Irelandâ€™s future is unquestionably in food production. At long last we are recognising the fact that Ireland is in an enviable position in terms of natural resources â€“ we are an island nation on the edge of Europe with 400 million affluent consumers on our doorstep. Weâ€™ve got acres of fertile soil, plenty of water, a long growing season, a thriving artisan and specialist food production industry, plus a green clean image.
The Harvard Business School report commissioned by Bord Bia on â€˜Pathways to Growthâ€™ pointed all this out and said: â€œIreland has an enviable agricultural situation that almost every other country would kill for. At present we export ninety percent of our beef and dairy products much of which is produced on grass which is known to produce the correct balance of Omega 3 and 6.â€
In the corridors of power, politicians are â€˜tri nÃ¡ ceileâ€™ about what should be done to ease us out of the quagmire we find ourselves in but on the ground people are just getting on with it, milking their cows, cooking the dinner, going to work where they are fortunate enough to still have jobâ€¦
A study by the New Economics Foundation in London found that every Â£10 spent at a local food business is worth Â£25 for the local area, compared with just Â£14 when the same amount is spent in a supermarket.Â That is, a pound (or euro) spent locally generates more than twice as much income for the local economy. The farmer buys a drink at the local pub; the pub owner gets his car fixed at the local mechanic; the mechanic brings a suit to the local dry cleaners; the dry cleaner buys some bread, tarts and buns at the local bakery; the baker buys apples and eggs from the local Farmers Market. When these businesses are not owned locally, money leaves the community through every transaction.
Over the Halloween weekend I visited two Farmers Markets in Co Clare, one in Ennistymon and the other in Ballyvaughan. There was a terrific buzz and lively banter. Everyone had entered into the Halloween spirit; the stall holders had donned witches hats and wigs, painted their faces and decorated their stalls. Several home bakers produce reflected the festival. Scary looking cupcakes, spooky meringues and witches bread. In Ennistymon, Aloma McKay had made some witches fingers from puff pastry, a flaked almond at the tip made a very convincing looking finger nail â€“ (they tasted like cheese straws). Â She also does a great Indian curry meal and samosas having originally come from Goa in India.
Even though there were less than 15 stalls at this time of the year, one couldnâ€™t but be impressed by the variety. Lots of local produce and home baking, I also bought a fine bag of turf and some Kerrs Pink potatoes that were grown in Ennistymon by Tom Kennedy.
Eva Hegarty Stephan had some traditional bacon, dry cured in the time honoured way and some home made sausages; close by Kate Conway was doing a roaring trade with a fine array of her gluten free baking. Mary Grayâ€™s stall beside pumpkin carving also caught my eye. Maryâ€™s attention to detail was evident in her delicious jams and baking and prettily wrapped hampers. She told me her cider cake is the best seller but I couldnâ€™t resist a pot of lemon ginger marmalade and some sweet chilli jelly. Inside the hall adjoining the outdoor market Gillian Oâ€™Leary from Caherbannagh. sold her chocolate confections, pretty mendiants, hot-chocolate powder, truffles, chocolate lollipopsâ€¦Gillian is a self confessed chocoholic. Her chocolate business grew out of her blog www.somesaycocoa.wordpress.com Â Â Â Â Â Â
Kids were queuing up to paint scary masks or to have their faces painted. Close by Tom and Dorothy Barry gave seeds away for free and sold Pimenton de Padron, heirloom tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and some Blenheim apples â€“ from their own orchard. They planted half an acre of old apples sixteen years ago. Aine Martin had set up a snug little cafe An Shibeen in the hall and was dispensing peppermint tea, barmbrack, brownies and Eveâ€™s pudding. Noel
Ballyvaughan Market is also held from 10am to 2pm on a Saturday, again there were fewer stalls than in the summer time but still lots to choose from. Roshan Groves made the cutest witch bread. Deirdre Guillot sold chickweed and calendula salve and tarragon vinegar, so innovative, using wild and seasonal foods. Theresa Fahey who has seven fine sons, stood proudly behind a stall laden with homemade bagels, pretzels and winter vegetables – everything home grown on their farm. We bought local Burren Gold cheese, some French garlic and local apple juice. Stall holders told me how vital the market is to the community, both in economic and social terms â€œI make a few bob and it sure gets me out to meet a few peopleâ€
Philip Monks brought two fine bronze turkeys in a little pen to entice us to order ahead for Christmas, he also rears free range geese on his farm at Ballyvaughan, Co Clare.
Members of the Ballyvaughan Farmers Market and community have come together to write a cookbook. It is available from Quinn Crafts in Ballyvaughan, Fitzpatricks Supervalu in Ennistymon and Burren Smoke House in Lisdoonvarna. The proceeds will benefit the local community.
The Farmers Markets provide a badly needed income for many food producers and increasingly fishermen as well. They are unquestionably the best place to trial a product and do simple but effective market research.
We stayed at Gregans Castle near Ballyvaughan, County Clare, a second generation country house hotel on the edge of the Burren. They have recently been awarded three rosettes from AA and their Finnish Chef Mickael Viljanen also won the The Hotel & Catering Review Gold Medal Award for Fine Dining and at The Food & Wine Magazine Awards in August 2009 Viljanen was rated 6th best chef in Ireland and the 2nd in the Munster region. Richly deserved awards for his exceptionally delicious food. Gregans Castle closes for the Winter but will reopen in February.
So this week some delicious recipes which use seasonal produce which would be good to make for the family or to sell at a Farmers Market.
Crab Apple or Bramley Apple Jelly
Making jellies is immensely rewarding. This is a brilliant master recipe that can be used for many combinations. A jelly bag is an advantage, but by no means essential. Years ago we strained the juice and pulp through an old cotton pillow and hung it on an upturned stool. A couple of thicknesses of muslin will also do the job. Place a stainless-steel or deep pottery bowl underneath to catch the juice. Tie with cotton string and hang from a sturdy cup-hook. If you canâ€™t get enough crab apples, use a mixture of crab apples and windfall cooking apples, like Bramleyâ€™s Seedling, Grenadier or any other tart cooking apple.
Makes 2.7â€“3.2kg (6â€“7lb)
2.7kg (6lb) crab apples or windfall cooking apples
2.7 litres (5 3â„4 pints) water
2 organic lemons
450g (1lb) granulated sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) of juice
Wash the apples, cut into quarters, but do not remove either the peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but be sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large stainless-steel saucepan with the water and the thinly pared zest of the lemons and cook for about 30 minutes until reduced to a pulp.
Pour the pulp into a jelly bag and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted, usually overnight. (The pulp can later go to the hens or compost. The jelly bag or muslin may be washed and reused over and over again.)
Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 450g (1lb) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) of juice. Warm the sugar in a low oven. Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly without stirring for about 8â€“10 minutes. Skim, test and pot immediately. Flavour with rose geranium, mint, sage or cloves as required (see below).
Crab Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly
Add 8â€“10 leaves to the apples initially and 5 more when boiling to a set.
Ballymaloe Green Tomato Chutney
When you grow your own tomatoes, you canâ€™t bear to waste a single one.
This recipe will use up the end of the precious crop and add extra oomph to winter meals.
Makes 12 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars
1kg (2 1â„4lb) cooking apples (Bramley Seedling or Grenadier), peeled and diced
450g (1lb) onions, chopped
1kg (2 1â„4lb) green tomatoes, chopped (no need to peel)
350g (12oz) white sugar
350g (12oz) Demerara sugar
450g (1lb) sultanas
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
2 garlic cloves, coarsely crushed
1 tablespoon salt
900ml (1 1â„2 pints) white wine vinegar
Put the apples and onions into a wide, stainless-steel saucepan and add the remaining ingredients. Stir well, bring to the boil and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 45
minutes or until reduced by more than half. Stir regularly, particularly toward the end of cooking.
Pot into sterilised jars and cover immediately with non-reactive lids.
Store in a dark, airy place and leave to mellow for at least two weeks before using.
Parsnip and Maple Syrup Cake
I found this recipe in a BBC Good Food magazine and it has since become a favourite of ours.
175g (6oz) butter, plus extra for greasing
250g (9oz) Demerara sugar
100ml (3 1/2fl oz) maple syrup
3 large organic eggs
250g (9oz) self-raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons mixed spice
250g (9oz) parsnips, peeled and grated
1 medium eating apple, peeled, cored and grated
50g (2oz) pecans, roughly chopped
zest and juice of 1 small orange
icing sugar, to serve
250g (9oz) mascarpone
3-4 tablespoons maple syrup
2 x 20cm (8 inches) deep sandwich tins
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C/350Â°F/Gas Mark 4.
Grease the cake tins with a little butter and line the bases with baking parchment.
Melt the butter, sugar and maple syrup in a pan over a gentle heat, then cool slightly.Â Whisk the eggs into the mixture, then stir into the flour, baking powder and mixed spiced, followed by the grated parsnip, apple, chopped pecans, orange zest and juice.Â Divide between the two tins and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until the tops spring back when pressed lightly.
Cool the cakes slightly in the tins before turning out onto wire racks to cool completely.Â Just before serving, mix together the mascarpone and maple syrup.Â Spread over one cake and sandwich with the other.Â Dust with icing sugar just before serving.
Beetroot and Walnut Cake
3 free-range organic eggs
150ml (5 fl oz) sunflower oil
50g (2oz) soft brown sugar
150g (5oz) white or spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
100g (4oz) beetroot, grated
60g (2 1/4 oz) sultanas
60g (2 1/4 oz) walnuts, coarsely chopped
175g (6oz) icing sugar
3-4 tablespoons water to bind
deep-fried beetroot (see below)
1 loaf tin 13 x 20cm (5 x 8inch)
Preheat the oven to 180Âº/350Â°F/Gas Mark 4.
Line a loaf tin with a butter paper or baking parchment.Â
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and sugar until smooth.Â Â Sift in the flour and baking powder, add a pinch of salt and gently mix into the egg mixture.Â Stir in the grated beetroot, sultanas and walnuts.Â Â Pour into the prepared tin.Â Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.Â Cool on a wire rack.Â
Next make the icing.
Sieve the icing sugar, beat in the water gradually to a stiff consistency. Spread evenly over the cake, allow to drizzle down the sides, leave for 5 minutes and scatter with deep-fried beetroot (see below) and pumpkin seeds.
To Deep-fry Beetroot
Peel the outer skin off the beetroot.Â Using a peeler, slice thin rings of the beetroot.Â Allow to dry on kitchen paper for 20 minutes.Â Deep-fry until crispy.
Fool Proof Food
Brambly Apple and Sweet Geranium Sauce
1lb (450g) cooking apples, (Brambley Seedling)
1-2 dessertspoons water
2oz (50g) sugar approx. depending on tartness of the apples
2-4 sweet geranium leaves
Peel, quarter and core the apples, cut pieces in two and put in a small stainless steel or cast iron saucepan, with the sugar, water and sweet geranium, cover and put over a low heat, as soon as the apple has broken down, stir and taste for sweetness.
Time to think about ordering your Christmas turkey or goose.
Philip Monks â€“ Ballyvaughan, Co Clare â€“ 086 8735565
Tom Clancy â€“ Ballycotton â€“ 086 1585709
Dan Ahearn â€“ Midleton, Co Cork 021 4631058 or 086 8726358
Robbie Fitzsimmons â€“ East Ferry, Co Cork 086 2056020 or 021 4651916
Ben and Charlotte Colchester â€“ Urlingford, Co Kilkenny 056 88 31411
Jams, jellies, hampers Mary Gray, Ennistymon, Co Clare 087 76400629
Richard Graham-Leigh bakes his melt-in-the-mouth range of handmade Patisserie RÃ©gale Cookies from a small premises near Dunmanway in West Cork using local unsalted butter and free range eggs. His roasted hazelnut and white chocolate cookies, lavender shortbread, chocolate chip and oat and raisin cookies and apricot frangipane bars are available Urru in Bandon, Scallys in Clonakilty, Fields in Skibbereen, Fallon and Byrne in Dublinâ€¦ Telephone 023 8855344 www.regale.ie
Game lovers shouldnâ€™t miss George Gossipâ€™s Game Cookery Weekend at Ballinderry Park, Kilconnell, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, Friday 19th to Sunday 21st November 2010. George is a witty, irreverent teacher and is the best game cook I know. To book your place, or to find out more about what is in store, contact firstname.lastname@example.org – telephone +353 90 96 96796 or www.ballinderrypark.com Â
I hear good things about Dublin City Markets new lunch time market on Harcourt Street Monday to Friday.