Shopping for Christmas provisions can be a bit stressful so why not combine it with a mini-break?
It wasn’t just the offer of a stay at an Elizabethan manor house with spa treatments that provided the impetus for my partner and I to hit the road.
Locally sourcing your entire feast a few hours’ drive from London tempers some of the guilt with the soothing balm of reduced food miles.
But where do you go for the good stuff? I’ve tried and tested these five suppliers and suggest they’re well worth the journey.
1. High Weald Dairy in Horsted Keynes, West Sussex
Take part in a cheese class at this family-run cheese dairy that offers organic and non-organic cows milk, organic sheep milk and goats milk.
Best buy: Brighton Blue, £3.53 per 150g
2. Bluebell Vineyard in Danehill, East Sussex
Bluebell offers tours and tastings every Saturday providing you a glimpse of life at the 10-year-old vineyard , which grows Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinor Meunier grape varieties.
Best buy: Hindleap Brut Rosé, £24.99
3. Blackdown Gin in Blackdown Hill, West Sussex
Don’t want a Boxing Day hangover? Try the vodka, mead, gin and vermouth from Blackdown . The team there only use natural botanicals with their key ingredient being Silver Birch sap.
Best buy: Christmas Pudding Vodka, £29.99
4. Rother Valley Organics in Rogate, West Sussex
Organic beef farmers Shon and Simon Sprackling launched Rother Valley Organics in early 2004 with the aim of providing organic meat “from pasture to plate”. Succulent.
Best buy: Organic Turkey, £88.39 (for 5-6kg)
5. Secretts Farm in Milford, Surrey
Get the chance to pick your own from the farm, or head to the shop where you’ll find fruit and vegetables and any bits in between.
There are also be tasters and demonstrations from local suppliers in the run up to Christmas.
Best buy: Christmas Hamper, prices vary
Where to stay?
Ockenden Manor Hotel and Spa is an Elizabethan manor house that sits in the heart of Sussex in Cuckfield - perfect for accessing each of the suppliers above.
They’re huge and connect to a joint terrace with the rest of the suites. They come with full access to the spa and treatment rooms and some beautiful views of the rolling fields surrounding the hotel.
It has all the facilities you would expect like sauna, steam and jacuzzi (including an outdoor one too), but the best part for me was the outdoor and indoor pool with the little connecting swim through.
How do I relax?
They provide massages, man facials and luxury manicures and pedicures within the cosy treatment centre just off the spa.
What to eat?
Ockenden Manor’s Michelin-starred head chef Stephen Crane uses local produce in his dishes to create a seasonal menu.
In the spirit of locally sourced food, Stephen has put together a Christmas meal for two (below) using meat from Balcombe Fine Game ( balcombefinegame.co.uk ), red cabbages and kale from Secretts Farm (details above) and celeriac, apples and blackberries from John Mason (01798 875 020) at Chefs Herbs in West Sussex.
Rooms start at £179 per night
Roast saddle of Balcombe venison and blackberry jus with celeriac mash and braised red cabbage.
Roast Saddle of Venison:
- 500g venison saddle, all fat trimmed away
- 250g red wine
- Salt, Pepper
- 500ml chicken stock
Heat a frying pan over a high heat and add some oil. Season the venison with salt and pepper before searing on all sides.
Place a knob of butter on top and transfer straight to a preheated oven at 220C for about 4 minutes for medium rare.
Once cooked, rest the venison to one side on a plate, covered in tin foil, whilst you make the sauce.
To finish, cook some kale in a pan of simmering salted water and then toss in melted butter.
Braised Red Cabbage:
- 1 red cabbage, core removed and finely sliced
- 1 clove
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf
- 250ml red wine
- 200g redcurrant jelly
- Diced fresh apple
Sweat the cabbage in some oil with your spices. Make a well in the middle of the pan and add the jelly. Once melted, mix in your red wine, stir and turn down the heat.
Cook for about two hours, until the cabbage is tender. Lift the lid and reduce the liquid to a syrup. Season with salt. Just before serving, thrown in the diced fresh apple which adds a fresh crunch to the dish.
- 300g diced celeriac
- 50ml cream
- 50g butter
Simmer the celeriac in a pan covered with the water until tender. Simmer the cream and butter together until all the butter is melted. Once the celeriac is cooked, drain the liquid and mash together with the cream and butter. Season with salt to taste.
- 50g fresh blackberries, cut in half lengthways
- 20g caster sugar
Cook the blackberries and sugar in a pan until soft and their juices are in the pan.
Carefuly remove the blackberries and set aside. Reduce the blackberry juice to a syrup and reserve.