The people in Sussex working hard to make Christmas special
PUBLISHED: 09:09 22 December 2015 | UPDATED: 09:09 22 December 2015
Kate Eastman meets the Sussex people working hard behind the scenes to make our Christmas special
Nestled in the heart of East Sussex, south of the National Trust’s Sheffield Park, is the organic vegetable grower Fletching Glasshouses. With two acres of glasshouses, they grow a range of seasonal vegetables and salad for sale at farm shops and farmers’ markets across Sussex. At Christmas their sweet potatoes and winter squash are at their peak and they expect to have a good range of these as well as spinach, colourful chard and black Tuscan kale. They supply salad all year round and will have winter salad leaves available in limited quantities as well as fresh herb bunches. Co-owner Isobel Rae describes what Christmas means to her: “It’s become a bit of a tradition to decorate the house with foliage and flowers from the garden and greenhouses on Christmas Eve, and then on Christmas Day we always have a big family celebration. This year we are going to my daughter’s for Christmas but we will still have a good tramp around the Sussex countryside before dinner, whatever the weather! We like to have as much of our Christmas meal from local suppliers as possible – the turkey comes from a farm up the road and we will have all our own vegetables on the table for the big day.”
What a turkey!
Bridgers Farm is the place to go to get your traditional farm fresh barn-reared and free range turkeys. Owner Anthony Harris explains: “Our turkeys are reared slowly to full maturity on food free from antibiotics and growth hormones. They’re completed on the farm to avoid stress, dry plucked and hung for two weeks to mature and develop the natural flavours unique to this style of production. Christmas Day for me is much like anyone else’s, apart from a couple of hours in the morning sorting out a few things on the farm. After that I look forward to my traditional Christmas turkey lunch and believe me, I get just as much satisfaction eating that bird as anyone else who might be eating turkey for the first time that year. We eat turkey all the time and never get sick of it. At lunchtime my mind does wander to the thousands of families eating my turkey at that very moment. I hope there are lots of nice comments being made around the table...I know from past feedback that there always are!”
Raise a glass
A glass of bubbly is perfect with Christmas dinner and for more than 25 years Nyetimber has aimed to make the finest English sparkling wine. For the winemakers, Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix, Christmas “is a time to relax and unwind after the busy few months following the harvest in October. We are both from Canada originally, so we might head home for the break, or have relatives over visiting us in West Sussex. Either way, we like to spend time catching up with our family and friends before starting the exciting process of blending wines in the New Year. On Christmas Day food and wine play a big part of our Christmas celebrations. There are so many local, seasonal ingredients to try, so Brad and I like to cook something new each year,” says Cherie. “There are certain rituals that we do tend to stick to though each year…Christmas isn’t Christmas without a glass of Nyetimber Classic Cuvee and smoked salmon for breakfast.”
Top of the tree
Sussex Trees at Five Ashes grows more than 60,000 individually nurtured Christmas trees. “We currently sell the trees from three sites in the county, as well as selling them direct online from our sister site, Send Me a Christmas Tree” says owner Tom Kidger. “After completing a degree in Agriculture and Forestry, I decided to follow my passion and start growing and selling Christmas trees with the help of my family, as well as a dedicated team of workers. We now plant trees every year and hope to develop the business further. Christmas has always been a magical time on the farm and we try to recreate that atmosphere when we open to the public. It’s lovely to see all the families so excited to choose their tree, especially when they cut their own. The Christmas period is obviously pretty flat out for me, so luckily I miss out on a lot of the Christmas shopping! Come Christmas Eve most of the family returns to the farm for a few glasses of sherry and one of the next door neighbour’s finest turkeys.”
Hark the herald
The Christmas season wouldn’t be complete without carols and Sussex Chorus will be bringing festive cheer to crowds in West Sussex. What better way to prepare for the Christmas season than going to join their popular informal annual Family Christmas Concert, providing a respite from the many pressures of preparation for the festive season?
“The varied programme, conducted by Alan Vincent with John Walker on keyboard, includes well-known and less familiar seasonal songs and carols with many old favourites for audience participation,” says Michael West-Eacott, spokesman. “This year the choir is joined by the Haywards Heath Handbell Group – no Christmas would be complete without bells. All of us who have used the Oxford Carols for Choirs books over the years will be familiar with the many carol arrangements by Sir David Willcocks who died this September at the age of 96.
Sir David was Sussex Chorus’ Vice President for many years.”
The concert is on Monday 21 December at 6.30pm, King’s Church, 33-35 Victoria Road, Burgess Hill, West Sussex RH15 9LR. Further details on this concert and 2016 concert programme are on the choir’s website, www.sussexchorus.org.
Oh, holy night
At this time of year many Christian families will attend their local church. The reverend Dr Caroline Currer is the Priest-in-Charge of the Downland Benefice, which comprises the four parishes and churches of Poynings, Edburton, including Fulking, Newtimber and Pyecombe. “I have been in this post just over six years,” says Caroline, “What Christmas means to me is joy, hope, a new beginning and personal exhaustion. On Christmas Day I will be taking services at midnight, 8am and 10am in three of our four churches. Meanwhile, I’ll be helping with some of the food preparation, so that everything will be ready for a traditional Christmas lunch here with my parents, who are in their 90s. It’s likely that I will fall asleep during the Queen’s speech and then see my children and grandchildren either in the evening or the next day.”
Piece of cake
The Christmas indulgence simply must include a delicious Christmas cake and Cake Angel in Thakeham makes some of the best. Owner Sara Hobbs sells cakes and iced biscuits, primarily online but also through lots of different food fairs around Sussex. Sara says, “I recently decided that I wanted to put something in farm shops and delis, and fruitcake has a long shelf life. I wanted something different and targeted the male market. Many women don’t know what to buy for men, especially the man who has it all, and lots of men love a piece of fruitcake with wine and cheese. That’s how Absolute Fruitcake was developed. Soaked in Dark Star’s Espresso Coffee Beer, the moist cake is packed with vine fruits. I was advised by a friend, Sarah Thomas from Loft Pickles and Jams, to enter it in the Great Taste Awards which attracts more than 10,000 entries from producers across the country. Much to my surprise I was awarded two gold stars. I was speechless! My latest cake is called Absolute Ginger and contains orange zest, stem ginger and pecans, perfect for the Christmas season.”