Monday, 27 July 2020

Summer Salads


Everyone on the farm and gardens continued to sow and plant for the past three months during the Covid-19 pandemic. They too are heroes providing nourishing nutrient dense super delicious vegetables and fruit to boost our immune system and keep us healthy. 


Now we are reaping the dedicated rewards of their hard work. Baskets of fresh peas, cucumbers, onions, broad beans, beets...the tomatoes have been ripening slowly for the past few weeks but now we have lots for the kitchens, Farm Shop, Farmers Markets and online NeighbourFood Markets.


The field crop of flowery potatoes, a blight resistant variety called Orla, is ready. If you haven’t ever dug potatoes out of the ground, you haven’t lived! It’s a special ‘Woops in the tummy’ moment when you uncover those jewels under the stalk. Will it be one or two or maybe five or six….?



Everyday we have big platters and bowls of salads oozing with fresh flavours and vitamins and minerals, no need for supplements - this is the real thing. 


I want to share with you a range of beautiful chunky salads that can be easily put together with the gorgeous summer produce that is coming in from the garden and greenhouse everyday. So what's the secret of making a memorable salad, apart from beautiful fresh produce of course, here are a few tips...

1. Think about a contrast of colour, texture and flavour - counterbalance of sweet, salty and sharp and sour.

2. Vary the greens from crunchy little gem, bitter and beautiful Castlefranco, radicchio, mustard greens, mizuna, tender butterhead, watercress, pea tendrils, peppery rocket and edible flowers. 

3. Add lots of fresh herbs, mint leaves, little sprigs of tarragon, coriander leaves, dill and a variety of basil leaves, purple Opal, Lemon, Vietnamese, Thai, Genovese basil all produce a different burst of flavour. Even flat parsley and of course chervil.




4. Keep it chunky, a base of potatoes cooked in well salted water and tossed while still warm in perky dressing can have a myriad of other ingredients added. Substitute potatoes with chunky roast beetroot, sweet potatoes, white turnips...Pasta, egg noodles, rice or buckwheat noodles are also great.

5. Don't forget the pulses, chickpeas, cannellini beans, lentils, dress with a perky dressing - a great foundation to embellish with summer vegetables, herbs and spices.


6. Grains and pearl barley must be soaked overnight to make them digestible.

7. Freshly roasted and ground spices also add magic to your salads and dressings adding the flavour of the East and Far East, India, Morocco, Mexico depending on the combination you choose.

8. Vary the dressings too, a basic French dressing of 3 parts cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and 1 part aged vinegar seasoned with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper can be superb, depending on the quality of its oils and vinegars and then there's flavoured oils – hazelnut, walnut, avocado…. 

Add a little honey, some excellent mustard, maybe some finely chopped shallot, crushed garlic and lots of fresh herbs - sublime to dress leaves or even a potato salad. The proportions could be 2-1 instead of 3-1 if you want a perkier flavour. But there's so much more, don't forget tahini, miso, pomegranate molasses, date syrup...Look out for Katie Sanderson's White Rayu Mausu. There are so many addictive hot sauces to experiment with now.



9. Sprinkle roasted, salted and toasted nuts and seeds over your salads - hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, sesame seeds, sunflower, pumpkin...

10. Dried fruits also add a burst of sweetness, extra nutrients and deliciousness. Apricots, dates, dried cherries or cranberries, raisins, sultanas, currants, goji berries….

11. Crunchy croutons, seedy brittle or crispy chicken skin add magic too.

12. Experiment with dressings, maybe natural yoghurt, lime and harissa, mayo, rice vinegar, grated new seasons garlic…. Combine grape seed oil, rice vinegar, miso and grated ginger. Experiment with different vinegars - white balsamic, apple cider vinegar, Moscatel vinegar. Don't forget a generous squeeze of lemon juice to cut the richness in a mayo dressed salad.

The world’s your oyster as salads are concerned – start with beautiful ingredients, be creative and adventurous…experiment and taste, taste, taste…

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Summer Foraging

The Covid-19 experience has been quite the wake-up call for many of us, not just for the obvious reasons but also because many highly achieving, super-efficient people have found themselves floundering when they are out of their usual medium having to cope with the day-to-day reality of feeding the family, doing the laundry, stimulating and home-schooling the kids and planning menus, not to speak of keeping the peace during these challenging times.  Learning a language or how to play a musical instrument or delving deep into an unfamiliar subject has been deliciously distracting – yoga and exercise do it for some, a new hobby, maybe gardening, embroidery or China restoration.

Being able to get out for walks in the countryside has been a life-saver for those who were cooped up indoors for weeks on end – so I’m going to devote this column to Summer foraging to focus on the many delicious edible foods growing around us not just in the wild but also in urban areas.  There has also been a very positive response to my ‘Wild Food of the Week’ in my weekly column Irish Examiner and I get regular questions and photos from readers asking if something is edible.  Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we’ve been doing Foraging courses throughout the seasons for over 20 years and we all continue to add to our knowledge of the abundance of wild and free food all round us.


Apart from the fun and extra dimension foraging adds to a walk collecting food in the wild, there’s an even more important reason to become more knowledgeable about the free bounty of nature.  A high percentage of foods, berries and nuts in the wild are edible.  Unlike many conventional foods they have not been tampered with to produce maximum yields at minimum costs so their full complement of vitamins and minerals and trace elements are intact making them highly nutritious and nutrient dense, up to 20 times, more than in the ultra-processed food on which so many of us depend nowadays.
One can forage all year but there are particularly rich pickings at present both in the countryside and along the seashore!  So let’s mention a few, succulent marsh samphire (salicornia europaea) which is also known as glasswort because it was used in the fourteenth century by glass makers, grows in marshy areas close to the sea.  It’s at the peak of perfection as present, full of Vitamin A, Calcium and iron, nibble raw or blanch it in lightly salted water – it’s salty crunch is great with fish or indeed with lamb. Sea Purslane which grows close is also abundant at present. 
Pretty much everyone recognises dandelions, I regularly urge people to nibble at least one dandelion leaf a day or pop some into a green salad – full of vitamins A, C, and K, calcium and iron.
Gardeners will be cursing chickweed at present, it romps around the garden between the vegetables and in flower beds.  Where others ‘see weeds, we see dinner’.  Pick the chickweed and add to salads or wilt it like spinach, add to mashed potato, risotto or pasta.  It too is highly nutritious.  There’s several varieties of wild sorrel about too, buckler leaf sorrel, lambs tongue sorrel and common field sorrel.  There’s masses of fluffy meadow sweet along the roadside at present, it will last into early autumn – use to flavour panna cotta, lemonade, custards…Watch out for wild mushrooms too, I found just one ‘field’ mushroom yesterday but they usually pop up in warm muggy weather in fields or even on lawns that haven’t had chemicals added.  The flavour is exquisite, don’t waste a scrap.  Chop or slice a glut (including the stalks), sauté and freeze to add to a stew or make into a ketchup. 

And there’s so much more. If you’d like to learn more about foraging on land and along the seashore, perhaps you would like to join Pat Browne and myself on Saturday, 25th July for a 1-Day Summer Foraging course.  Numbers limited, booking essential – 021 4646785 

If you’re a newbie to foraging, be careful – don’t nibble anything you are unsure of, and introduce foraged food gradually into your menu, better not to binge at first.

Buy a good beginner's guide to foraging.  
Wild Food


Monday, 13 July 2020

Summer Berry Heaven

Beautiful apricots, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries piled up onto the greengrocers shelves. The blackcurrants and redcurrants are also beginning to ripen in our Currant and Berry garden. The abundance of fruits makes our hearts sing and helps us to forget our woes and count our blessings.


Mother Nature sweetly cheering us up…My grandchildren are in their element crawling in under the netting on the fruit cage to steal the ripest strawberries – sweet, juicy berries, often half the size of the perfect commercial fruit but intensely flavoured from all that delicious sunshine. Can’t wait to drizzle them with a slick of thick yellow Jersey cream and a sprinkling of caster sugar, that’s all the first of the new seasons organic strawberries need but as they become more abundant, I start to search for other delicious ways to enjoy them. One of the simplest is to add shredded mint leaves, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of caster sugar or honey.


Jane Grigson’s Fruit book published in 1982 is a classic, one of my favourite cookbooks of all time. It’s an alphabetical guide to fruit from the apple onwards. It was out of print for a while but is now available again. If you don’t have it, try to source an original – they are a collector’s item. Jane’s beautiful prose and immense knowledge of the history of each fruit makes it bedtime reading…maybe not everyone idea but I find myself licking my lips and longing to get into the kitchen to try some of her suggestions.

Bushby’s Rosscarbery Strawberry Farm (023) 883 8140) and Rose Cottage Fruit Farm in Co. Laois grow a large selection of fruit. Look out for loganberries and tayberries at local Farmers Markets and the Wexford strawberries are along the roadside right up as far as the Midlands.

 
Don’t forget to use lots of fresh herbs with fruit of course elderflower with gooseberries but it’s also delicious added to syrup to poach other stone fruit, peaches, pears and nectarines. The Ballymaloe sweet geranium is another must have to add a magical haunting lemony flavour to so many dishes.

A glut of fruit is an opportunity to make a few pots of jam. Strawberries are low in pectin, the substance that helps with gelling. Jam made with commercial strawberries that are constantly irrigated seem to be even more difficult to set. Some people use jam sugar which I’ve never been fond of partly because the jam can easily end up the texture of ‘bought jam’ so what’s the point of making your own. I recently discovered that jam sugar also has hydrogenated palm oil which I try to avoid at all costs. However don’t fret, fruits that are low in pectin like the aforementioned strawberries can be combined with fruits with high pectin e.g. redcurrants which by a happy coincidence of nature both are in season at the same time. We’ve had a brilliant crop of red, white and black currants. The latter won’t be ready for a few weeks.



Look out for wild strawberries too, divinely sweet. We’ve also got a patch of wild raspberries, watch out for them around the country and soon there will be blueberries…

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 Dairy – The Real Olive Company
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.