The Tourist Season

The tourist season has started with an optimistic bang. The fabulous weather over Easter helped us all to shake off the Winter lethargy. Hotels, restaurants and B & B’s, lifted the dust sheets, did their annual spring clean and cranked themselves into action for the season. For those in the hospitality industry, particularly in seasonal resorts, Easter is always a shock to the system, many places go from being either closed or very quiet to being packed to capacity overnight. New staff are learning the ropes and are often of necessity thrown in at the deep end. For just a few days, everyone works from dawn to dusk and then suddenly its quiet again with a gradual trickle of guests until the season gathers momentum again in May or June.
Overall, the predictions for this season are more promising than last year but the industry must carefully consider the statistic reported on last year that Ireland is the second most expensive country in the Eurozone to live in, after Finland. When I was in the US earlier this year it was clearly evident that word to his effect has already reached many would-be travellers. Obviously the weak dollar doesn’t help.
In the end, all anyone is asking for is what they perceive to be value for money. They are not interested in hearing about increased insurance costs, labour costs, waste disposal charges… They just want to feel that they haven’t been ripped off. Those who avail of the tempting offers on the internet compare prices all over the Eurozone and return with concrete examples of value for money. So, given our fixed charges, what can we do to surprise and delight our guests – well, often its little simple touches that can make the difference, in the end the way to most people’s hearts is through their tummies, so start by dumping the squishy sliced bread, bake some crusty bread for breakfast. It takes no length to make and if you are really pushed for time brown or white scones can be out of the oven in 10-15 minutes depending on size. Good home-made jam and marmalade always delight – three fruit marmalade can be made year round and there are jams that can be made in any season – we’ve just made our first batch of rhubarb and ginger (see recipe on my page of April 17th). It won’t be long before the elderflowers start to flower in the hedges, so then look out for some green gooseberries to make green gooseberry and elderflower jam. Both of these jams can make a welcome change from the endless raspberry and strawberry jams, no matter how delicious.
The jam tastes even more delicious when you pick your own and don’t underestimate how thrilled your guests will be to discover the jams are not only home-made but home grown. Lemon curd is also a gem of a recipe made in minutes.
Local honey is an even easier option, make inquiries in your area, serve it proudly, encourage your guests to taste, perhaps have two different types to compare.
Really good free range country eggs from hens that run freely around a farm are jewels – now a forgotten flavour for so many – If you can access eggs like these, highlight them on your menu and serve. Don’t forget to offer a freshly boiled egg with soldiers, the mere mention brings childhood memories tumbling back.
I’m running out of space so finally a non-foodie suggestion to enhance your guests’ experience in your establishment. When we’re on holidays we all like to chat, learn about the area. Very often the owners and staff are too busy to stop for any length of time, but this element of a holiday is enormously important. All over the country there are retired people who have some time on their hands and who really enjoy meeting people. Why not think about inviting someone who lives close by, or several people on a rota basis to drop by for a few hours to chat to your guests and help them with their travel plans, you may well be doing everyone a favour and the arrangement could well be made on a barter system – just a suggestion.

White Soda Bread and Scones

Soda bread only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 20-30 minutes to bake. It is certainly another of my 'great convertibles'. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses. It's also great with olives, sun dried tomatoes or caramelized onions added, so the possibilities are endless for the hitherto humble soda bread.

1 lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon breadsoda
Sour milk or buttermilk to mix - 12-14 fl ozs (350-412 ml) approx.

First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up and flip over gently. Pat the dough into a round about 1½ inches (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

White Soda Scones
Make the dough as above but flatten the dough into a round 1 inch (2.5cm) deep approx. Cut into scones. Cook for 20 minutes approx. in a hot oven (see above).

White Soda Bread with Herbs

Add 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs eg. rosemary or sage, thyme, chives, parsley, lemon balm to the dry ingredients and continue as above. Shape into a loaf or scones and bake as for soda bread.

Cheddar Cheese and Thyme Leaf Scones

Substitute thyme leaves for mixed herbs in above recipe.

Cheese Scones or Herb and Cheese Scones

4 ozs (110g) grated mature Cheddar cheese
Egg wash

Make the White Soda bread or herb dough. Stamp into scones, brush the top of each one with egg wash and then dip into grated cheddar cheese, bake as for soda scones, or use to cover the top of a casserole or stew.

Rosemary and Olive Scones

Add 1½ tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary and 2 tablespoons roughly chopped stoned black olives to the dry ingredients and proceed as in the master recipe.

Rosemary and Sundried Tomatoes

Add 1-2 tablespoons of chopped rosemary, 2 tablespoons of chopped sundried tomatoes to the flour and continue as in the basic recipe. Form into a loaf of bread or scones.

Olive Scones

Make a white soda bread dough with or without herbs. Flatten into a 1 inch square. Dot the top with whole olives. Brush generously with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, cut into square scones and bake as above.

Lemon Curd
Tangy delicious lemon curd can be made in a twinkling, smear it over a sponge or onto fresh bread, buttery scones or meringues
2 ozs (55g) butter
4 ozs (110g) castor sugar
grated rind and juice of 2 good lemons
2 eggs and 1 egg yolk (keep white aside for meringue)

Makes 1 pot

On a very low heat melt the butter, add castor sugar, grated rind and lemon juice and then stir in the well beaten eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spoon until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. Draw off the heat and pour into a bowl or sterilized jar (it will thicken further as it cools.)
Cover when cold and store in the refrigerator. Best eaten within a week or fortnight.

Orange, Lemon and Grapefruit Marmalade

Home-made marmalade is always a welcome present, particularly at Christmas, because quite often people have just run out of the previous year’s marmalade. Seville oranges don’t arrive into the shops until the end of January, so make this tangy 3-fruit marmalade in the meantime. It is made from orange, lemon and grapefruit, so may be made at any time of year.

Yield 10-10½ lbs (4.5 kg)

2 sweet oranges and 2 grapefruit, weighing 3 lbs (1.35 kg) altogether
4 lemons
6 pints (3.4 L’s) water
5 lbs (2.2 kg) sugar

Wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the membrane with a sharp spoon, keep aside. Cut the peel in quarters and slice the rind across rather than lengthways. Put the juice, sliced rind and water in a bowl.
Put the pips and membrane in a muslin bag and add to the bowl. Leave overnight. The following day, simmer in a stainless steel saucepan with the bag of pips for 1½-2 hours until the peel is really soft. (Cover for the first hour). The liquid should be reduced to about ⅓ of the original volume.
Then remove the muslin bag and discard. Add the warmed sugar to the soft peel, stir until the sugar has dissolved: boil until it reaches setting point, about 8-10 minutes. Pour into sterilised jars and cover while hot.
Note: If the sugar is added before the rind is really soft, the rind will harden and no amount of boiling will soften it.

Ginger Marmalade

Add 6-8 ozs (170-225 g) peeled, finely chopped fresh ginger to once the recipe.

You may like to substitute Demerara sugar for a fuller flavour and darker colour.

Elderflower and Green Gooseberry Jam

Makes 6 x 450g (1 lb) pots

In season: late spring

The gooseberries should be tart and green and hard as hail stones - as soon as the elderflowers are in bloom in the hedgerows search for the gooseberries under the prickly bushes or seek them out in your local greengrocer or farmers market.

1.35kg (3 lb) green gooseberries
5-6 elderflower heads
600ml (1pint) water
1.57kg (32 lb) sugar

Wash the gooseberries if necessary. Top and tail them and put into a wide stainless steel preserving pan with the water and elderflowers tied in muslin. Simmer until the gooseberries are soft and the contents of the pan are reduced by one third, approx. 2 hour. Remove the elderflowers and add the warm sugar, stirring until it has completely dissolved. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes until setting point is reached (220F on a jam thermometer). Pour into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.
This jam should be a fresh colour, so be careful not to overcook it.

Breakfast Fruit Salad

Serves 8
Breakfast cereals that can be made ahead and kept in the fridge are particularly useful, we love this one and often eat it as a Winter dessert with a few pistachio nuts or toasted almonds added.

6½ ozs (185g) prunes
6 ozs (170g) dried apricots
1 small handful of raisins
3-4 bananas
1-2 tablesp. pure Irish honey
grated rind of ½ lemon
8 fl ozs (250ml) freshly squeezed orange juice

Soak the prunes and apricots overnight. Next day put the prunes, apricots, raisins and lemon rind into a casserole. Mix the honey with ½ cup warm water and enough of the fruit soaking water to cover the prunes and apricots. Bring to the boil and simmer for 35 minutes approx. Allow to cool and keep in the refrigerator. Just before serving, add a little fresh orange juice and some sliced bananas to each bowl. Serve with pouring cream.
Keeps for 1-2 weeks in a kilner jar in the fridge.

Foolproof Food

Beginners Wholemeal Bread

This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well greased tin.
This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.

Makes 1 loaf

400g (14 oz) stone ground wholemeal flour
55g (3oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
1 egg, preferably free range
1 tablespoon arachide or sunflower oil, unscented
425ml (15fl oz) buttermilk or sourmilk approx. (put all the milk in)
Sunflower or sesame seeds optional

Loaf tin - 9 inches (23cm) x 5 inches (12.5cm) x 2 inches (5cm)

Preheat oven to 2001C/4001F/regulo 6.
Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey most of the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin and bake for 60 minutes approx, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Top Tips
Just about time to plant a few gooseberry, blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes.

Unwaxed Lemons – look out for these for your lemon curd or three-fruit marmalade – available in Marks and Spencers and specialist greengrocers.

2004 Seafood Circle Pub Lunch Awards
The names of Ireland’s leading seafood pub lunch venues were published recently in the 2004 BIM Seafood Circle Pub Lunch Guide – the aim of the Seafood Circle Programme, which was developed by BIM in association with the vintners, is to support and encourage pubs to improve the quality, range and understanding of seafood dishes on their lunchtime menus – ‘to bring the best of Irish seafood and great Irish pub ambiance to both tourists and Irish customers alike’ says Pat Keogh CEO of BIM – copies of the guide are available from BIM Market Development – Tel 01-2144100 or e-mail   

Bord Bia is to sponsor the world’s first University of Gastronomic Sciences -
This will be established in Italy by the Slow Food Movement which has more than 50,000 members in 50 countries.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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