Standing room only at the Organic Conference

S
It gave me an oops in my tummy to see standing room only at the Organic Conference in Carrick-on-Shannon recently – what a change from the years gone by when there might be a scattering of 40 or 50 pioneers and a few reluctant, not to mention deeply sceptical officials from the department.

The worldwide increase in demand for organic produce is fuelling a growing interest in all things organic. In the US supermarkets simply cannot get enough produce.

When Walmart announced its plan to stock organic produce earlier this year few people believed that they were motivated by eco-friendliness – organic purists were concerned that they would force a dilution of the standards. Reality is that Walmart like all the multiples are keenly aware that customers have a genuine appetite for food that is free of pesticides, GMO’s and anti-biotic residues.

All over the world the trend is the same – in the UK the demand has skyrocketed. In the UK it has increased 1000 fold since 1993, to 1.6 billion sterling in 2006. Sales of organic produce in Tesco are rising at the rate of £7 million a week, up 30% on last year.

Irish consumers now spend an estimated €66 million on certified organic products and production is expected to increase significantly. According to a study commissioned by Bord Bia at the launch of Organic Food Week in Carrick-on-Shannon recently.

Bord Bia have allocated €1.5million euros to promote this sector. This was welcomed by delegates at the Conference but was generally considered to be inadequate, considering the obvious opportunities for Ireland the Food Island in this sector.

So what is driving the staggering growth in the artisan and specialist food sector?.

There is unquestionably a growing awareness of the importance of the food we eat to our health. Words that were considered to be esoteric a few years ago are now mainstream language.

Customers are asking more and more searching questions about how their food is produced and where it comes from. They want food with a story – for more and more people real quality must encompass a whole range of attributes – sustainability, animal welfare, fair trade, GMO free, anti-biotic and pesticide free, carbon footprint…..
At the farmers markets, more customers are interested in variety and are asking about breed and feed, nutritional content…. A growing number are purposely seeking out local food, in fact the sexiest words in current culinary jargon are local, artisan and slow.

Where to buy organic?

Directly from local producers at a local farmers market 
Organic box scheme 
On –line shopping on an organic website eg. www.ballybrado.ie  
From local supermarket

For best flavour buy local food in season. At present root vegetables, carrots, parsnips, celeriac, pumpkins, red and Savoy cabbage, kale, broccoli, leeks, citrus fruit, pomegranates…

Glazed Carrots

You might like to try this method of cooking carrots. Admittedly it takes a little vigilance but the resulting flavour is a revelation to many people.
Serves 4-6

450g (1lb) organic carrots, Early Nantes and Autumn King have particularly good flavour
15g (1/2 oz) butter
125ml (4fl oz) cold water
Pinch of salt
Good pinch of sugar

Garnish: 
Freshly chopped parsley or fresh mint

Cut off the tops and tips, scrub and peel thinly if necessary. Cut into slices 7mm 

(1/2 inch) thick, either straight across, or at an angle. Leave very young carrots whole. Put them in a saucepan with butter, water, salt and sugar. Bring to the boil, cover and cook over a gentle heat until tender, by which time the liquid should have all been absorbed into the carrots, but if not remove the lid and increase the heat until all the water has evaporated. Taste and correct the seasoning. Shake the saucepan so the carrots become coated with the buttery glaze.

Serve in a hot vegetable dish sprinkled with chopped parsley or mint.

Note: It is really important to cut the carrots into the same thickness. Otherwise they will cook unevenly.

Baby carrots:
Scrub the carrots with a brush but don’t peel. Trim the tails but if the tops are really fresh, leave a little of the stalks still attached. Cook and glaze as above, scatter with a little fresh parsley and mint.

Foolproof Food

Potato and Parsnip Mash

Serves 8
700g (1 1/2lb) parsnips
700g (1 1/2lb) fluffy mashed potatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Chopped parsley
50-75g (2-3 oz) butter

Peel the parsnips thinly. Cut off the tops and tails and cut them into wedges. Remove the inner core if it seems to be at all woody, divide the wedges into 2cm (3/4inch approximately) cubes. Cook them in boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes. They should be quite soft. Drain. Mash with a potato pounder, add the mashed potatoes, a nice bit of butter and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. The texture should not be too smooth.

Whole Pumpkin baked with Cream

From the River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
This is an incredibly simple and elegant dish, in which the finished ‘soup’ is scooped out from the whole baked pumpkin – rich, filling and satisfying, so ideal sustenance after some hard graft in the garden on a cold autumn day. You can use as big a pumpkin as will fit in your oven but be aware that if you use a real monster, judging the cooking time becomes hard and the risk of collapse increases greatly. You will use a huge amount of cream and cheese, too, so you need to have a lot of hungry people on hand. You can also make this recipe with small squash varieties such as acorn or Sweet Mama, and serve one per person. A medium pumpkin serves 4 to 6, generously.

1 medium (3-4kg/6-9lb) pumpkin or several smaller squashes (1 per person)
Up to 500g (18oz) Gruyere cheese, grated (depending on the size of your pumpkin)
Up to 1 litre (1¾pint)double cream (again depending on the size of your pumpkin)
Freshly grated nutmeg
A knob of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice the top off the pumpkin or squashes three-quarters of the way up and retain; this is your lid. Scoop out all the seeds and surrounding fibres from the pumpkin. Place the scooped-out pumpkin on a baking tray or in an ovenproof dish (which must have sides to catch any leaking cream – an accident that shouldn’t, but can, happen.)

Put enough grated Gruyere into the empty cavity of the pumpkin to fill about a third of it, then pour in double cream until the cavity is two-thirds full. Add a few gratings of nutmeg, a little salt and plenty of black pepper. Throw in a knob of butter and replace the lid, so the pumpkin is whole again.

Place in a fairly hot oven (190C/gas mark 5) and cook for 45mins - 1¼ hours, depending on the size of the pumpkin. Test for doneness by removing the lid and poking at the flesh from the inside. It should be nice and tender. At this point, the skin maybe lightly burnt and the whole thing beginning to sag a bit. Be wary: when the pumpkin is completely soft and cooked through, there is a real danger of collapse. The larger the pumpkin, the bigger the danger. Don’t panic if it happens – it will look at bit deflated but will still taste delicious.

Serve small squashes individually in bowls, with spoons to scoop out the flesh. Serve the larger pumpkin by scooping plenty of flesh and the creamy, cheesy liquid (the Gruyere comes out in lovely long, messy strings) into warmed soup bowls. Either way, serve piping hot. 

Yoghurt and Cardamon Cream with Pomegranate Seeds perfumed with Rose Blossom Water

Serves 8-10
425ml (15 fl ozs) natural yoghurt
230ml (8 fl ozs) milk
200ml (7 fl ozs) cream
175g (6 ozs) castor sugar (could be reduced to 5oz)
¼ teaspoon cardamon seeds, freshly ground - you’ll need about 8-10 green cardamon pods depending on size
3 rounded teaspoons powdered gelatine
Pomegranate Seed with Rose Blossom Water
1-2 pomegranates depending on size
a little lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons castor sugar
Rose blossom water to taste

Garnish: Sweet geranium or mint leaves

Remove the seeds from 8-10 green cardamon pods, crush in a pestle and mortar.

Put the milk, sugar and cream into a stainless steel saucepan with the ground cardamon, stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse while you dissolve the gelatine. 

Put 3 tablespoons of cold water into a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatine over the water, allow to ‘sponge’ for a few minutes. Put the bowl into a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine has melted and is completely clear. Add a little of the cardamon infused milk mixture, stir well and then mix this into the rest. Whisk the yoghurt lightly until smooth and creamy, stir into the cardamon mixture.

Pour into a wide serving dish or a lightly oiled ring mould and allow to set for several hours, preferably overnight.
Meanwhile, cut the pomegranates in half around the Equator! Carefully separate the seeds from the membrane. Put the seeds into a bowl, sprinkle with just a little freshly squeezed lemon juice, add castor sugar and rose blossom water to taste. Chill.

If the cardamon cream has been set in a ring mould, turn out onto a chilled white plate. Fill the centre with chilled rose-scented pomegranate seeds. Garnish with sweet geranium or mint leaves or even prettier, garnish with crystallized rose petals. I’ve got a wonderful Irish rose called ‘Souvenir de St Ann’s” in Lydia’s garden. This rose has a bloom even in the depths of winter so I steal a few petals and crystallize to decorate this and other desserts. 

Book of the Week – Vegetables –the new food heroes
Buy this Book from Amazon
By Peter Gordon – published by Quadrille with photographs by Jean Cazals
The dishes in this book are designed to showcase vegetables and bring them centre stage. There are inspirational recipes for vegetables both familiar and unusual, humble and glamorous, as well as dishes to suit vegetables of all seasons.

Potato, Celeriac and Leek Gratin with Sage and Feta

Most root vegetables can be cooked like this, layered in a dish and flavoured with anything from herbs and cheeses through to spices and nuts. Then, you pour over boiling water, stock or double cream, seal tightly with foil and bake until the vegetables are cooked. The top may then be coloured under a grill. Choose a dish just large enough to hold everything, but one in which the liquids won’t boil up and out of the dish. Cut out a sheet of non-stick baking parchment the same size as the dish – this will come between the vegetables and the foil, which otherwise has a habit of sticking to the top layer of vegetables. This gratin is perfect with roast salmon or chicken.
Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for the baking parchment
3 large baking potatoes, cut into 5mm (¼ in) thick slices
100g (3½ oz) feta cheese, crumbled *
Small handful of sage leaves, roughly shredded
350g (12oz) celeriac (about ½ of a large one) peeled and thinly sliced
½ leek, thinly sliced and rinsed if gritty
150ml (5fl.oz) boiling water

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Brush the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a suitable baking dish (approx. 1.5litres/2½ pints capacity) and arrange half the potato slices on the bottom of the dish. Scatter half the feta and sage on top, sprinkle with a little salt, then lay the celeriac slices on top of that, followed by the leek and the remaining feta and sage. Lay the remaining potato slices on top, pour in the 150ml (5fl.oz) boiling water, then lightly season (remembering the feta will be a little salty). Brush one side of a sheet of non-stick baking parchment the same size as the dish with a little extra olive oil and lay this side on top of the potatoes. Cover with foil and seal tightly.

Bake for 1½ hours, then remove the boil and baking parchment, and place the dish under a hot grill to colour the potatoes. Serve from the dish while piping hot.

You could use Knockalara cheese when making this dish.

Hot Tips

Last Sunday at Schull Farmers Market from 10-1 Niamh G was selling her Chocolate Chip Cookies - 
There she was in her spotless apron at her little stand displaying her cookies in a basket lined with a tea towel – beautifully presented cellophane packs with a colourful label and a picture of 11 year old Niamh - best before date, list of ingredients, everything just right - I managed to get her last couple of cookies before she sold out – it is wonderful so see such an enterprising young lady – we should encourage young entrepreneurs like Niamh – they are the future.

Christmas at Arnotts in Dublin

Well known as a shopping destination in the heart of Dublin, Arnotts is now on the map as a place to eat well and shop for good food. They now have La Brea Bakery Café, the first outside the US – they stock Nancy Silverton’s famous sourdough bread and other loaves as well as sandwiches and pastries. Sheridans Food Hall has also recently opened on the Lower Ground floor stocking gourmet dried produce, fresh ‘ready meals’, olives, wines, tarts and of course their huge cheese selection. A series of wine tasting evenings is planned between now and Christmas with David Whelehan of O’Briens wines. 

Ardrahan Lullaby Milk

Lullaby Milk produced by Mary Burns of Ardrahan near Kanturk has sleep inducing properties because of its higher melatonin content – widely available in Munster from most supermarkets – all Super-Valu, Dunnes and Tesco branches, some Spar and Centra and On the Pig’s Back in the English Market in Cork. 
Watch out for the new Duhallow Cheese soon coming on stream from Ardrahan – this is a mild flavoured semi-soft cheese made from unpasteurised cows milk.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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