The Darling Buds of New Year’s Eve
(This post contains some affilate links, not all of them though, some times I just link to places and things that I like so that you can enjoy them too.)
Every year, for New Year, I go away with a large group of friends, to a big country house somewhere, to spend the week walking, feasting, drinking, laughing, watching movies, and seeing in the new year together. We’ve been doing this for a least 10 years and we’ve even done it in France – a total hoot! In the last couple of years, we’ve had new people (big and small) join our ever growing ‘urban family’ as our dear friends have had children, and new relationships have flourished. It seemed fitting then that we would spend our short break this year at Darling Buds Farm in Bethersden, Kent, the set of the hit TV show, The Darling Buds of May. I’d been a fan of the show since it first aired in the 80’s. Back then I wanted to be Mariette, she had a horse. I wanted parents like Ma and Pop – in fact, I do have parents like Ma and Pop, but mine are much more law abiding and pay their taxes! Watching the show now, I see the looseness of the morality but the power in the generosity, humour and humanity of the Larkin family, and I think that’s what resonates with everyone who enjoys the show (yes, I still have the DVD box set!). I have had a desire to live in Kent since I started watching the show, and I still do. Kent has beautiful scenery, lovely beaches, and it’s easy to hop over to France to get your wine (well, for now anyway…), so what more could you want? Oh, and I booked the house through a link to cottages.com on Top Cashback so I got £131.61 cash back too (seriously, if you’ve not used Top Cashback, use this link to sign up, it’s a game changer). Perfick.
The farm itself fell into a state of disrepair after the show finished and was lovingly restored by a man called Simon, who was also a fan of the show and decided to buy it. He’s done a lovely job with the restoration, the house is warm and cozy, but still really spacious with modern comforts, but also period features dotted about, as well as a whole cabinet of Darling Buds ‘merch’ to remind you where you are. We had no problem getting 11 adults round the table for our New Year’s Day roast, and the kitchen was just about able to cope with the sheer ridiculous amounts of food that were coming out of it to feed everyone. The garden I can imagine, is simply glorious in the summer, and it was even nice in the winter (except when I slipped on duck poo, not a great moment, but hilarious all the same!). And then there were the animals, such sweet animals. All incredibly friendly from being spoilt by visitors and fed constantly! The ducks wanted constant attention (read: feeding) and could sense a movement from anywhere in the house first thing in the morning – and then the quacking started, and continued, aaaaaall day long. You can’t begrudge a duck a good quack though can you? The pigs would come rambling over to the fence when you passed by, looking for a little scratch, and there was a sheep who just wanted to hang out with everyone. By the time you’d done a loop of the farm perimeter you felt like Noah!
The most important thing was to spend time with each other, and second to endless games of Fibbage and Cards Against Humaity the most important thing was to be fed. And that, of course, was my job. Google forms had been circulated months before, a menu had been written, and the fridge was about to be filled with a huge grocery delivery…
Day 1: A visit from our favourite triplets and ‘Italian Night’
Having failed spectacularly to actually get the grocery delivery to us the previous evening when we arrived, due to putting me the entirely wrong address into the website, dinner ended up as a quick dash to the local supermarket for roast potatoes and some sliced turkey (to accompany the Christmas ham and French onion tart that I’d brought with me), followed by getting stuck into a couple of bottles of prosecco, which meant I forgot entirely about the HUGE chicken biryani I’d made at home the day before, thanks to some spices gifted to me by my Mother in Law at Christmas. Our friends were coming down from London for a little day visit with their 3-year-old triplet daughters, who are brilliant, and who love to eat! They brought their own ham sandwiches, but they still tucked into some biryani, some lovely pear cake that was made for us by the owners of the farm, and pretty much anything else that we offered to them. Luckily, there was definitely enough food for 8 adults and three hungry little ones! I’d love to tell you the spice mix that went into it, but it was pre-mixed in a box already and I can’t remember. If I come across it in Tooting (bound to happen), I’ll update this post and let you know. It’s probably worth me tracking it down as it was really delicious.
After a walk with ALL of the animals, it was time to say our goodbyes and get dinner on, I always love a theme, and after another Challenge Anneka style dash around a local supermarket, I was back in the lovely farmhouse kitchen preparing a tear and share garlic cheese bread that looked like it was born on Pinterest, a chorizo gnocchi bake and roasting a ton of Mediterranean vegetables and grilled marinated lamb chops, all to be topped off with some incredible Italian parmesan that a friend had brought with him. Oh, and copious amounts of red wine.
Dessert would have been a great idea, but dessert wine was a better one! I’d had the good fortune to meet with Shawbury Wines at the Eat and Drink Festival this year, ‘my new wine guy’ set us up with some absolute corkers for this trip (all puns intended).
Day 2: New Year’s Eve – pork, pork and more pork
New Year’s eve was the first day when the house was about to fill up, all five bedrooms, plus the annex were occupied. 11 adults and a baby. Enough alcohol to sink a galleon. And, you’d think, enough pork for there to be leftovers…but no, there are never pork leftovers:
50 sausage rolls. Gone.
2.5kg pulled pork. Gone.
2kg ham. Gone.
And then there were the quiches, the bean tacos, the crisps, the rolls, the biscuits. Yep, we caned though it all. And what a jolly time we had! Followed by another late night game of Fibbage… before we all had to lay down before we fell down.
Day 3: The ‘Beef Baby’
On New Year’s Day, our tradition is to have roast beef. This year’s roast beef was special because last year we didn’t do it. We didn’t do it because we weren’t together as a group. We weren’t together as a group of friends because things were so weird. In October our friend Gayner had died very suddenly and unexpectedly. We were grieving, we were all over the place and weren’t sure which way was up, so organising a group trip away just wasn’t going to happen. We did have a gathering of sorts on New Year’s Eve, but it was chaotic, and one of us was missing. Nothing was right. We needed time to heal before we came together again and it has taken a year but we’re back on track now and we are making efforts to see each other much more. We are better.
So why do we call it a beef baby?
A few years ago we drove to the butchers to collect our pre-ordered beef fillet, and Gayner cuddled it all the way home as if it were a new-born – much to our hilarity – but it was justified, because it was incredible! This year’s beef baby was cooked, with love, as a tribute to our wonderful friend.
I was missing a huge part of my essential kitchen crew, but other people pitched in and made it happen. Historically, I have just been in charge of the canapes and the green veg but, this year I was head of everything! On the one hand I was totally cool with it, it’s my job after all, it shouldn’t faze me…but Holy Moley, it is way easier to cook for strangers than for your nearest and dearest with expectations based on previous experience!
So canapes are absolutely a given, and as per my current love of ‘grazing tables’ and ‘grazing boards‘. (soooo much less washing up!), the following canapes just kinda… happened!
Mushroom vol-au-vents (a stone cold classic!) R
Asparagus wrapped in Parma ham (my all time fave)
Mackerel pate (people love it, I thinks it’s a bit fishy, but it’s not about me) R
Fish finger bruschetta with pea puree and tartare sauce. R
Potato rosti sticks with bacon, port & cranberry dip
Ginger baked ham
One giant yorkshire ‘padding’ (if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll get that joke, to everyone else then, just yorkshire pudding)
If you need these in your life you can find the recipes here in #WhatSarahCooks
Then it was on to the main event, and I’m pleased to say that the ‘Beef Baby’ received a round of applause upon being presented at the table. Quite right too – just look at it!
Our main: roast fillet of beef, roast potatoes, buttered & peppered spring greens, whole glazed carrots with thyme and cauliflower cheese served with gravy, mustard and horse radish.
Let me tell you about the butcher…
I’d emailed the owners of the house ahead of time to get a recommendation for a local butcher. I was pointed towards Marchants in Bethersden. It’s a lovely local butcher shop. One of those high-end butchers where you should leave your credit card at home – well I should, because I could blow HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS of pounds there! The fresh counter, though sparce (because it was the morning of New Year’s Eve, and they closed at lunchtime) was just all of the fresh cuts that I wanted to buy and cook. The wine and beer section was jam packed with local brews and bottles I could happily devour every day of the week. There is a whole wall of pick ‘n’ mix flavoured oils.
It was agood job that I was just popping in for a pre-paid pick-up (10% off of an online order – bonus!). The butcher kindly showed us our whole fillet and…..
We decided we should probably buy half as much again – just in case! And I’m glad we did, because there was only one slice left – and it did get eaten. Of course it did. There wasn’t a scrap left. Nor was a there a scrap of space inside any of us for a dessert. We had port instead, which is pretty standard behaviour as far as we’re concerned 😊