Tastes of the county

The Taste of Essex

The Taste of Essex - Credit: Archant

Ron Mullenger, author of the recent publication, The Taste of Essex, takes us on a tasting tour of the county in search of some seasonal produce special to Essex

Christmas is a very busy time for people in Essex, as the vast majority of us make preparations for a festive feast. From Southend on Sea to Saffron Walden, there are delicious treats to discover and numerous farmers’ markets and Christmas fairs from which to purchase a unique flavour from your favourite county.

Southend on Sea is going the whole hog, from a grand Christmas parade in the High Street to a ‘meet Santa on the Pier’ every weekend in December. And talking of hogs, if you want to have a grand party for Christmas, Essex Hog Roasts will cater for it.

You cannot wander far in Essex without stumbling into a farm shop. From the large, like Brentwood’s Calcott Hall where you will find a veritable Aladdin’s cave of handmade Christmas decorations and gifts as well as their usual merchandise, to the smaller, specialist outlets, which make every effort to serve up an enjoyable Christmas.

Ashlyns farm shop in North Weald offers Christmas lunch in the restaurant as well as a Santa’s grotto which includes a tractor ride from the shop to the grotto where the kids will be given a present. It costs each child £10, but mum and dad go free and they can enjoy a glass of mulled wine while the children enjoy themselves. Look out for free tastings of local produce at many of our farm shops, and if you are looking for a local Christmas pudding, many of these stores will be stocking Christmas puddings from Coles, our famous Great Chesterford- based pudding maker.

For your turkey it’s hard to do better than go to Kelly’s of Danbury. This year Kelly’s are doing something a little different by offering a turkey drive-thru. This means you can order your bird on the telephone or online and drive through the farm and pick it up from 6pm on the 23rd to 7am on Christmas Eve.

On the other hand, if it is a goose you prefer, then Blackwells Farm Shop at Coggleshall is where to go. Here you will find exactly what you need, from an economic 4lb bird to a gigantic 14lb bird. The farm shop also stocks a fabulous selection of other local produce to accompany your Christmas centrepiece.

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If you happen to live in the Colchester area, go to Great Bentley where you will find Carpenters Farm Shop, a small family-run concern so typical of our county. On Sunday, December 7, the shop will be hosting a tasting day, where you can try out Christmas fayre, including what the team call ‘the frilly bits’. No, I wasn’t sure what they were either, but it would be interesting to find out. You’ll also find toffee vodka in the store, which sounds rather intriguing.

When the Romans came to Britain, they wisely settled in Essex, making Colchester their capital. At that time we Brits only drank beer or mead, but the Romans drank wine. We didn’t have any here and to bring it all the way from Rome took far too long, so they set about growing vines and producing it themselves. To this very day we still have several vineyards in Essex and many of them are celebrating the festive season. Carters Vineyards is hosting what it calls Winter in the Vines with wine tasting, mince pies, roasted chestnuts and much more. There will be special deals available on their wide selection of wines too. On December 6 and 7, New Hall Vineyard is having a Christmas festival with Santa’s grotto, a model village and railway, a maze and a bouncy castle. There is also a craft stall and wine tasting.

Not to be outdone, our breweries will be offering the chance for a little Christmas tipple too. Crouch Vale Brewery has produced an ale called Santa’s Revenge for the Christmas market — I thought Santa was a kindly old man, so I hope his beer is not too vengeful. Meanwhile, Mersea Island Brewery is offering something a little different too. The island is known for its oysters, so the brewery has included some in one of its beers, called Island Oyster Stout. Oysters often go with Champagne, but why not some in your beer? Sounds interesting.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a nativity, but you may not expect to find one in one of the county’s other successful farm shops. Visit Lathcoats Farm Shop in Galleywood and apart from all the home-grown fruit, vegetables and plants on offer, there will be an extra special Christmas experience with some of the local livestock involved.

The Food Company in Marks Tey will be having a Christmas event with tastings, choirs, carol singing and Christmas music. And if Mother Nature doesn’t oblige, a snow machine at the front door will be on hand to create the right atmosphere.

Some of our parks and gardens will also be sharing in the Christmas spirit and selling local produce. The RHS Hyde Hall is having a Children’s Magic of Christmas Day on December 6, with a workshop teaching children how to make decorations. Belhus Woods Country Park in Thurrock is having a Christmas Fair and Market on December 14 and Marsh Farm Country Park will see not only Father Christmas but also a visit from Mother Christmas in her kitchen.

So there is no excuse not to buy Essex this Christmas — and the good news is, if you buy Essex, you also buy the best.

Get the book

The Taste of Essex by Ron Mullenger is priced £6.99. ISBN: 9781849632973

Follow Ron Mullenger as he gives you a guided tour around the beautiful countryside of Essex! Let him take you around the various farm shops, wholesalers, jam makers, crisp makers, wine makers and many more — the list is endless! With his own recipes, and others from the places he visits, The Taste of Essex provides an insight into the county’s more secretive areas.