Hog, tea and canapés for Lady Kingsdown
Earlier this year I was engaged to do 4 cricket lunches and teas for the Band of Brothers team’s home games. Something quite different for me, but my son, Thomas, was very keen for me to do them and he wanted to help plan the menus, cook the food and help on the match days, so I went ahead and took the booking. I was glad I did because I’ve done 3 of the 4 at the time of writing and they are lots of fun and it’s been really nice working on something with Thomas. I’m also glad because it’s led to other things, including a very large booking. The home games are played on the pitch up at Torry Hill, which is on the land of Rose Leigh Pemberton, Lady Kingsdown, a lifelong fan of cricket and former President of Kent County Cricket. I met Rose at the first cricket lunch I catered and we had a very nice conversation about cake. Not long afterwards Rose phoned me up enquiring if I might be available to cater for her 90th birthday celebrations on a July Sunday. I checked my work diary and found that I was already booked for 2 events that weekend (both on the Saturday). It was a big ask, but I knew I couldn’t turn it down, so I confirmed that I was available and decided that I would work out the logistics later!
Rose had already planned a significant amount of the party. It was taking place at Torry Hill, but in various locations: the first part was a hog roast at the cricket pitch where a match would be played for guests to enjoy; the second part was a ride on the wonderful miniature railway (complete with miniature viaduct and turntable) on the estate followed by tea and cakes and the third part was a Champagne reception with canapés. Guests were invited for all 3 parts but could mix and match. Many came for all 3 parts, but some just for the lunch and some just for the reception etc. There was a deadline for RSVPs but it came and went and still acceptances came in, so the numbers kept climbing. We started off with estimates of 90, 50 and 100 for the lunch, tea and canapés respectively, but ended up at 130, 100 and 150! Yikes!
One slight saving grace was that I wasn’t doing the hog roast itself, only the accompaniments and some puddings. Another saving grace was that Rose is not only a seasoned host, but also a real pro at organising and she kept it nice and straightforward for me: baps, salads and apple sauce for the hog, one option for pudding, 3 little sweet bites for tea and 4 varieties of canapés for the evening reception. Doable.
For the day itself the sun shone and the temperature was soaring into the early 30s. Luckily there was lots of ice around and a freezer had been temporarily installed up at the cricket pitch, so cold drinks were in plentiful supply, including dozens of bottles of Kingsdown water. I had engaged 9 staff for the whole day and all went pretty well despite the heat. The hog roast was delicious, cooked to perfection by Dukes Roasters, and the crackling was excellent. I made large amounts of green salad with a lovely vinaigrette, curried rice salad (one of my faves), coleslaw and a vat of apple sauce. I chose huffkin rolls from Wingham Bakery and they were absolutely perfect for the hog. I ordered 150 to be sure we had enough and ended up with 40 or so left, so we have been enjoying them at home ever since! Pudding was a raspberry and almond cake (more of a pudding than a cake really) served with pouring cream and a side order of local cherries which arrived in little crates straight from the estate. Plump, dark, glossy beauties they were, and absolutely my favourite fruit at this time of year. Well, that was the first part of the day done. I would estimate that we served around 110 lunches in the end, but it was impossible to know how many really.
Onto part 2. Part 2 saw the majority of guests disappearing off for a ride on the railway, but some lingered. I divided my staff and left 4 to continue to clear up from lunch and serve drinks to the lingerers while the rest of us moved onto the second location (just across the road) to begin setting up for the tea. The afternoon location was an enormous marquee supplied by Best-in-Tents in the stunning gardens of Lady Kingsdown, with the beautiful house as a backdrop. It would normally have been a huge pleasure to cater in such surroundings, but actually it was quite torturous. To access the gardens we had to pass the most beautiful swimming pool, uncovered and ready to receive any guests that fancied a dip. We were all melting in the heat and it took every bit of self-restraint we had not to throw ourselves in fully clothed! Throughout the afternoon we saw people heading there with towels or heading back damp-haired and refreshed – so jealous! What we did have was a hose attachment outside the back of the catering marquee, so we set it to mist and regularly sprayed ourselves! Better than nothing. And we continued to have lovely ice cold drinks available as the freezer was relocated to the catering marquee, so it really could have been worse.
We filled the 2 large urns and turned them on and all seemed well, but after a little while the power cut out. We flicked a switch and it came back on, but then it kept cutting out after a minute or so. I reduced the number of things plugged in (fairy lights up the poles of the marquee for example which I didn’t think were necessary on a blazing hot, sunny July evening!) but the problem persisted. In the end we had to call for help and it came in the form of 2 of Rose’s sons who were marvellous. They rigged up a second power supply (I needed to plug in an oven as well, though was very reluctant to in the heat!) and we settled on having one urn plugged into one power supply and the oven plugged into the other. This worked and they both stayed on, however we’d lost a good half hour of water heating and were behind with the tea. Guests had started to arrive back and many asked for a cup of tea, but we were unable to oblige initially. I know that a watched pot never boils and never had that felt more true than at that moment, but I had to keep an eye on it to be sure of the precise moment it was ready. Finally a bubble or 2 began to break the surface and we were good to go. Many cups of tea were served in the next 10 minutes as word got round that the urn had at last come to the boil! Tea consisted of mini brownies, mini carrot cake bites and, the winner of that particular popularity contest, little scones with strawberry jam. I had forgotten the cream but nobody seemed to mind and we got through a large amount. The beautiful and plentiful cherries were again available, this time presented in lovely glass bowls on each table.
With the slight delay to proceedings, we had to move straight onto the third part of the day. So whilst tea was still very much in progress, I took some of the staff with me into the catering tent and we began to assemble and present the canapés. Rose had chosen sticky local chipolatas (I bought them from lovely Doughtys in Doddington), pancetta discs with goats cheese and fig chutney, sun-dried tomato palmiers and quails eggs with dipping salts. With the oven working without a problem, the sausages didn’t take too long and we managed to start taking the canapés round on schedule. Despite the large amounts of food already consumed and the tea having only just finished, the guests were hungry and the canapés disappeared in no time. They were much enjoyed and we got a lot of positive comments. My only disappointment was that Rose had said the sausages were her absolute favourite, but somehow she didn’t get one! I am planning to take some to the next cricket match I cater so that she can have them all to herself!
All that was left to do was a bit of clearing up and putting away and serving the odd drink to the remaining guests. It was a very successful day and on the whole I was pretty pleased with how it went. The staff were fantastic and many guests commented on how good the service was. In an email to me a couple of days later Rose described them as “your charming staff” which I think summed it up pretty well. It was a very long, very hot day and I think they did a great job.
My work wasn’t completely done. Having spent the whole day with only hosepipes and outside taps for water, I had been unable to do any washing up. I couldn’t face it when I got home at about 9.30, so I left it to the following day. All the prep dishes, serving dishes and containers for storing the canapé components in were in my car overnight, so not a pleasant task when I came to unload them! 3 hours later everything was washed, dried and put away and then I had finally finished. My biggest job to date but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would do it all again in a heartbeat!