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The best local produce from Essex for your Christmas dining

This year Forest Lodge entered the Great Taste Awards for the first time and won. Credit: Elle Wreathall
This year Forest Lodge entered the Great Taste Awards for the first time and won. Credit: Elle Wreathall

Find out about some of the tasty delicacies available from our local producers at this time of year.

Great British Life: Golden Turkeys are produced solely on selected farms and are naturally reared on a quality cereal-based diet. Credit: Elle WreathallGolden Turkeys are produced solely on selected farms and are naturally reared on a quality cereal-based diet. Credit: Elle Wreathall

Forest Lodge Turkeys 

Forest Lodge Turkeys are a family-run turkey farm whose birds roam free within the farm on the Essex countryside. They have been providing the local people, butchers and farm shops of Billericay, Brentwood, Basildon, Braintree, Chelmsford, Ingatestone, Shenfield and surrounding villages with award-winning Christmas turkeys for the past four generations. Duncan Wreathall and his brother Tom run the farm these days, with help from their parents Patrick and Jane, and their great uncle Alan. He explains, ‘All our birds are reared to full maturity and game hung prior to purchase which gives them their succulent flavour.’

This year Forest Lodge entered the Great Taste Awards for the first time and won. ‘We were delighted with the award, it’s good to see merit for what we know is a great-tasting bird.’ They have also been awarded the Golden Turkey Quality Assurance Guarantee. Golden Turkeys® are produced solely on selected farms and are naturally reared on a quality cereal-based diet.

You can order the traditional turkey online from them. However, they also offer turkey crowns, half turkeys and a boned and rolled turkey joint. All their birds are fresh and oven ready. ‘We have a drive-through service on the 23rd (8am – 4pm) and 24th December (8am-3pm). We appreciate it if people can order their turkeys before December 1st. Saying that, if I have a bird left in December, I will still sell it, but you might not be able to specify the weight and size of bird you’d like.’

When you order online you are given an order number. Take that with you when you go to collect your fresh bird from the farm gate, and they will bring it out to you. ‘All of our turkeys are boxed and ready for collection. We do advise you to take it out of the box and pop it into the fridge when you get home. However, we appreciate not everyone has room at Christmas time in their fridges. If that’s the case, leave it in its box and put it into your garage or somewhere else that’s cold and dark.’

Helpfully, each bird also comes with cooking instructions and recipe ideas for the leftovers. ‘Our recipes will also be available via our website this year leading up to Christmas.’

Great British Life: This summer, the McLaren's Christmas Pudding was awarded the Great Taste Gold Star. Credit: Uyen Yuu This summer, the McLaren's Christmas Pudding was awarded the Great Taste Gold Star. Credit: Uyen Yuu

McLaren Christmas Puddings

The Great Taste Awards, held annually, are a revered culinary competition that celebrate the finest food and drink products from around the globe. Judged blind by a panel of expert foodies and connoisseurs, the awards recognise products that stand out in terms of flavour, texture, and overall gastronomic experience. This summer, the McLaren’s Christmas Pudding was awarded the Great Taste Gold Star. Duncan McLaren who runs the business says, ‘It is a remarkable achievement, one that underscores McLaren's commitment to excellence and unwavering dedication to delivering joy to families during the holiday season.’

Mum Sandra McLaren, a brilliant confectioner and award-winning dessert designer, began the business back in 2004. Duncan continues, ‘Over the years, it has become an essential part of Christmas traditions in countless households. Each pudding is meticulously prepared, ensuring that the time-honoured flavours are preserved, and that every bite is a memorable experience.’

Their secret family recipe is a lighter version of the traditional Christmas pudding. Sandra discovered she could cut out all the stodgy suet and remove a lot of the dense flour. Instead, she added a very generous dollop of butter, some zesty oranges, lemons, prunes and flaked almonds. She drenched it all in fine French Brandy and Guinness Stout, steamed it for eight hours – then let the pudding mature to perfection for six months. Now McLaren’s Christmas puddings are sold far and wide and have won several Great Taste Awards. They are sold online and at their popular stall in Borough Market.

Each year they make more than 12 tonnes of Christmas pudding mixture. Duncan continues, ‘We use actual Courvoisier French brandy not just brandy flavouring. We finish cooking them in June so that they mature in time for Christmas. When we open the storeroom to start wrapping them the aroma is incredible. Every year I grow the business by 10%. We grow carefully and don’t supply many shops as we like being a niche product and supplying direct to our customers. Our puddings are still the traditional shape and dark colour, but they appeal to everyone including the younger generation.’

With mum Sandra they taste test the soft dried fruits and almonds each year together before buying them. ‘You have to make sure they have a proper fruity taste which bursts in your mouth.’

So far Duncan has always managed to make his individually wrapped puddings last until Christmas Eve, his last day at Borough market. They make great gifts too as they keep for up to two years from purchase.

Each McLaren’s pudding has been steamed for up to eight hours, so they heat very efficiently depending on the size – usually between eight and 25 minutes. ‘We have a very loyal customer base who come back every year. We also have plenty of celebrity customers. I know because it’s me who sends them out. Each year I have an order from our Queen Consort Camilla and I’ve also sent a pudding out to Jamie Oliver’s office too.’

To order, simply visit their website or make a day of it and go and say hello to Duncan at the popular foodie Borough Market.

Great British Life: A delicious Christmas Yule log available from Blackwells this Christmas. Credit: Blackwells Farm ShopA delicious Christmas Yule log available from Blackwells this Christmas. Credit: Blackwells Farm Shop

Blackwells Farm Shop

The Blackwell family has been farming in the Coggeshall area for four generations. The ethos of the award-winning farm shop, butchery and deli is to support local producers and farmers with over 90% of the produce being sourced from within a 30-mile radius.

The high-quality meat within their butchery counter is either sourced from its own farm or local farmers known and trusted by themselves for their good husbandry skills. The friendly, knowledgeable butchers are always on hand to help with cuts of meat and are happy to help source the more unusual meats.

Beside the butchers counter you will find the delicious deli counter, brimming with cheeses, traditional hams, cooked meats, and Dingley Dell’s Artisan selection of air-dried meats.

On the shelves, you’ll find a large supply of traditionally grown seasonal vegetables and fruits. Plus, a variety of products from local producers, such as Peter Watts Winery, Two Birds Spirits, Maldon Salt Company, Bradfields Farm Dairy, and Laura Rose Candles.

The talented in-house chefs produce a selection of seasonal pies along with soups, sausage rolls, pasties, and dishes such as beef lasagne, cottage pie, Moroccan lamb stew, and lasagne. For those with a sweet tooth, the in-house bakers create delicious cakes, pastries, and desserts.

Christmas offerings are now available on their website. All of which can be found under, ‘Christmas Shop.’

This year Blackwells are offering about a quarter of Bronze Turkeys they would normally have after the farm was hit, two years in a row, with bird flu earlier this year. Howard Blackwell explains, ‘Because of that we are keeping the birds for our farm shop customers this year and not doing any wholesale at all. However, we do also have a good selection of free-range geese and, if you’re looking for something a little smaller, you can also pick up one of our home-reared Essex chickens or Aylesbury Ducks. As a family we always tuck into one of our Bronze Turkeys as the family has grown over the years, so we need a big bird.’

The Blackwells chefs have created a variety of fantastic Christmas dishes for you to choose from, including starters, traditional trimmings, delicious desserts, and fun party foods to save you all the hassle at home. Also available is a selection of the finest roasting joints, classic hams and gammons, and must-have partridges and pheasants.

After Christmas the farm shop is closed for four days to give the staff a break and then it reopens in time for New Year’s Eve. Howard concludes, ‘We all have a short break during Christmas and New Year which is good. Then at some point in the New Year we will head off for a longer break leaving the staff to run the shop.’

Get the taste…

Forest Lodge Turkeys

Old Barns

Margaretting Tye

CM4 9JU

01277 841083

forestlodgeturkeys.com

/forestlodgeturkeys

McLaren Christmas Puddings

Little Ashtree Farm

Steeple Road

Chelmsford

CM3 6EG

07500 876528

mclarenschristmaspudding.co.uk

/xmaspudding

Blackwells Farm Produce

Herons Farm

Colne Road

Coggeshall

Colchester

CO6 ITQ

01376 561370

blackwellsfarmproduce.co.uk

/BlackwellsFarmShop



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