Last Thursday morning, Dan and I received our first Nethergong small vegetable box (which hardly looked small), a wooden pallet-style box (recyclable, of course) containing a variety of vegetables: a large Romanesco cauliflower, celeriac, watercress (from Wingham), a large red cabbage, and Red Kuri squash, as well as the staples of bunched carrots, potatoes and onions – all that, for just a fiver.
We had met the people from Nethergong the previous Saturday afternoon, where they were exhibiting at the annual Broadstairs Food Festival. With over 100 exhibitors, The Food Festival showcased the very best food and drink that local producers have to offer, and the event was attended by some 40,000 people over the weekend. Better still, entrance to the event was absolutely free although donations of £1 per person were welcomed on the door.
Nethergong was running an introductory offer of any half-price vegetable box for a first delivery and, having received Riverford organic boxes on many occasions and knowing what we might expect, did not hesitate to sign up for one. We chose to receive a £10 box every fortnight delivered to our door on a Thursday and we paid the £5 up front for our first box.
While we were there we also bought a bunch of the most beautiful watercress, which we were told came from Wingham. Earlier in the summer while we were house-hunting, we were due to view a delightful period cottage on Watercress Lane, Wingham Well, with stunning views over open fields towards Wingham parish church and a 200 feet rear garden backing on to woods. Excited at the prospect, our joy was cut down to size when, two days before we were due to view it, the property was under offer – less than a week on the market. All worked out well in the end though, as we had a second viewing of an early 1930s period semi at Dumpton Park, on the Ramsgate-Broadstairs border, and it had our name on it. So here we are now, settling into Kentish life!
Run by the Jenkins family of Netherstreet (8 miles from Canterbury), Nethergong Vegetable Boxes were established 7 years ago. The business owns a smallholding and Nursery at Nethergong, growing a variety of herbs and specialist vegetables. The Jenkins family got the idea for Nethergong Nurseries after growing tomatoes in the back garden over the past few summers. The tomatoes tasted so much better than anything one might find in a shop that the family began to think that there must be a market for fresh, local produce and the concept was born. The vegetable box scheme works with a group of local farmers around Thanet and Canterbury, in the heart of the Garden of England. Most of the suppliers are small growers, the smallest farming only ten acres, so the vegetables are an important source of regular income.
With its rich and abundant natural resources, East Kent has been described as the new Gastronomic hot spot in England, attracting talented, quality chefs to the kitchens of Canterbury, Faversham and Whitstable, who are inspired by the high quality produce that Kent has to offer.
Also with our vegetable box was a cheerful, friendly and informative newsletter, which included tips on how to store the vegetables and two recipes; the first, Jamie Oliver’s spicy Squash soup, which serves 8 people, and the second, for a Celeriac and Walnut salad. I shall certainly look forward to trying both.
To store red cabbage, simply keep it in a cool, dark place. We keep ours in the pantry. After all, in the old days, before the days of domestic freezers and refrigerators, that is what a pantry was for. Indeed, refrigeration was unheard of until after the end of the Second World War and many homes were without such appliances until at least the 1950s.
Each Monday, Lewis of Nethergong posts the contents of the week’s veg boxes on the home page of the website. The logo and design of the website reminds me of the Riverford one and I wonder whether they use the same website builder or provider or the same web consultants, although I have been reliably informed that Riverford has now taken their website in-house and reworked it. The big difference is that Riverford has a team of self-employed distributors, or franchisees, whereas Nethergong is a small, family-run business offering service with a more personal touch. Another difference is that Riverford deliver produce in recyclable printed cardboard boxes.
Lewis emails customers to advise them of weekly ‘specials’ that they might wish to add to their boxes. These include free range eggs, fruit and fruit boxes in season, local artisan bread, cheese, and fruit juices. All the customer need do is respond with their choices and they will be delivered with their box. Payment is online by debit or credit card or over the telephone and cheques are also accepted, made payable to Nethergong Nurseries – the same payment methods then, as Riverford.
So on Thursday evening I decided to start cooking with the vegetables and served sliced carrots, mashed potatoes and a homemade liquor with our pie. The carrots were bunched and tied, with their tops on and were irregular and covered with soil like a ‘real’ carrot should be – no namby-pamby prewashed supermarket carrots here. I gave them a good wash and rinse in cold water and they peeled easily. I cut them into round slices and popped them in the basket of the steamer. I used one large and one small potato, again, nice and dirty with soil, washed and peeled those and chopped them into small chunks and popped them into salted water in the pan section of the steamer. One end of the large potato was disappointingly mottled with bruises and I had cut this end off, but they were ‘real’ potatoes after all.
With the pie in the oven and the vegetables cooking, I made some liquor using some of the watercress which I added to a roux made with a knob of butter, tablespoon of cornflour, about ¾ pint blend of semi-skimmed milk and water, and salt and freshly ground black pepper. I then removed the sauce from the heat and whizzed it with a stick blender until the softened watercress was fine and blended with the sauce, then added a good handful of fresh chopped parsley, returned the sauce to the heat and checked the seasoning.
The carrots were just al-dente and the potatoes nice and tender; I transferred the carrots to a dish and kept them warm, then I drained the potatoes and mashed them with milk and a good knob of butter and seasoned well with salt and pepper.
The carrots and mashed potatoes were delicious and flavourful and the liquor had a delightful peppery zing, which really complemented the plate.
Since then I have simply steamed some of the Romanesco cauliflower and served it alongside homemade lasagne (made with Scottish minced beef, fresh tomatoes, a glug of red wine and a diced onion from the veg box), and again it was tender (without being steamed to death) and flavourful.
Dan and I are looking forward very much to receiving our next veg box.
Nethergong delivers to the following areas: –
- Herne Bay
And neighbouring villages.
To order your first veg box half price, simply visit the website:-