Christmas Dinner is a chance to showcase your creative genius in the kitchen! It’s also an amazing opportunity to let your guests enjoy some tasty, locally sourced produce, provided by nearby farms or foraged in the surrounding countryside. Even in winter, there are a large number of vegetables, nuts and fruit cultivated in the South-West. Why not put locally grown fare at the centre of your Christmas table with these notable vegetables, nuts and fruit? From samphire to salsify, Devon and the surrounding area has a wealth of intriguing options for a stunning spread.
There are two types of samphire: marsh samphire, which grows on mudflats and shorelines; and rock samphire, which, as the name suggests, grows mainly on rocky outcrops on the shore. Marsh samphire has a mild, salty flavour. It tastes sublime lightly boiled and doused in butter! Rock samphire has a far more pronounced taste, which some people may not like. It can be cooked and used in the same way as marsh samphire, but may be best used sparingly in a salad or similar if your guests are unfamiliar with the taste.
Hazelnuts or Cobnuts
Autumn walks are made for gathering hazelnuts! A straight-forward foodstuff to forage, hazelnuts aren’t just a tasty addition to the table, they’re also packed full of B and E vitamins, as well as magnesium, calcium and unsaturated fats. If you haven’t already foraged for hazelnuts, your local farmers’ market will often have some for sale close to Christmas. Delicious eaten as is as a tasty snack, hazelnuts can also be used as an ingredient for a tasty stuffing, or combined with biscuit ingredients to provide a delicious accompaniment to post-dining coffee.
Apples, loving grown on ancient trees in some of the most mature orchards you’ll find anywhere, are one of the West Country’s most famous crops! As well as being the traditional accompaniment to pork, apples also make a delicious chutney which can be a formidable companion to the cheese board. Cider can also be used as a marinade, or to flavour puddings or mincemeat. A traditional favourite, tiny pippin apples are an old Devon variety that can be enjoyed as a post-dinner snack later in the day.
An intriguing vegetable which is often overlooked, salsify is usually available throughout the winter months. The perfect companion to other root vegetables, it’s easy to cook and has a refreshing, slightly salty taste that’s very engaging. The roots are prepared by peeling, then boiling until tender and serving with melted butter, salt and a little lemon juice. Mash in combination with celeriac for an exciting alternative to mashed potato or creamed swede.
Although not a traditional West Country vegetable, squash have been widely grown in the area in the last decade or two. Their unusual appearance mean that squashes make a powerful visual statement, as well as delicious eating. Squash tastes particularly good pan-roasted: clean, cut into generous chunks, remove the pith and seeds from the centre, then season and roast in hot oil (goose fat works well) in a medium oven for around 40-50 minutes (so less than the roast potatoes, which normally require between an hour and an hour-and-a-half)
Don’t forget the potatoes!
An absolute stalwart of the traditional roast, potatoes were brought to Devon way back in the 1580s by colonists sent across to America by Sir Walter Raleigh. For something a little different, try serving some small boiled potatoes with a mixture of red, white and blue skins. Alternatively, a local variety, freshly picked and carefully prepared is almost guaranteed to create the perfect roastie!
A joint of Devon meat or a vegetarian alternative, served with fresh produce from local providers will give a Christmas Dinner that stands out for all the right reasons!