In many places around the world religious orders are gradually downsizing, selling off land and property and in some cases gradually changing or evolving into new ministries. In Ireland, several, including the Dominicans, Mercy and Presentation sisters are highlighting their concern for the future of the planet. By being proactive on environmental issues, they reaffirm the basic tenet that so many have forgotten – that ‘everything starts in the good earth, without rich fertile soil we won’t have nourishing food and clean water’. In 1975, 200 years after Nano Nagle established the Presentation order, the sisters got the opportunity to buy the farm between Fermoy and Mallow where their foundress was born and reared. At first they leased the land to local farmers but in the early 1980’s decided to renovate some of the farm buildings including a stone coach-house.
The latter, now a conference centre holds 60 people comfortably. The sisters’ vision was to create a centre for people who were interested in the philosophy and spirituality of caring for the earth and the environment. The Nano Nagle Centre also includes a heritage centre, an oratory and three self-catering bungalows which can be rented for conferences or retreats, or simply for the purpose of relaxation or rejuvenation. In the late 1990’s the sisters made a further decision to take back the land and farm it organically. Sister Mary Kelliher who was reared on a farm in Kerry accepted the challenge of converting the 33 acres to organic production. Before embarking on this daunting task, she went to New Jersey to see the Genesis Centre for Learning with organically cultivated land attached, run by the Dominican sisters and the indomitable Sister Miriam Therese McGillis.
Fired with enthusiasm, she returned to Ireland and immediately joined the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association. Two years later the farm is fully accredited. Sister Mary and her team currently have 140 hens, 9 cattle and 60 lambs and she sells organic lamb and beef to people who would like to have a source of organic meat for the freezer. They grow potatoes, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, broccoli, onions, beetroot, squash and herbs and in the past two years have started an orchard. On a recent visit I had a fascinating tour of the enterprise, Sister Mary says it has been a steep learning curve, and every new season gives one a further insight into the realities and vagaries of nature. The vegetables looked healthy and abundant. The sisters are now fulfilling one of their main aims which is to provide fresh organic produce for the local community, neighbours call regularly to the centre to buy the delicious fresh seasonal produce and for Halloween they will also have pumpkins for sale.
Recently a very successful one-day seminar on ‘The Food we Buy’ attracted a capacity audience, an indication of the growing awareness of food and environmental issues and the deep craving for really fresh local food in season. This was particularly evident at the end of the day when organic and local food producers set up a market at the centre, with a view to selling their produce, there was practically a stampede to buy both food and plants. For details of The Nano Nagle Centre, Ballygriffin, Mallow, Co Cork, please contact Sister Mary Kelliher at 022-26411.
2lbs (900g) pumpkin flesh
2ozs (50g) butter
2 onions, sliced
2 teasp. freshly chopped marjoram or thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1-1½ tablesp. sugar (optional, depends on pumpkin)
1 pint (600ml) milk
10 fl.ozs (300ml) home made chicken stock (optional)
4 streaky rashers
2 tablesp. whipped cream
1 tablesp. chopped parsley
First prepare the pumpkin.
The method you use will depend on how you intend to serve the soup. If you plan to serve it in a tureen or individual soup bowls, simply cut the pumpkin in half or quarters, scoop out the seeds and fibrous matter from the centre. Peel off the skin with a knife and cut the flesh into cubes.If however you would like to use the pumpkin shell for a more dramatic presentation then you’ll need to proceed with care. Slice a lid off the top of the pumpkin, scoop out the seeds and fibres. Save the seeds to roast (see below) and nibble as a snack. Then carefully scoop out the pumpkin flesh, a sharp edged tablespoon is best for this but be careful not to damage the pumpkin shell. You may need to do several times the recipe, using the flesh of a second pumpkin to fill the pumpkin tureen. Next make the soup – Melt the butter in a saucepan, when it foams add the onion and sweat for a few minutes until soft, add the chopped pumpkin and coat in the butter, add freshly chopped herbs, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar and the milk and stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the pumpkin is cooked.
Liquidize, taste and correct seasoning if necessary. If it is a little thick, thin with some boiling chicken stock.
Cook the rashers until they are really crisp and cut into lardons. Pour the hot soup into a tureen or back into the pumpkin shell, swirl a little cream on top. Scatter with crispy bacon and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
Lydia’s Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Preheat the oven to 110C/225F/regulo ¼.
Remove all the seeds from the flesh and rinse under cold water. Lay a single
layer on a baking tray and sprinkle generously with sea salt.
Put into the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, the seeds should be nice and
Beetroot Soup with Chive Cream
2lb (900g) beetroot
1oz (25g) butter
8oz (225g) onions
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pints (1.2L) home-made chicken or vegetable stock approx.
4fl oz (125ml) creamy milk
4 fl oz (125ml) sour cream or crème fraiche
Finely chopped chives
Wash the beetroot carefully under a cold tap. Don’t scrub, simply rub off the clay with your fingers. You won’t want to damage the skin or cut off the top or tails because it will ‘bleed’ in the cooking. Put the beetroot into cold water, and simmer covered for anything from 20 minutes to 2 hours depending on the size and age. Meanwhile chop the onions, sweat carefully and gently in the butter until they are cooked. The beetroot are cooked when the skins will rub off easily.
Chop the beetroot and add to the onions. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. * Put into a liquidiser with the hot chicken stock. Liquidise until quite smooth. Reheat, add some creamy milk, taste and adjust the seasoning, it may be necessary to add a little more stock or creamy milk. Serve garnished with little swirls of sour cream and a sprinkling of finely chopped chives.
Chilled Beetroot Soup
Proceed as in the master recipe above to *. Liquidise with just enough stock
to cover. The mixture should be smooth and silky. Season with salt and
freshly ground pepper. Fold in some cream and yoghurt.
Serve well chilled in small bowls with little swirls of yoghurt and finely
Victoria Plum Jam
Makes 6-7 lbs (2.7-3.2kg)
4 lbs (1.8kg) Victoria or Opal plums
3-4 lbs (1.35-1.8kg) sugar, (taste the plums if they are very sweet use
1 pint (600ml) water
Wash the plums and remove the stones. Save the stones and tie in muslin bag. Put the sugar into a moderate oven to heat for 10-15 minutes. Grease the preserving pan, put in the plums bag of stones and water, and cook until the plums burst. Add the hot sugar, stir until it has completely dissolved. Turn the heat to maximum and boil until the jam will set, approx. 15-20 minutes. Discard the bag of stones. Test, skim and pot into hot sterilized jars. Cover immediately and label.
Compote of Blackberry and Apples with Sweet Geranium Leaves
Make this simple compote while the blackberries are still on the hedgerows.
Serves 3 approx.
4 ozs (110g) sugar
8 fl ozs (250ml) water
2 large dessert apples eg. Golden Delicious or Worcester Pearmain
5 ozs (140g) blackberries
4 large sweet geranium leaves (Pelargonium Graveolens)
Boil the sugar, water and sweet geranium leaves for 1-2 minutes to make a syrup. Peel the apples thinly, keeping a good round shape. Quarter them, remove the core and trim the ends. Cut into segments 3 inch (5mm) thick. Poach them in the syrup until translucent but not broken. Just 3-5 minutes before they have finished cooking, add the blackberries, simmer together so that they are both cooked at once.
Serve chilled, with little shortbread biscuits.
Makes 45-50 biscuits approx.
8 ozs (225g) soft butter
4 ozs (110g) castor sugar
10 ozs (275g) self raising flour
Grated rind of one lemon or orange
Cream the butter, add in the castor sugar, sifted flour and grated lemon or orange rind and mix just until it all comes together. Alternatively, place all four ingredients in the bowl of a food mixer and mix slowly until all the ingredients come together. At this stage the dough can either be used right away or put in the deep freeze or kept in the fridge for up to a week. When required, bring up to room temperature and form into small balls the size of a walnut. Flatten them out onto a baking sheet using the back of a fork dipped in cold water. Allow plenty of room for expansion. Bake in a preheated oven – 180C/350F/regulo 4 for 10 minutes approx. Sprinkle with Vanilla sugar. When cold, store in air tight containers.