There’s a frenzy of preserving going on here these days, despite the weather we still have lots of ripe tomato, beets, marrows and over grown courgettes… in the garden plus we are surrounded by wild food. Most of the blackberries have ripened at last, we’ve had a ton of damsons and sloes and there are still lots of elderberries and crab-apples to be gathered for free.
Last week, with my Euro Toques chefs hat on I spoke to students at Cork Institute of Technology about wild and free foods and how to forage for them.
Many of the students, particularly the younger ones were astonished by the wealth of beautiful produce that is there for gathering around the campus, in the park and along the country lanes, in suburbs of the city and along the coast. I spoke about the delights of preserving but one student wondered why one needed to preserve food when the shelves in the supermarkets were laden with produce – a fair comment from a generation who have never known a world when food was scarce or rationed, I can understand how the whole idea seems preposterous.
However these beautiful young people are likely to hear much more about food security and even experience food scarcity in their lifetime so, I urged them to learn the skill of foraging so they can incorporate a least some of the delicious and nutritious foods into their diet and on the menus of the restaurants which many will own in years to come.
Many of their parents will remember collecting wild mushrooms in the fields in Autumn, or gathering hazel nuts, crab-apples and damsons. Some may even have tasted sloe and damson gin made by their grandparents – so I urged them to glean the knowledge and forgotten skills from them while they can.
I brought over 25 plants, berries, nuts, mushrooms, seaweeds and shellfish with me, all of which had been gathered in a couple of hours within a mile of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry.
Watercress, sorrel, chickweed, sweet woodruff, tansy, goosefoot, salad burnet, comfrey, samphire (marsh and rock)
Fruit and Berries
Crab-apples, blackberries, elderberries, sloes, damsons, hazelnuts, chestnuts, Spanish (edible), horse chestnut (not edible.)
Carrageen moss, alaria, bladder wrack, slocan or nori, kelp, dilisk or dulse…
Chantrelles, yellow legs, girolles, field mushrooms.
Periwinkles, limpets, mussels, cockles, razor clams.
I suggested lots of ways to use each food and also made several recipes. Crab apple jelly is a brilliant recipe to make on its own or a catch all to add all manner of wild fruit and berries to – sloes, damsons, elderberries, haws, rowanberries…The name can be changed depending on the content and a mixed jelly with all or some of the above additions can be called Hedgerow Jelly and very good it is too – better still it can be used as a sweet or savoury condiment and is equally good with scones or roast pork or game. We just had a few wild mushrooms, they are great on buttered toast but they can add excitement to many other dishes. We decided to add them to a frittata, a simple filling recipe that students could easily make on one gas ring. It would serve 6 hungry or 4 ravenous students, also great in a lunchtime sandwich the next day.
I added some chopped tansy to an omelette – the quintessential fast food, normally a French omelette takes 30 seconds to make and maybe forty five seconds of one wants to add a filling. However, mine took about 20 seconds to make such was the intensity of the heat on the state of the art Halygon hob. Needless to say it causes much hilarity and consternation and a red face (mine) when I managed to set off the smoke alarm in the super duper new demonstration area. Anyway despite all that I’m hoping that I managed to whet the audiences’ appetite for foraging and preserving.
Wild watercress has more depth of flavour than farmed versions, so see if you can find some. This soup has been a favourite on the menu of Ballymaloe House since it opened in 1963.
45g (1 1/2 ozs) butter
150g (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.
Salmon Cooked with Sorrel Sauce
A brilliant little recipe cooked in minutes, given to us by Jonathan Jones of the Anchor and Hope restaurant in London. The sorrel cuts the richness of the sauce on a particularly appealing way.
a side of wild or organic salmon – pin-boned and well-trimmed
a little melted butter
freshly ground black pepper
300ml (10fl oz) double cream
dry white wine (optional)
70g (2 3/4oz) sorrel – shredded
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Paint a main course plate per person with melted butter, slice the salmon fairly thinly at an angle, as you might for smoked salmon. Cover the base of the plate with one layer of just overlapping salmon. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Bring the cream to boil, season and take off heat. Paint the salmon with melted butter (and drizzle a little white wine over if you like). Place in the preheated oven for 2-3 minutes.
Immediately, stir the shredded sorrel into the cream. Remove the plate from the oven, the salmon should be slightly under-cooked. Spoon a little sorrel cream over the top and enjoy immediately.
A little bit of tansy really wakes up an omelette and might be just the thing to cure a Sunday morning hangover!
2 eggs, preferably free range organic
1 dessertspoon water or milk
1 teaspoon tansy, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 dessertspoon clarified butter or olive oil
omelette pan, preferably non-stick, 23cm (9-inch) diameter
Heat the omelette pan over a high heat.
Warm a plate in a low oven. Whisk the eggs with the water or milk in a bowl with a fork or whisk, until thoroughly mixed but not too fluffy. Add the finely chopped tansy. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put the warm plate beside the cooker. Have the filling also to hand, hot if necessary with a spoon at the ready.
Add the clarified butter to the hot pan, it should sizzle immediately. Pour in the egg mixture. It will start to cook instantly so quickly pull the edges of the omelette towards the centre with an egg slice or plastic spatula, tilting the pan so that the uncooked egg runs to the sides 4 maybe 5 times. Continue until most of the egg is set and will not run any more, the centre will still be soft and uncooked at this point but will continue to cook on the plate. If you are using a filling, spoon the hot mixture in a line across the centre at this point.
To fold the omelette.
Flip the edge just below the handle of the pan into the centre; change your grip on the handle so you can hold the pan almost perpendicular over the plate so that the omelette will flip over again. Finally, half roll, half slide the omelette onto the plate so that it lands folded in three. (It should not take more than 30 seconds in all to make the omelette, perhaps 45 if you are adding a filling). Serve immediately.
Chocolate and Hazelnut Treats
A terrifically easy cake/biscuit – wild hazelnuts are in season at present so head off with your baskets and have fun gathering nuts.
6 ozs (175g) soft butter
6 ozs (175g) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
5ozs (150g) self-raising flour
1oz (25g) cocoa
4ozs (110g) hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
5ozs (150g) icing sugar
2ozs (50g/1/2 stick) butter
2 teaspoons Cocoa
11 1/2 x 8 inch (29 x 20cm) swiss roll tin, well-greased
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4.
Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.
Put the butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour and cocoa into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the lined tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen. Allow to cool. Meanwhile mix the ingredients for the icing. As soon as the cake is cooled, spread the icing over the top, sprinkle with toasted chopped hazelnuts. Cut into squares.
Remove the biscuits from the tin if keeping for a few days unless the tin is coated with teflon.
Sloe or Damson Gin
It’s great fun to organise a few pals to pick sloes and have a sloe gin-making party. Sloes make a terrific beverage for Christmas presents. Either enjoy it neat or put a measure of damson or sloe gin in a glass, add ice, a slice of lemon and top it up with tonic.
700g (11⁄2lb) sloes or damsons
350g (12oz) granulated sugar
1.2 litres (2 pints) gin
Wash and dry the fruit and prick it in several places (we use a sterilised darning needle). Put the fruit into a sterilised glass Kilner jar and cover with the sugar and gin. Seal tightly.
Shake the jar every couple of days to start with and then every now and then for 3–4 months, by which time it will be ready to strain and bottle. It will improve on keeping so try to resist drinking it for another few months.
Sloe or Damson Vodka
This slips down easily but has quite a kick! Simply substitute vodka for the gin in the recipe above.
In July Peter Shanahan opened an excellent little fish shop and deli
– ‘Fish!’- next to Ryans Service Station at the Ownahincha Cross. Peter sells fish fresh from Union Hall and Baltimore as well as Rosscarbery black and white pudding, Glenilen country butter; Union Hall smoked salmon and mackerel… Contact 0871215248 / email@example.com / www.freshfishrosscarbery.com
Local, clean, authentic fresh produce
– that’s what the new Urru Greengrocer in Bandon promises their customers. It’s just a short hop and a skip from the Ruth Healy Urru Culinary Store overlooking the Bandon River.
Run by local food writer Diane Curtin, it provides a platform for local artisan foods I found four old superb varieties of apple, grown by Patrick Murphy from Macroom. Red Windsor, Topaz, Rubenola and Rubenstep and some delicious conference pears from Con Trass in Cahir, Co Tipperary. I was also tempted by beautiful Swiss Chard from Radical Roots in Bandon
The Rural Food Skillnet
has a number of courses scheduled for the remainder of the year. Wednesday 26th and Thursday 27th Butchery and Small Scale Meat Production with Teagasc in Ashtown and on the Wednesday 9th and Thursday 10th of November Farmhouse Cheese Production course in Moorepark. Contact John Moriarty, Project Manager, Rural Food Skillnet. Tel: 068 23429 / 087 2055676 firstname.lastname@example.org
At the National Irish Food Awards
this year, Una’s Pies won all three prizes in the Pies and Quiches category, she was also honoured with the title of ‘Best Artisan Producer’ – a much sought after award. Una’s Roasted Veg with Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese Pie won gold, her Chicken with Gubbeen Chorizo and Red Pepper Pie won silver her Chicken and Asparagus Pie won bronze. You can find Una at Mahon Point Farmers Market every Thursday from 10am to 3.00pm – contact 087 2859957.