Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Irish Cheesemakers

Blessed are the cheesemakers!  Let’s all do our bit to support small Irish producers, many of whom are still experiencing real hardship.  The farmhouse cheese makers as just one example so let’s make a conscious effort to buy a piece or better still several pieces of Irish farmhouse cheese this weekend.  I’m fantastically proud of the range of handmade farmhouse cheeses we have here in Ireland.  Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and buffalo milk.  




Toons Bridge (pictured above) and Macroom Mozzarella make tender milky cheese to rival the very best Italian Mozzarella. No wonder it’s so good, it’s made from the rich milk of the buffalos that range freely in the lovely mixed pastures of West Cork. 
Toby Simmonds and his team of Italian and Irish cheesemakers at Toons Bridge Dairy also make straw smoked Scarmoza Caciocavallo,  Ricotta, Halloumi and Cultured Butter easily available from local Farmers Markets or online.  He’s recently opened a shop on South Great Georges Street in Dublin – how gutsy and deserving of support is that in the midst of Covid-19…
For many of the cheesemakers who were also supplying the service industry, the closure of the restaurants, hotels and cafés business meant the loss of over 75% of their business overnight, yet the cows kept milking and the cheese kept aging, needing to turned and matured to bring them to the peak of perfection, but how or where could they sell their produce.  They too had the heartbreak of laying off many of their skilled cheesemakers who were often neighbours from their own parish.
The reopening of the local Farmers Markets has been a significant help to some producers.  Local customers are flocking back while observing social distancing.  Look out for Jane Murphy’s Ardsallagh goat’s cheese in Midleton and Mahon Point.  You’ll find the beautiful Ballinrostig Gouda type cheese there too and a whole display of cheese to choose from at Christian and Fiona Burke’s stall.
A trip to the English Market in Cork will make your heart sing – bring an empty basket and fill it up. 
Over 60 beautiful farmhouse cheeses are made around the country and on the islands, a high proportion are made in Cork county.  We have soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard cheese to rival anything anywhere and I’m not saying that just because I’m an adopted Cork woman….
Siobhán Ni Ghairbhith makes the legendary St. Tola goat’s cheese from raw milk but she also makes pasteurised milk cheese for the multiples.  She employs 7 people on her farm on the edge of the Burren in Co. Clare. 
Gubbeen cheese suppliers, pictures, product info
When lockdown was introduced overnight, every cheesemaker in the country scrambled to cope with the gallons and gallons of milk in peak season.  Siobhán set up an online artisan cheese box which also includes some other artisan products as did Gubbeen, Cashel Blue, Cooleeney and several others.  Siobhán is a multi-skilled cheesemaker so she decided to make less soft cheese which has a shorter shelf-life and more hard cheese which will continue to improve with age – look out for it later in the year.
Can you imagine how lovely it would be to get a hamper like that by courier or to send a present to a friend or care worker or as a comforting gift to absent family members.  There’s a list of Irish farmhouse cheesemakers on the Cáis website.
The reason why Irish cheeses are so good is the quality of the milk.  Here in Ireland we can grow grass like virtually nowhere else in the world so cows that are out on grass particularly in Summer produce beautiful milk that makes gorgeous cheese.  Irish farmhouse cheese have been awarded prizes in the World Cheese Awards many times.  As a sector, the artisans are incredibly resilient and resourceful.

These feisty cheesemakers up and down the country has led the food revolution and helped in no small way to change the image of Irish food both at home and abroad.  In 1984 when milk quotas has just been introduced, the late Veronica Steele (pictured), started to experiment in her kitchen on the Beara Penninsula.  She couldn’t bear to waste a drop of milk of her favourite – one horned cow named Brisket.  The end result was Milleens, the beautiful washed rind cheese that inspired several generations, mostly women, to make cheese.  Such a joy to see her son Quinlan continue to make superb cheese.  The second generation continues to build on their parents legacy at Durrus, Gubbeen, Cashel Blue…how fortunate are we to have access to many exceptional delicious cheeses, now more than ever is the time is to show our appreciation with our support.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Taking Care of Your Microbiome


Today we celebrate World Microbiome Day, sounds a bit esoteric you might think but this is a subject that concerns each and every one of us uniquely.

Microbes are frequently misunderstood by those of us in the non-scientific community. Just like the word bacteria, it has nasty connotations and conjures up negative images. Yet only a tiny percentage of bacteria and microbes are pathogenic, typically they do much more good than harm.



Microbes are single celled organisms found everywhere.... They include bacteria, archaea, protozoa, fungi and viruses, Humans have co evolved with microbes on our planet for billions of years. The diversity of microbes within the gut are critically important to both our physical and mental health.

Professor Dinan's Talk at LitFest in 2017

One of the hottest areas of research in recent years has been on the gut biome. The pioneering work of Professors Cryan and Dinan and their team at UCC has been globally recognised. Consequently the link between the health of our microbiota and our physical and mental health is well established.

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the trillions of microbes in our gut weigh between one to two kilos, equivalent to the weight of an adult brain. The biochemical complexity of the microbes in the human gut is greater than that of the brain and there are about 100 times more genes in our gut microbiota than in our genes.... Yet up to relatively recently, the bacteria in the human intestine was thought to have little relevance in the medical world and scientists in this field tell me there is still much to learn and discover.

But for us lay people, all we need to know is that it is super important for our physical and mental wellbeing to nourish our gut biome.

So how do we do this? We need to eat as wide a variety of fresh food. The more biodiverse our diet, the healthier and more resilient we will be. So we need to seek out real food that wakes up as many microbes in our intestines as possible. Each of the nutrients in food activate a different microbe…



So what foods apart from those already mentioned nourish our gut – fermented foods and drinks, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, kefir.... raw milk, preferably organic milk from a small herd of pasture fed cows, raw milk cheese too, particularly blue cheese.... Try to incorporate some wild and foraged foods into your diet for further diversity. These foods still have the full complement of vitamins, minerals and trace elements unlike many processed foods which have been altered to produce the maximum yield for a minimum cost. 




All fruit and vegetables contain much needed fibre which provide essential prebiotics and promote the growth of good gut bacteria. Bananas too are high in fibre. 
Find out one of the best vegetables for your microbiome...

As ever do your best to buy organic, chemical-free food and avoid ultra-processed food. Natural yoghurt (sugar-free) and milk kefir are packed with good bacteria, Miso made from fermented soya beans plus barley and rice contains a wide range of essential bacteria and enzymes. 


 Natural fermented sourdough bread is another gut friendly food but source carefully. Now that sourdough has become fashionable there’s lots of ‘faux sourdough’ around. Almonds too are high in fibre, fatty acids and polyphenols – a treat for gut bacteria. Extra virgin olive oil is my oil of choice, peas also get the thumbs up, look out for seasonal fresh peas in the Farmers Markets at present. Blue Cheese is teeming with good bacteria and I also love those artisan farmhouse cheeses – don’t be afraid to eat the rind but not plastic coating……!

A growing body of research is also showing a clear link between the growing anxiety problems amongst teenagers and college students who often have a limited budget, limited cooking facilities and limited cooking skills which combined can result in a nutritionally deficient diet...

I’m clearly not a scientist but over the past 37 years since I co-founded the school with my brother Rory, I’ve observed the change in students health as they eat different foods every day over a 3-month period. I’m not a doctor but the biodiverse diet of mostly organic food unquestionably impacts on their health and immune system. This observation has now been confirmed by a study done in conjunction by UCC
(Recipe for a Healthy Gut: Intake of Unpasteurised Milk Is Associated with Increased Lactobacillus Abundance in the Human Gut Microbiome)

For those of you who would like to learn more about this fundamentally important subject Professor Ted Dinan, John Cryan in UCC, Tim Spector (Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London) and Glen Gibson (Professor of Food Microbiology, Head of Food Microbial Sciences at University of Reading) in UK, Emeran Mayer (Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Physiology and Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine in UCLA) in US and many others. Check out their research and their talks on YouTube.




Monday, 1 June 2020

Comfort Eating and Immune-Boosting Foods for Covid Times


Covid-19 has galvanised our minds in so many areas. Being forced to press the ‘Pause Button’ gave many of us the opportunity to re-evaluate our ‘Grab, Gobble and Go’ lifestyle. Comforting food and sitting down together around the kitchen table has taken on a whole new importance…

The ‘penny’ seems to have really dropped about the value of investing time and energy in sourcing and cooking yummy nourishing meals to boost our immune systems. During ‘lockdown’, meal times at home are eagerly looked forward to, punctuating the day with delicious comforting food to cheer us up and lift our spirits.



I’m loving the explosion of activity and interest in cooking and baking. So many parents have not only discovered the joy of cooking a meal themselves but also the excitement and entertainment value of cooking with the kids – boys and girls of virtually every age are making and baking and growing and sowing…

There are many delicious stories of people dropping little gift packages of soups, stews, crusty loaves and all kinds of sweet treats to the gates of neighbours and friends to cheer them up and to the homeless and the front line workers. Nothing like a ‘care package’ to remind someone that they are remembered and loved and don’t you too feel the joy of sharing?


We’ve been getting endless recipe requests and lots of queries about foods to boost the immune system during these challenging times. There’s no quick fix, genetics, age and exercise also play their part as does our interaction with our environment, other people and animals. Social distancing, although essential in a crisis, to create a more sterile environment can weaken our immune system, a growing concern for many microbiologists at present.

So what foods? 


Invest your money in chemical free organic food and focus on sourcing real food not ‘edible food like substances’. Garlic has remarkably good antibacterial properties. Vitamin C rich foods like red peppers, you may be surprised to hear have three times more Vitamin C than citrus as well as being a brilliant source of beta carotene (11 times more than green peppers).

Leafy green vegetables have been in short supply over the past few weeks but the new season’s spinach is just ready to pick. Thanks to Popeye, we all know about iron but spinach is also rich in Vitamin C and E plus flavonoids and carotenoids and is believed to not only boost the immune system but fight cancers too.


Kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut are powerhouses of goodness. Here’s a delicious quick spring onion kimchi, I’ve been loving making it with the new seasons spring onions from the greenhouses.


In my article a couple of weeks ago, I was telling you about the many good things about young beets, a three-in-one vegetable but I want to tell you something else, I’ve just learned that the fresh juicy beet leaves are even more nutritious than the beets themselves so don’t waste a scrap - add them to your salads.

Risotto is a perennial standby in my kitchen, made with organic chicken stock and a vehicle for all kinds of delicious seasonal additions. Wild garlic is almost over now but young nettle or spinach leaves and sorrel all add extra oomph. It would be difficult to think of a more comforting versatile and universally loved recipe – definitely one for your repertoire of favourite standbys. 



This recipe for Country Rhubarb Cake ranks high among my favourite recipes for this time of the year. This recipe is exactly the one taught to me by my mother more years ago than I like to remember, I haven’t changed any details and every time I make them, I’m transported back to our kitchen in the little village of Cullohill in Co. Laois and I can see Mum in one of her handmade flowery aprons taking the cake out of the oven to delight us when we rushed in from school wondering what would be today's treat – once again a special recipe triggering happy memories.

And a final thought: twelve weeks ago, concerns about food security seemed a million miles away, something that just, might happen in other countries but not in the least relevant to us. However, for those who queued and trawled the supermarket shelves for flour, fresh yeast, bread soda and baking powder in recent weeks, it now feels like a very relevant issue…

Being ‘locked down’ for several months has given us new insights and more empathy and compassion for others. We’ve got a taste of how it must feel to be a refugee or asylum seeker, confined and restricted, not being able to work and often not being able to cook or properly socialise with their families.

Issues like climate change, ‘zero waste’ and single-use plastic have become more urgent. We had become a heedless just ‘Chuck It’ society. When I was little, not long after the end of the war, one of the biggest crimes one could commit was to waste food. It’s still deep in my DNA, I often get teased because I’m so reluctant to throw away any food. I’m a ‘lover of leftovers’ and am surprised when people who love food don’t see any problem throwing out tasty morsels that can be the base of another delicious meal. The Covid-19 experience has forced a rethink in many areas of our lives and it’s no bad thing. Lockdown has been difficult for everyone and tragic for many, so let’s look for crumbs of comfort and cook together and count our blessings.

****

David Tanis’s Quick Scallion Kimchee

Serves 2-4

We’ve got lots and lots of beautiful spring onions at present so I’ve been loving this recipe.  ‘’Although the classic long-fermented cabbage-based kimchee is fairly easy to make, it does take time. This version with scallions is ridiculously simple and ready in a day or two. I learned how to make it from my friend Russell, a Los Angeles–born cook whose Korean mother made it throughout his childhood. Russell serves it to accompany perfectly steamed rice and simple grilled fish, a lovely combination. I like it chopped and stirred into a bowl of brothy ramen-style noodles, or tucked into a ham sandwich’’. 

4 bunches scallions
2 teaspoons salt
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4 tablespoon raw sugar or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated ginger
23g Korean red pepper flakes
3/4 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
3/4 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
3/4 tablespoon fish sauce
3/4 tablespoon rice vinegar
Trim the scallions and cut into 7.5cm (3 inch) lengths. Put them in a glass or ceramic bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and let stand for 10 minutes.

Mix together the garlic, sugar, ginger, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, sesame seeds, fish sauce, and rice vinegar. Add to the scallions and toss well to coat.

Lay a plate over the bowl and leave in a warm place (at least 21°C/70°F) for 24 hours. Or, for a stronger-tasting kimchee, let ripen for up to 72 hours. It will keep for a month, refrigerated.

***

Country Rhubarb Cake 

This traditional rhubarb cake, based on an enriched bread dough, was made all over Ireland and is a treasured memory from my childhood. It would have originally been baked in the bastible or ‘baker’ over the open fire. My mother, who taught me this recipe, varied the filling with the seasons – first rhubarb, then gooseberries, later in the autumn, apples and plums.

Serves 8

350g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
50g (2oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
75g (3oz) butter
1 organic, free-range egg, if possible
165ml (5 1/2fl oz) milk, buttermilk or sour milk
680g (1 1/2lb) rhubarb, finely chopped
170–225g (6–8oz) granulated sugar
beaten organic, free-range egg, to glaze
softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4

25cm (10 inch) enamel or Pyrex pie plate

Sieve the flour, salt, bread soda and caster sugar into a bowl and rub in the butter. Whisk the egg and mix with the milk, buttermilk or sour milk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour in most of the liquid and mix to a soft dough, add the remaining liquid if necessary.

Sprinkle a little flour on the work surface. Turn out the soft dough and pat gently into a round. Divide into two pieces: one should be slightly larger than the other; keep the larger one for the lid.

Dip your fingers in flour. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry to fit the enamel or Pyrex pie plate. Scatter the rhubarb all over the base and sprinkle with the granulated sugar. Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the other piece of dough until it is exactly the size to cover the plate, lift it on and press the edges gently to seal them. Don’t worry if you have to patch the soft dough.  Make a hole in the centre for the steam to escape. Brush again with beaten egg and sprinkle with a very small amount of caster sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes - 1 hour or until the rhubarb is soft and the crust is golden. Leave it to sit for 15–20 minutes before serving so that the juice can soak into the crust. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Serve still warm, with a bowl of softly whipped cream and some moist, brown sugar.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Sustainability


Sustainability - what could be more timely? But for many of us the word sustainability is confusing and has many interpretations. A loose definition of sustainable agriculture might be - farming in sustainable ways which meet societies present food requirements without damaging the environment or compromising the ability for current or future generations to meet their needs.

The past few weeks have amongst many other things, given us a badly needed opportunity to press the Pause Button in our busy lives. I suppose it must be my imagination that Spring and early Summer 2020 was the most beautiful ever. The birds are singing their little hearts out to cheer us up…everything on the farm and in the gardens is green, vibrant and blossoming. Mother Nature seems to be compensating for our misery and despair and reminding us that, given half a chance, she will provide abundance for us. Even in this short time, changes in human behaviour have benefited the planet - quieter skies, clearer water, cleaner air, healthier nature, bird and insect populations increasing…

We can’t stay in ‘lockdown’ forever but we now know that we can make massive, rapid changes when we adapt the ways we work and live. When this terrible pandemic is over, we have a chance to change our behaviour to offer a secure future, and survivable temperatures to our children and grandchildren, and we MUST. For years now we have heard and largely ignored the scientists and climatologists predictions. We could scarcely comprehend the scale of the threat to the planet and future generations….even if we could absorb the seriousness of the situation, many felt helpless -  It was virtually impossible to believe that Governments and vested interests would ‘step up to the plate’ to implement the changes that needed to be made. Nothing but the Covid 19 enforced change could have achieved so much in such a short time. The pandemic should not have come as such a surprise, something of this magnitude was predicted over and over again, not least by Nostradamus, in Aboriginal Lore and by scientists, yet many Governments failed to listen and prepare.

As the planet became more and more polluted, causing almost irreversible climate change, extreme weather conditions - floods, tornados, cyclones, hurricanes… We were too distracted and growth obsessed at any price to notice. Food became increasingly less nourishing, compromising our health and immune systems so we are less and less able to survive the increasing number of viruses that are challenging our systems.



I know I’m like a broken record but surely it must now be beyond obvious that there is an urgent need to re-embed practical cooking and other life skills, including growing food into the national and secondary school curriculum.  No Irish child, boy or girl, must ever again be awarded a Leaving Certificate without being able to prove they can cook for themselves. Otherwise, we are undeniably, failing in our duty of care to our young people, as many helpless 20, 30 and 40 year olds have realised to their cost in the past couple of months.
So how do we practice sustainability in our everyday lives? Once we start to think that way there are a myriad of opportunities. We can make a huge contribution in the way we choose to spend our food euro. Think about each and every item we put into our shopping baskets – really focus on supporting local producers and small businesses as much as possible. Let’s ask ourselves a few basic questions -  Is it in season, does it’s production damage the environment, is it properly nourishing, are the producers being paid a fair price, how about animal welfare,  packaging….After all that am I buying more than I need? Let’s work towards zero waste in every aspect of our lives?

Start to grow some of our own food, even if it’s just a few salad leaves on a windowsill – you can’t imagine the joy and satisfaction…Realize that it’s worth paying a little more for chemical free food – after all it’s surely better to be proactive and invest in our food as medicine rather than paying for meds and food supplements - let’s be proactive. 

Thursday, 21 May 2020

A Sweet Treat

This was another post that I didn't get around to sharing at the time... I'm sure we're all in need of a little "sweet treat" now.


***

At a glitzy event at Palais Brongniart in Paris in February 2019, Ballymaloe House won Trolley of the Year Award at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards for its iconic ‘Sweet Trolley’ as it’s affectionately known. 



Over 100 chefs from 37 countries made up the panel of judges for 8 different categories of the restaurant experience... Ballymaloe House had first been long-listed, then short-listed, the tension was nail-biting and then at last the announcement. The iconic dessert trolley that Myrtle Allen had introduced at Ballymaloe House, when she opened her own dining room as a restaurant in 1965, had won the top award... super exciting... 

Image result for ballymaloe sweet trolley

The original timber trolley was made by the late Ballymaloe farm carpenter, Danny Power who was well known for his ‘tasty woodwork’.


Every evening, Myrtle piled it high with an ever changing selection of her favourite seasonal desserts. Always a homemade ice-cream made from the rich Jersey cream of the farm’s pedigree herd. This was, as it still is, served in a bowl of ice that Myrtle created to keep the ice cream chilled throughout the evening. A meringue gateau of some kind, a compote of fresh seasonal fruit from the walled garden. Rhubarb perhaps, or green gooseberry and elderflower followed by currants and berries in Summer and Autumn. Perhaps an orange or silky chocolate mousse, creme brûlée or her favourite carrageen moss pudding with soft brown sugar and cream or Irish Coffee sauce.


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Fast forward to now. JR Ryle, the young pastry chef who came to work with Myrtle in 2004 accepted the prestigious award on behalf of Ballymaloe. He continues to work his magic with his equally passionate team in the Ballymaloe pastry kitchens but now he’s also in demand to do Sweet Trolley Pop Ups....

He’s just been to New York to do the first US Ballymaloe Sweet Trolley ‘Pop Up’. King on King Street in Manhattan was the venue; it was a roaring success, totally oversubscribed…



I spoke to co-owner of King, Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni, Claire De Boer who with her friend Jess Shadbolt opened King on King St in September 2016.

“Something magical happened, it felt like a house party, everyone was chatting to the next table and having fun”

The pastry chef at King also trained at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and the River Café. Brian McGin of Netflix flew in from Australia on his way to L.A and Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes came from London, Food Journalist, Christine Muhlke of Bon Appetit, a big fan of King came to the rescue when JR was having difficulty sourcing a Trolley in New York.

David Tanis was there from the New York Times, four people from the prestigious Prior Travel Club. Clare De Boer told me that full capacity for Sunday lunch is 40 guests but due to the overwhelming demand they decided to do two sittings and stopped the bookings at 80 plus.

Image result for ballymaloe sweet trolley

Special Silverwood tartlet tins had been flown out to New York two weeks earlier. Jerpoint glass in Kilkenny was commissioned to make the hand blown glass bowls for the compote and pannacotta... they arrived just two days before the event... nail biting stuff... Stable, that shop in Westbury Mall in Dublin provided the beautiful linen for the trolley but sadly the hand thrown Fermoyle Pottery didn’t arrive from Ballinskelligs until after the event – next time!

Watch this space for news of future Ballymaloe Sweet Trolley Pop Ups

Monday, 18 May 2020

The Hungry Gap

The Hungry Gap is almost over, that’s the name gardeners traditionally gave to the three or four weeks between the end of the Winter vegetables – roots, kale and leeks and the beginning of the Summer bounty when there is little or no fresh produce available in gardens and virtually no greens on the supermarket shelves. Well, here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, our Farm shop has been super busy for the past seven weeks since isolating regulations were introduced. People all over the country are discovering the seasonal treasures in their own parishes, local honey producers, farmhouse cheese makers, fish smokers, poultry and egg producers, charcuterie makers and artisans of all shapes and sizes.


We’re so fortunate to be in the midst of a 100 acre organic farm in East Cork with hens, pigs, cows, a micro diary which yields Jersey milk, home-made butter, buttermilk, yoghurt and thick rich cream everyday. A Bread Shed in a converted mega trailer and a Fermentation Palace in another repurposed trailer, but best of all from the food point of view is an acre block of greenhouses (a relic of a horticultural enterprise which operated right into the 1970’s ) which we now use as a protected garden. Although it’s not heated, the crops mature two or three weeks earlier than outdoor vegetables and herbs.



I feel elated when the first of the beetroot is ready to harvest. Three super delicious vegetables in one, the beets, stalks and leaves. Most people just think of pickled beetroot but the young beets are unbelievably delicious served as a hot vegetable particularly with a roast duck or a fish gratin. I pickle the stalks too. They cook in a minute or two, drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil and add a little shredded fresh mint for a feast. We add them to stews, fish dishes, on and on.. but certainly don’t waste a scrap.


We also have the first bunches of Spring onions and the new seasons Sturon onions are bigger than a golf ball by now with lots and lots of green leaf. I’ve been melting the sliced bulbs in extra virgin olive oil for four or five minutes on a gentle heat, then adding every scrap of the sliced greens, some thyme leaves… A gorgeous accompaniment to a main dish or add a good dollop of cream to make an unctuous sauce to accompany a steak. The green spears of asparagus continue to pop up in beds in the garden so do try this asparagus and spring onion tart sometime during the few short weeks when Irish asparagus is in season.   
The pea pods are already forming lots of pea shoots and flowers so we’ll have those in a couple of weeks but guess what – we’ll have some new potatoes ready to harvest and sell this coming week. There’s something especially exciting about the first of the new potatoes, every year when we sit down to enjoy the first of the crop, we make a wish and I remember my parents annual refrain, “Please God, hope we’ll all be as well this time next year”, all the more poignant in the midst of this Covid 19 Pandemic.
We’ve also had the very first globe artichokes this week. Simply cooked, in boiling well salted water with a dash of vinegar. Then served with a little bowl of lemon butter to dip the base of each leaf in and to enjoy the heart in chunks.
We’ve had lots of rhubarb for weeks now,  I eat it in some shape or form almost every day in a sweet or savoury recipe and as a compote for breakfast. A little stewed rhubarb makes a change from apple sauce and cuts the richness of pork deliciously.



Beetroot - Three delicious vegetables in one.

The new seasons beets are just ready to harvest.  The beets are swelling everyday but one can eat them from when they are the size of a table tennis ball.  We love them served hot as a vegetable when they are young and sweet but we use the stalks and leaves too.  The leaves are delicious served fresh in a salad or wilted down like spinach.  The stalks and leaves can be served together as in the Beetroot Tops recipe or the stalks can be blanched, refreshed and drained, then  tossed in a little extra virgin olive oil and some freshly snipped herbs and serve warm or cold.

How to cook Beetroot
Leave 5cm (2 inch) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don't damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 15-20 minutes (in May/June when they are young) depending on size (they can take 1-2 hours in late Autumn and Winter when they are tough). Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger.  If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.  Use in chosen recipe.

Hot Beetroot with Cream and Parsley


Serves 4-6

675g (1 1/2 lbs) beetroot, cooked
15g (1/2oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
a sprinkling of sugar
150-175ml (5-6fl ozs) cream
2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped parsley

Peel the freshly cooked beetroot, use rubber gloves for this operation if you are vain!  Chop the beetroot flesh into cubes.  Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add the beetroot toss, add the cream, allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Taste and add a little lemon juice if necessary. Scatter with fresh parsley and serve immediately. 




Beetroot Tops (Stalks and Leaves)
Young beetroot tops are full of flavour and are often unnecessarily discarded; but if you grow your own beetroots, remember to cook the stalks as well. When the leaves are tiny they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl, both in terms of nutrition and flavour. This isn’t worth doing unless you have lovely young leaves. When they become old and slightly wilted, feed them to the hens or add them to the compost.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops
salt and freshly ground pepper
butter or olive oil

Keeping them separate, cut the beetroot stalks and leaves into rough 5cm (2in) pieces. First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (1.8 litres/3 pints water to 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt) for 2-4 minutes or until tender. Then add the leaves and cook for a further 2–3 minutes. Drain, season and toss in a little butter or olive oil. Serve immediately.


Beet Stalks with Olive Oil and Mint

Prepare and cook the beet stalks as above, drain well. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with freshly chopped spearmint. A simple but truly delicious combination.



Beet Leaves


Serves 4-6

In season: May-early June

Here are three different basic methods of cooking beet greens.

900g (2lb) fresh beetroot leaves, with stalks removed (cook stalks separately)
salt, freshly ground pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg
50-110g (2-4oz) butter

For preparation
Method 1 (Wilted Method)
Wash the prepared beetroot leaves and drain. Melt a scrap of butter in a wide frying pan, toss in as many beetroot leaves as will fit easily, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  As soon as it wilts and becomes tender, strain off all the liquid, increase the heat and add some butter and freshly grated nutmeg.  Serve immediately.

Method 2 (Buttered Beet Greens)
Wash the prepared beetroot leaves and drain.  Put into a heavy saucepan on a very low heat, season and cover tightly. After a few minutes, stir and replace the lid. As soon as the leaves are cooked, about 5-8 minutes approx., strain off the copious amount of liquid that beetroot releases and press between two plates until almost dry. Chop or puree in a food processor if you like a smooth texture. Increase the heat, add butter, correct the seasoning and add a little freshly grated nutmeg to taste.

Method 3 (Buttered Beet Greens)
Cook the beet greens uncovered in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until soft, 4-5 minutes approx.  Drain and press out all the water. Continue as in method 2.  Method 3 produces fresher coloured leaves.

Beet Greens with Cream
Cook the beet greens by method 2 or 3, drain very well.  Add 225-340ml (8-12fl oz) cream to the beetroot and bring to the boil, stir well and thicken with a little roux if desired, otherwise stir over the heat until the beetroot has absorbed most of the cream.  Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste.  Creamed beet greens may be cooked ahead of time and reheated.

Poached Eggs with Beet Greens
A classic dish and one of the most delicious combinations.
Serve freshly poached free-range organic eggs on top of creamed beet greens - one of our favourite lunch or supper dishes.