My life last week was blighted by two words, "Operation" and "Stack". Striking French port workers had the knock on effect of making my journey two and from Rye on the south coast absolutely impossible. A real can't go round it, can't go over it, must go through it, type of traffic situation. Add to that "the hottest July day since records began" and you have a recipe for road rage.
The closure of the M20 and the backroad, ultimate navigation challenge this then necessitated all meant that I was driving across pretty much the length of the "Garden of England", Kent - and also through swathes of East Sussex - in the height of summer. There was roadside produce aplenty. Cherries by the barrel-full, gooseberries, fresh eggs, even a display of hostas and oven-ready pheasants. Pretty impressive when roadside foodstuffs tend to be limited to roadkill and burger vans.
I thought I would do a little photo montage of my "Kentish haul", a la the tribes of vloggers who video and post the contents of their latest shopping trips (not judging, I do have a soft spot for videos of this nature). I picked up some good stuff and, would have had snagged more if I'd managed to screech to a halt in time and if my country road driving skills were a little more advanced. I think in this situation you need a driver and a navigator-cum-spotter with recipe book also in hand. Anyway, here goes.
First up, fresh seafood from Rye itself and Rye Bay Seafood (I realise Rye is actually in East Sussex but it's practically Kent). Spankingly fresh as the boats literally pull up out the back of the shop to unload their catch. This was then turned into more of the shime saba Japanese mackerel recipe that we experimented with earlier in the year. I also threw in a dressed crab that was eaten with toast that evening (even I am not savage enough to eat crab in the cab of a stuffy van on a hot day).
Next stop on the Kentish odessey was the village of Sandhurst to stop for cherries. The whole county of Kent seems to be peppered with stalls to buy cherries from at this time of year; however, I had been given the nod that this place was a cherry orchard and they could wholesale cherries by the tray rather than the punnet. I wasn't disappointed. 6kg of the beauties to be made into sour cherry lambic beer - and possibly some bonus kombucha - by my buddies at Leytonstone Brewhouse. I have to confess here that substantially less than 6kg made it to Leytonstone and the steering wheel is now somewhat cherry-stained.
It turns out that cherry orchards are rich pickings not only for cherries. I also managed to snaffle some finest honey, from bees living in the orchard itself, and some Kentish cherry juice that I plan to use to whip up some sort of cherry gin fizz. I could have also bought some cherry brandy, cherry vodka and cherry jam but was running out of cash, time and the need for cherry-based products by this point.
Finally, gooseberries the size of eyeballs. These were the source of some controversy with Saunders swearing blind that you can and should eat them raw professing that "I've had a gooseberry bush in all my gardens". I am still dubious about whether they don't just give you stomachache although he went on to consume almost the entire punnet to prove his point.
So, there you go. A bit like going to crossed between a farmer's market and a drive thru. All the produce was outstandingly fresh and, considering the volumes sold and standard, pretty darn good value. Whizzing through the countryside in a van isn't the most picturesque shopping method but as a smash and grab of the best the Kentish countryside has to offer, it sure as hell was effective.