If you look at a map for Great Britain, you will notice that Kent county lies at the most southern and eastward part of the isle. Surrounded by seas on three sides, the county faces the English Channel (and France) to the south and the Northern Sea to the north. To reach Kent, you can fly by plane, take a bus, ride a train, or drive a car. From London, it is less than 1.5 hours by car to the county line, another 40 minutes or so to the city of Margate on the northern coast. Travelers enjoy visiting the local attractions including the famous Canterbury Cathedral, Leeds Castle, and the White Cliffs of Dover. Other visitors simply come for a holiday at one of our lovely beach towns.
The fishing town of Whitstable, situated on the northern coast, is renowned for its oysters. Talk about traditions; harvesting fresh oysters here dates back to at least the 15th century! Years ago the beds were a source of cheap and plentiful food. These days oysters are more of a delicacy, but you can still enjoy a great sampling if you schedule your trip to coincide with the town’s mid-summer Oyster Festival. For a hearty meal, try the Whitstable Dredgerman’s Breakfast. You will be served a plate of thick hand sliced toasted bread topped with oysters and thick slices of grilled bacon.
The stretch of the English Channel that lies between Kent and France has long been a fertile fishing ground. Dover sole is a flat fish species that is plentiful in this area, and therefore it is a popular choice for lunch or dinner. The sole is fileted and prepared either grilled or fried and usually served with a lemon wedge, an herb garnish, and a side of potatoes.
It is not unusual to find traditional recipes from Kent calling for cobnuts. A cobnut is the regional variety of the hazelnut. Thought not commonly produced as much as it was a century ago, the cobnut is experiencing somewhat of a comeback today. These nuts can be roasted and eaten plain or broken into pieces and mixed in a cake batter along with other popular ingredients such as ginger and chopped apples.
The Romney Marsh section of South Kent is known for its sheep; they are bred to endure the winds and rain that can sweep across the open fields. Their meat is highly prized for its tenderness and flavor. Years ago the lamb meat was sent away to market for sale to wealthy patrons; only the tail was left to the farmers and their families for use in stews and in meat pies. These days lamb roasts or lamb chops are preferred and will often be served as the main course for holiday dinners and other special occasions.
Locals have grown hops since the 16th century when these were first introduced from western Europe. Hops are the pinecone shaped flowers of a certain trailing vine plant. Starting in the late 1800s and into the first half of the 20th century, poor families from London’s East End would flock to Kent for a working holiday. They came to pick hops for wages and to escape the heavy London smog of that era. Today hop-picking is machine automated, but you can still see many oast houses dotting the landscape. Oast houses are used to dry the hops. You should sample the craft beers turned out by our local small breweries.
Every region in the United Kingdom has its own variation on the bread roll. In Kent it is the huffkin. You will notice there is a small indentation in the middle. Legend says that a baker’s wife was furious with her husband one day, and she stuck her thumb in every one of his bread rolls before baking. She then challenged him to sell the spoiled goods. He did and people wanted more. The huffkin can be eaten plain, or you can fill the indentation with a fresh local cherry, a spoonful of jam, or perhaps a dollop of freshly whipped cream. You may also find them filled with bacon as a lunchtime snack.
This dessert originated in East Kent and simply consists of evaporated milk (or condensed milk) mixed with brown sugar and baked in a pastry shell. Folklore claims this dessert originated when an elderly woman noticed some gypsy children playing outside her home, and they went to her and complained of hunger. She grabbed all that she could find in her pantry, and thus the gypsy tart was born! A personal childhood favorite of mine, you will find it sold in bakeries throughout Kent and also posted on some restaurant dessert menus. Just a warning, each bite will be very sweet!
Canterbury Apple Pie
In Chaucer’s time, Canterbury was a popular destination for religious pilgrims, and some of the earliest known recipes for apple pie date back to then. The modern Canterbury apple pie is most likely an adaptation of these earlier recipes. It is an open-face tart and includes various types of dessert and cooking apples which you will find growing among the many orchards here. If you want to follow the medieval versions, add a pinch of saffron for a rich golden color!
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