ArchiveOctober 4, 2008

Fruits of Foraging

Let’s go foraging and then have a dinner party to celebrate.  I pick and gather ‘wild things’ year round but this really is the best season as far as variety is concerned.  On the last spring tide my mother in law, Myrtle Allen, showed us how to gather carrageen moss off the little rocks in Shanagarry Strand.  It is now laid out on the grass to bleach the seaweed in the sun.  Then it will last almost indefinitely and is a tremendous source of iodine and vitamins and other trace elements.
In truth, early Autumn is a bit late to pick carrageen, but watch out for early spring tides next year so there’s lots of time to bleach the seaweed during the summer.
However, the hedgerows, woods and headlands are bursting with bounty at present, blackberries aren’t quite as abundant as last year but there are still lots and lots.  We also gathered some elderberries, damsons and a fine basket of sloes.  The latter grow on blackthorn bushes while damson trees can be 14 or 15ft high.  All these fruit, as well as crab apples, make delicious jams, jellies and boozy liqueurs. 
Watercress is growing in profusion at present as is wild sorrel and fat hen (oracla).
If you have wild roses or a hedgerow near you or rosa rugosa in your garden, you’ll have lots of rose hips, so try making a rose hip syrup to add to a glass of prossecco as an enticing aperitif.  Float a rose petal or two on top if there’s some still around. 
It’s not a brilliant year for wild mushrooms but a recent foray yielded lots of chanterelles, purple amethyst, deceivers, hedgehog mushrooms all distinctly different and delicious.
So next time you are going for a walk bring a basket and keep your eyes peeled for good things to eat, to incorporate into your diet.  Not only are they delicious to eat, they add badly needed vitamins, minerals and trace elements to our diet which are sadly lacking in much of our pre-prepared and processed food.

Her are some suggestions for a dinner party menu to enjoy with family and friends.
Watercress Soup

Serves 6-8

45g (12 ozs) butter
140g (5ozs) peeled and chopped potatoes
110g (4ozs) peeled and chopped onion
salt and freshly ground pepper
600ml (1 pint) water or homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock
600ml (1 pint) creamy milk
225g (8ozs) chopped watercress (remove the coarse stalks first)

Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the watercress. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the hot stock and boiling milk.  Bring back to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the watercress and boil with the lid off for 4-5 minutes approx. until the watercress is just cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Puree the soup in a liquidiser. Taste and correct seasoning.
Pork or Chicken with Wild Mushrooms & Ginger

You can use the formula of this quick and delicious recipe for fillet steak instead of pork or chicken breast, but be careful not to overcook the meat.  Terrific for a dinner party, it can be made ahead and reheated gently before dinner.

Serves 4-6

2 lbs (900g) pork fillet or chicken breast – naturally reared if possible
1-2 tablesp.  extra virgin olive or sunflower oil or a little butter
4 ozs (110g) onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons of freshly grated ginger
¼ pint (150ml) home-made chicken stock
8 ozs (225g) wild mushrooms (chantrelles, hedgehog, deceivers), sliced
½ pint (300ml) light cream
a little roux
freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons parsley, freshly chopped
Orzo or Fluffy Rice

Cut the pork or chicken into slices ⅓ inch (8mm) thick approx.  Pour a little of the oil or butter into a very hot frying pan and sauté the pieces of meat, a few at a time, until brown on both sides but not fully cooked.
Remove to a plate and keep warm.

Add a little more oil or butter and cook the onion and ginger gently until soft and golden.  Deglaze the pan, add the stock and boil to reduce by one-quarter.  Meanwhile sauté the mushrooms in a little oil or butter in another frying pan over a high heat, then add to the pork or chicken.
Add the cream to the onion and stock, then bring back to the boil, thicken slightly with roux, add the meat, mushrooms and parsley to the sauce and all the juices.   Taste, add a little lemon juice and bubble gently for a couple of minutes until the meat is fully cooked.  Taste again and correct seasoning if necessary.
Pour into a hot serving dish and serve with Orzo or a bowl of fluffy rice.

Fool Proof  Food
Damson or Sloe Gin

Its time to make a supply of damson and sloe gin to have ready for Christmas presents.
Damsons are wild plums, sometimes called bullaces, in season in Autumn and less tart than sloes.  Sloes are little tart berries that resemble tiny purple plums, they grow on prickly bushes in hedgerows or on top of stone walls. They are in season from September to the end of October. 

850ml (1½ pints) damsons or sloes
350g (12oz) unrefined white sugar
1.2 litres (2pints) gin

Wash and dry the damsons or sloes.  Prick in several places, we use a clean darning needle.  Put them into a sterilized glass kilner jar, add the sugar and pour in the gin. 
Cover and seal tightly. Shake every couple of days to start with and then every now and again for 2 – 3 months, by which time it will be ready to strain and bottle. 
Damson or sloe gin will improve on keeping so try to resist drinking it for few a few months – should be perfect by Christmas.
Carrigeen moss is a seaweed which can be gathered off the south and west coasts of Ireland. It is one of the most valuable of all our wild foods as it is loaded with vitamins, minerals and trace elements, particularly iodine, and is rich in natural gelatine. It helps our metabolism to work to its optimum and so breaks down fats while giving us lots of strength and energy. It can be used to set liquids or give body to soups, stews and jams. Another ‘cool’ food!
Serves 6

(1/4oz) cleaned, well dried carrigeen moss (1 semi-closed fistful)
850ml (1 1/2pint) whole milk 
1 tablespoon castor sugar
1 egg, preferably free range
1/2teaspoon pure vanilla extract or a vanilla pod

Compote of fruit in season or soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream

Soak the carrigeen in a little bowl of tepid water for 10 minutes. It will swell and increase in size. Strain off the water and put the carrigeen into a saucepan with milk and vanilla pod if used. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently with the lid on for 20 minutes. At that point and not before, separate the egg, put the yolk into a bowl, add the sugar and vanilla essence and whisk together for a few seconds, then pour the milk and carrigeen moss through a strainer onto the egg yolk mixture whisking all the time. The carrigeen will now be swollen and exuding jelly. Rub all this jelly through the strainer and beat it into the milk with the sugar, egg yolk and vanilla essence if used. Test for a set in a saucer as one would with gelatine. Whisk the egg white stiffly and fold or fluff it in gently. It will rise to make a fluffy top. Serve chilled with soft brown sugar and cream, or with a fruit compote,
Compote of Blackberry and Apples with Rose Geranium Leaves

A delicious Autumn dessert.

Serves 3 approx.

225g (8 ozs) sugar
450ml (16fl ozs) water
4 large dessert apples eg. Worcester Permain or Coxes Orange Pippen
275g (10 ozs) blackberries
8 large rose geranium leaves (Pelagonium Graveolens)

Put the sugar, cold water and rose geranium leaves into a saucepan, bring to the boil for 1-2 minutes. Peel the apples thinly with a peeler, keeping a good round shape. Quarter them, remove the core and trim the ends. Cut into segments 5mm (1/4inch) thick. Add to the syrup. Poach until translucent but not broken. Cover with a paper lid and lid of the saucepan.

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.


For those who are baffled by the maze of regulations the four week course on the Management of Food Hygiene may clarify the subject.
It starts on Monday the 10th November in Jury’s Hotel, Western Road, Cork
The fee of €395 per person includes textbooks, lunch and tea/coffee
Contact Karen Mulvaney to book a place (01) 6779901 or email

If we skip breakfast by mid morning our brain and body will be running low on fuel so we will feel a strong urge to grab a cup of coffee and a sugary snack. This may well kick start the engine but by lunch time we will be ravenous and a bit tetchy and more likely go for a quick fix rather than a healthy wholesome lunch.  Studies show that children who eat breakfast have more energy and can concentrate better at school.  Research also shows that those who eat a nourishing breakfast are more like to maintain a healthy weight.  In a society faced with the urgent problem of childhood obesity and overweight and undernourished adults its time to focus again on breakfast.  Slow Food Limerick and region are doing just that on
Wednesday October 15 at 8pm Garryowen Rugby Club
Anne Fox: 087 216 3706
Ellen O’Mahony: 087 274 4968


Remember Battenburg or Chapel Window cake?  I recently got a pressie of the delicious version made by Catherine Farrell and Annette Burke of the Gourmet Parlor in Sligo town.  Worth a detour not just for a trip down memory lane but for all the delicious home baking.


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