Guyra Lamb and Potato Festival: Inside the food gazebo

Julie Gittoes has been involved with the festival for 32 years, and gazebo manager for 29 years.
Julie Gittoes has been involved with the festival for 32 years, and gazebo manager for 29 years.

The Lamb and Potato Festival has started - and the food gazebo is the nerve centre of the operation.

Day One (Wednesday) began with three big breakfasts at 7.30am, gazebo manager Julie Gittoes said.

"From then on, it's just been a gentle gradual build-up. Someone wanted a roast dinner at about 9 o'clock, so we were able to serve that at a quarter past ten. Nearly everything that's on our menu has been served and handed out to people."

Ms Gittoes expects to serve fewer legs of lamb and kilograms of potatoes than last year.

"We're anticipating at the moment 200 legs, 400 kg of potatoes, and I don't know how many pies! Who knows? That's probably the hardest thing to judge, but time will tell."

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"We don't have a lot of money to advertise, but people just know if they come here, they get a good meal at a great price," Ms Gittoes said.

The most popular items on the menu are the seasoned lamb rolls and legs, the burgers, and the pies. "They just fly out the window!" Ms Gittoes said.

New on the menu this year are lamb sausage sandwiches.

"People can sit underneath the trees and walk the whole of the festival and see lots of stores," Ms Gittoes said. "Then they can circle down around the main street, pick up a family lamb pie, and go down and have it for a meal."

And, of course, there are the potatoes. Bertha Reeves had already peeled over 20 kg of spuds between 7am and 11am.

Bertha Reeves.

Bertha Reeves.

"I can't say I did it all on my own," Mrs Reeves said. "I did have a girl helping me. She did a bucketful for me."

Mrs Reeves's record (2015) is 150 peeled potato bakes and 486 kg of carrots. She tries to break that record every year - except in 2016, when she broke two wrists, a finger, and an ankle. The best therapy for her hands, she finds, is peeling.

Four cooks were on duty on Wednesday, so Ms Gittoes expected to go through 8 to 10 kg of potatoes that day.

Over the course of the festival, Ms Gittoes will manage more than 400 people, some of whom are repeat workers. She trains and works with about 40 people a day, in two shifts of 20 people (7.30am to 2pm and 1.45 to 8pm).

"We're constantly training," Ms Gittoes said. "They've had 12 months off. It's a bit like that for me, too. Even though I've been in here 29 years, you forget. 'Oh, that's right! I had to do that!' "

On shift at lunchtime were the Tenterden RFS Brigade. They went straight from fighting fires to the kitchen.

Lightning strikes caused 12 fires in seven days in the area. "I've been in a fire every day for a week from last Saturday afternoon - every bloody day," Murray Neilsen said.

The brigade is one of many community groups which volunteer in the kitchens and share the proceeds.

The community rallies round for the Festival, but Ms Gittoes wishes more people would join the committee. "It's so small it's frightening. It only runs on five or six people who are here all the time."

This is also the first year without founder Frank Presnell.

"It's very different without Frank," Ms Gittoes said. "I've been here for 32 festivals. This is my 29th as the gazebo manager. But Frank would always come along of a morning, and say: 'How are you going, Jules?'. He'd bring a big bunch of hydrangeas...

"It's pretty sad, but we'll let his legacy continue."