Jersey is a little piece of heaven (very little – it measures just nine miles by five) in the Bay of Mont St Michel, lying 85 miles from the UK and 19 miles from Normandy. But aside from the place names, the sunny weather and the occasional Pétanque competition signposted here and there, it is completely English in character rather than French. It’s more English even than England itself, really, with well-tended roses and hanging baskets in every garden and village square; cream teas and most importantly of all, several Waitroses dotted around the island (holiday highlight).
It’s a little like Devon or Cornwall, or the sort of place the Famous Five would have gone on holiday, with jagged little coves and brambley paths and all that good, clean air. It’s wonderful, basically, and every village and viewpoint reveals new and different charms; all bus routes lead out of St Helier and into the wonderfully idyllic surrounding countryside.
The capital, St Helier, is the only part of the island which is not completely lovely: it houses a fairly serious number of investment banks thanks to Jersey’s tax-haven status, and there’s lots of weirdly big developments on the edge of the town. But it’s fun to shop in and has some nice spots to stop for a coffee, like Bean Around The World, which sells good, slightly left-of-centre sandwiches, and Mange Tout, which does a great number in high-quality, healthy takeaway salads and soups. It also has a row of excellent charity shops, which sell lots of pieces of beautiful bric-a-brac – I picked up an enamel milk jug, an ugly-beautiful English pottery jug and some sweet little Portuguese mugs. Bizarrely, around a fifth of Jersey’s population is of Portuguese origin, as many came to pick the island’s famous Jersey Royal potatoes a few decades ago, fell in love with the place and stayed.
Mange Tout picnic on Beauport beach; Crab Shack Gorey
Jersey is, as everyone knows, also famous for its excellent milk and cream, thanks to the efforts of its beautiful, long-lashed brown cows. This means excellent butter and exceptionally good, custard-yellow ice-cream, with its faintly tangy taste and a clean, bright flavour. The island is also well-known for its oyster production and Chancre crab, with both benefiting from the island’s warm waters and giant, daily, cleansing tides. We didn’t try the oysters but we did have the crab several ways: Jersey crab tacos and, in what seemed to be a bit of an island speciality, a crab linguine with parsley, chilli and garlic, which was exactly as delicious as it sounds.
One of the places that serves this dish is Crab Shack, which is a Jersey institution and has two locations – one in St Brelade Bay and another above Gorey Harbour, on the east coast. Apart from the crab linguine, which is served on striking Jersey Pottery tableware, Crab Shack offers a very good antipasti plank, which, like that at Jamie Oliver’s restaurants, is set on those silly tomato tins and is served with breadsticks and oil. But this one also comes with a delicious green olive, garlic and marinated artichoke tapenade, which seems to be their own rather ingenious creation. Desserts are simple and largely centred around the fabulous Jersey ice cream, which really needs very little adorning other than a chocolate flake and a warm evening.
The Victorian food market in St Helier; St Brelade Beach
Gorey Harbour; Beauport; a Jersey cream tea, rosehips on a hot wall; Jersey ice cream
Jersey crab linguine at Crab Shack; St Brelade Bay, a bench above Beauport
Since everything here revolves around the good dairy and shellfish, I decided to make a crab macaroni cheese for dinner one evening, with Jersey milk and cream and crabmeat and fresh peas on top. It turned out absolutely delicious, and would be perfect for one of these warm autumn days which turn into increasingly chilly nights.
For dessert, we had a handful of sun-warmed blackberries, and a couple of the Pots & Co desserts from Waitrose. They come in a range of – rather collectable – coloured ramekins, and, as I’d been ogling them from afar for a little while (I’m a Waitrose junkie), I had to buy three: yellow, blue and orange, or put another way, a lemon and lime posset, a sea salt and chocolate pot and a blood orange and passionfruit cheesecake. They didn’t disappoint, of course, and I was delighted with my cheery little souvenirs – a lovely end to a lovely holiday.
CRAB MACARONI CHEESE
Serves 4 – 6, depending on hunger and greediness
300g dried macaroni
175g grated cheese – medium strong cheddar, parmesan, gruyère, smoked gouda…
250ml (ish) of milk
100 ml (ish) of cream
25g plain flour
1/2tsp mustard powder
2 cloves of garlic
Several drops of Tabasco
Melt the butter over a low heat and add the flour, mustard powder, paprika and garlic. Start boiling your macaroni in a separate pan in salted water. Once the flour is incorporated into the butter mix, start adding the milk in small batches, stirring it in completely before adding more – you may need a little more milk or you may need less. Add the cream and bring it to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Season to taste. Once the sauce looks thick and tastes good (ie the flour has cooked through and it is well seasoned), add about half of your grated cheese. Add a few drops of Tabasco. Mix the cooked pasta with the sauce and transfer to a large baking dish. Cover it with the crabmeat and then the rest of the cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes in a hot oven. Serve with fresh peas scattered on top.