwoodfarm.co.uk
Specialising in gluten free foods, and stocking over 20 local cheeses, Holwood Farm near Downe is a true foodie’s delight. There are treats galore here, as well as the traditional fruit and veg (and cakes, and birds, and stuffing, and much more).
Pluckley Farm Shop, Pluckley // www.pluckleyfarmshop.co.uk
If you want something really special, try Pluckley. Here you can buy gorgeous gift hampers filled with sumptuous local produce (such as farmhouse fruitcake, Pluckley tea bags, and homemade whiskey marmalade), as well as your entire Christmas meal so you could get all your Christmas shopping done in one go here.
Silcocks Farm Shop, Tenterden // www.silcocksfarm-organics.co.uk
Here we have organic meat and dairy produce sourced from land that has been owned by the same family for over 25 years. Meat includes lamb and hogget from Kent’s own Romney breed, as well as pork from rare breed Gloucester Old Spot pigs (so if you wanted to try something other than turkey for Christmas, this is a good place to start). There is a dairy on site too, offering organic cheese, cream, and ice cream.
The Butcher of Brogdale, Whitstable, Broadstairs, Gillingham, and Ashford // www.thebutcherofbrogdale.co.uk
This award winning butcher only supplies meat whose provenance can be traced back to local, reputable farms that pride themselves on the ethical rearing of their animals and birds. This is, say the owners, what gives their meat such a flavoursome, succulent taste. The butchers here work traditionally, and are happy to answer any questions about any aspect of the meat or butchering.
W. Doughty, Doddington // www.swdoughty.co.uk
A family run butchers with its own abattoir and attached farm shop, S. W. Doughty provides superb food and drink. There is a bespoke butchery, locally sourced meat, award winning sausages, game, local honey, strawberries, cherries, homemade jams and preserves, and local free range eggs as well.
Chapel Down, Small Hythe // www.chapeldown.com
To really round off a good Christmas meal, you’ll probably be wanting some locally produced drinks (alcoholic and soft) to go with it. At Chapel Down you can find sparkling and still wine, beer and cider, and juices all made from locally produced Kentish fruit and hops.
Biddenden Vineyards, Biddenden // www.biddendenvineyards.com
Biddenden is Kent’s oldest commercial vineyard, having started back in 1969. Eleven different varieties of grapes are grown here, which is how the excellent red, white, rose, and sparkling wines are created. You can also find Kentish cider, and fresh farm pressed apple and pear juice here.