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Kent farmers' markets news and tips from former MasterChef winner Julie Friend

Our desire for fresh, local fare has grown in the last year and Kent's farmers' markets have thrived.

Here, Kent-based former MasterChef winner, chef and food writer Julie Friend gives the latest market news and tips.

Julie Friend, former Masterchef winner, in her garden in Kent Picture: Vicki Couchman
Julie Friend, former Masterchef winner, in her garden in Kent Picture: Vicki Couchman

While many retail outlets have had a tough few months because of Covid-19, the majority of the outdoor Kent Farmers' Markets have been able to trade, albeit with restrictions in place.

For some, such as Penshurst, attendance numbers have been breaking records as people realise that shopping in fresh air in the idyllic grounds of Penshurst Place, is probably safer than in a crowded supermarket.

Others like Shipbourne, have had to adapt as they used to operate within the village church but very quickly, they implemented the swishest drive-through ever, with online ordering and volunteers waiting to put boxes of produce directly into the customers car.

Some, understandably, were concerned it would be too hard to control visitor numbers so simply had to take a few months off.

Now thankfully, more than 90% are back up and running, and May could not be a better month to visit your local market.

Shipbourne drive thru farmers' market
Shipbourne drive thru farmers' market

The first weeks of the year are often referred to as the ‘hunger gap’ with homegrown fresh fruit and vegetables being very limited, but May brings with it real change and some long-awaited colour.

The green shoots of asparagus are always one of the most welcome sights. This vibrant, spear shaped vegetable really is the archetypal taste of Britain and is only here for a short window of time, but luckily Kent has some prolific growers who will ensure the stalls are abundant, that is, of course if our weather plays ball.

Served simply steamed with some local butter - this is the chef’s dream.

Asparagus is coming in to season Picture: Sean Aidan
Asparagus is coming in to season Picture: Sean Aidan

Young new potatoes will be making an appearance along with early summer leaves such as spinach, watercress and soft lettuces. Rhubarb changes from the vibrant forced pink to the more familiar greenish red variety, which is so good in crumbles and pies especially when that evening air chills down somewhat.

At the end of the month gooseberries may appear – perfectly timed to be cooked alongside some elderflower which you will find in all the hedgerows. Pop a few flower heads into the pan whilst simmering and remove before eating for an added fragrance.

Penshurst market has a picturesque backdrop
Penshurst market has a picturesque backdrop

Lemon sole, cod and halibut are all excellent at this time of the year and seafood fans will be happy to see both razor clams and cockles.

Spring lamb will be appearing now and as the grazing turns to a lusher green, locally reared beef will be at its most succulent.

Why not get that barbecue going and throw on a few steaks?

For details of all markets and any special events visit kfma.org.uk

For more food and drink news click here

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