ArchiveOctober 2013

What is the Human Cost of our Food?

I was totally shocked by an article by George Arbuthnott in the Sunday Times Magazine recently on the human cost of our food “They’re the invisible army – modern day slaves, trafficked into Britain to work in the food factories and farms that supply our leading supermarkets. They live in squalor, are paid next to nothing and are often physically abused.”

For a very long time, I’ve been deeply concerned about the relentless downward pressure on the price of many food items. The consequence has been to force down the price of the wrong foods. Living on the farm and being actively involved in the food business I know it simply can’t be done. It’s impossible to produce any kind of food that is nourishing and wholesome for the retail price that’s being charged for many items. The horse meat scandal should have taught us that, but after the initial shock the message is soon forgotten. Someone has to be paying to supply us with the unrealistically cheap food we have now come to believe is our right.

In the 1980s we spent 27.7% of our income in real terms on food, nowadays its just 16.2%, so the reality is food has now moved a long way down our list of priorities.

When the supermarket offers ‘Buy one, get one free’ most of  the general public are unaware that is usually the farmers or food producer who is supplying the ‘free’ one consequently they are getting half the amount of money for their produce. When the retailers need a product they ask their suppliers to source it at a certain price and on and on it goes through an increasingly convoluted food chain which often involves migrant workers, who have been hoodwinked by the promise of generous pay and good working conditions. The human traffickers and gang masters who lure these vulnerable, uneducated people – who are often desperate to get work – prefer to target those who don’t speak the language so they can’t communicate with fellow workers. They work in many areas of food production, meat packing and processing and the supermarket buyers sometimes do not realise exactly how the product is achieved at the price. But it’s time to ask questions. Many large fruit and vegetables farmers are greatly dependent on migrant labour for harvesting, and there are many who treat their workers honourably and work with the gangmasters who do not engage in exploitation. But it’s very much a live issue; BBC Farming Today Program also looked at it recently.

Paul Broadbent the chief executive of the GLA (Gangmasters Licencing Authority) explained their modus operandi “The traffickers are locking people up for six; seven hours a day and then making them work 16 to 17 hours. The victims are absolutely trapped because they are financially tied to these people. They don’t feel able to report it to the police because the enforcers have told them they will be deported.”

“They take the passport, mobile phone and any form of identification off the victims and set up a bank account into which all their earnings are paid, it may be the case that victims either don’t know what they are signing or the enforcer threatens and intimidates them into it. The controlling man then uses the account to apply for bank loans and benefits and racks up thousands of pounds. Every conceivable fraud and deception is committed and they rule with an iron rod. They force people to live in squalor and pile them high.”

Animal welfare issues are increasingly highlighted and rightly so but how about the human cost of our cheap food.


Pumpkin, Goat Cheese and Kale Tart


Kale is now in full season and several varieties are available in the farmers markets.


Serves 8


175g (6oz) Shortcrust Pastry


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

450g (1lb) pumpkin or butternut squash

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves


150g (5oz) Ardsallagh goat cheese (or another soft goat cheese)

75g (3oz) spring onion, chopped

2 eggs and 3 egg yolks

200ml (7 fl oz) cream

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

25g (1oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

50g (2oz) Gruyère cheese, grated

110g (4oz) kale – raw and stripped off stalk

salt and freshly ground black pepper


23cm (9 inch) diameter tart tin


Make the pastry, wrap well and rest in the fridge.


Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Mark 6


Peel the pumpkin or squash and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) chunks. Arrange on a roasting tin.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Season with salt and sprinkle with thyme leaves. Roast for 30 minutes approximately or until tender, allow to cool.


Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the kale, blanch for 2 minutes, drain and refresh under cold running water, drain. No need to blanch rocket.


Line the tart tin (see instructions) and ‘bake blind’ for about 25 minutes. The base should be almost fully cooked.  Remove the parchment paper and beans, brush the base with a little beaten egg white and replace in the oven for 3-4 minutes.  This will seal the base and avoid the “soggy bottom” effect.


Reduce the temperature to moderate 180°C/350°F/Mark 4


Heat the oil in a sauté pan, add the chopped spring onions to the pan, cover and sweat gently on a low heat for about 6 minutes or until almost soft.


Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a medium-sized bowl; add the cream, cheeses, thyme leaves, cooled spring onion and kale or rocket. Mix well and add seasoning.


Taste or otherwise, heat a frying pan, cook a teaspoon of the mixture on a gentle heat for 2 or 3 minutes until it coagulates – taste and if necessary correct the seasoning.  Arrange chunks of roast pumpkin (peel removed) and chunks of goats cheese over the base of the tart.


Pour the filling into the base of the tart.   Return to the moderate oven for 30–40 minutes or until the centre has just set. Serve warm with a freshly tossed green salad.


Pumpkin Curry


Fresh curry leaves are readily available nowadays one can usually buy them from Asian shops or frozen if fresh are unavailable –they have a distinct flavour but if they are unavailable you can leave them out


Serves 8


1kg (2 ¼ lb) pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2.5cm (1in) chunks

4 green chillies, finely sliced

25g (1oz) Bombay onions, finely sliced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

a sprig of fresh curry leaves

1 teaspoon ground fenugreek

1 teaspoon mustard powder

Pinch ground turmeric

110ml (4floz) coconut milk


Put all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer until the pumpkin is cooked – approx.. 10 – 20 minutes, depending on type of pumpkin.

Serve with a selection of curries or on its own accompanied with rice.


Kuku Kadoo


This is the Persian version of a Spanish tortilla or Italian frittata – we’ve been enjoying it with the last of the summer zucchini.


Serves 6-8


2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil

1 lb (450g) onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

¼ teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated

6 small zucchini, halved and cut thinly across

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

8 organic eggs

1 teaspoon turmeric

3 tablespoons flour

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda


Parsley sprigs and sumac


10 inch (25.5 cm) pan


Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4.  Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.  Add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger.  Cover and sweat for 6-8 minutes, add zucchini. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Stir and cook for 6-8 minutes.  Whisk the eggs, add the turmeric, flour and bicarbonate of soda.  Add the cooked zucchini mixture.  Pour into a greased gratin dish.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  When just set, serve sprinkled with parsley sprigs and sumac.


Alison Heafey’s Autumn Nut and Caramel Tart


This recipe comes from former student Alison Heafey, who got it from her friend Cindy Mushet, author of The Art and Soul of Baking. I always encourage students to share recipes as well as asking for recipes in restaurants; it’s a great way to expand your culinary skills. This is possibly my favourite autumn tart.


Serves 10–12


For the vanilla shortcrust pastry

175g (6oz) plain flour

50g (2oz) sugar

¼ teaspoon sea salt

110g (4oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1.5cm (½in) pieces

2 large organic egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1–2 teaspoons water


For the frangipane filling

110g (4oz) whole natural almonds, lightly toasted

100g (3½oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) unsalted butter, softened

2 large organic eggs

2 tablespoons plain flour

½ teaspoon almond extract


For the nut and caramel topping

110g (4oz) water

300g (10½oz) granulated sugar

2 tablespoons golden or corn syrup

110g (4oz) unsalted butter, softened

110g (4oz) double cream, at room temperature

75g (3oz) whole unsalted almonds, lightly toasted

60g (2½oz) pecan halves, lightly toasted

50g (2oz) walnut halves, lightly toasted



Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.


First make the pastry. Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse five times to blend the ingredients. Add the butter and pulse 6–8 times until it is the size of large peas. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon of water. Add to the food processor, then process until the dough begins to form small clumps. To test the dough, squeeze a handful of clumps – when you open your hand they should hold together. If they fall apart, sprinkle the remaining water over the dough and pulse several times. If necessary, add up to one further teaspoon of water to bring the dough together.


Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it gently 2–3 times, to bring the dough together. Shape it into a round disc approx. 15cm (6in) across. Set aside in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes. Break the cold dough into 2.5–5cm (1–2in) pieces and scatter them evenly over the bottom of a 24cm (9½in) tart tin. Use the heel of your hand to press the dough flat, connecting the pieces in a smooth layer. Press from the centre of the tin outwards, building up some extra dough around the base at the edge of the tart. Using your thumbs, press this excess up the sides of the tin, making sure it is the same thickness as the dough on the bottom. Roll your thumb over the top edge of the tin to remove any excess dough (save this for patching any cracks that might form during baking). Chill for at least 30 minutes.


Bake ‘blind’ for 20–22 minutes or until the edges and centre are set. (If the shell is cracking and sticking to the baking parchment lining, replace it and continue to bake for a further 5–6 minutes.) Remove the baking parchment and beans and set aside to cool. Once cooled, return the pastry shell to the oven and bake for a

further 10–12 minutes or until the crust is a pale tan colour. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before adding the filling.


Meanwhile, make the frangipane filling. Put the almonds and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the butter and blend. Add the eggs, flour and almond extract and mix thoroughly. Pour the filling into the tart case and bake for 30–35 minutes, or until firm in the centre and lightly browned.

Set aside to cool completely.


To make the topping, put the water, sugar and golden (or corn) syrup in a saucepan large enough to eventually hold all the nuts as well. Heat slowly until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is clear. Then increase the heat to high and boil rapidly until the sugar darkens to a rich golden brown colour.


Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the butter and cream (be careful, as the mixture will rise in the pan and splutter). Stir briefly with a wooden spoon to blend, then add the toasted nuts. Stir gently to coat the nuts in the caramel sauce, then immediately spoon the nuts over the cooled frangipane tart, reserving the caramel in the pan. Use two spoons, not your fingers, because the mixture will be very hot. Finish, if you like, by spooning some of the caramel sauce over the nuts. Set aside to cool.


Remove from the tin just before serving. Serve at room temperature.


The National Organic Conference – Addressing the Needs of the Market will be held on 5th and 6th November 2013 at the Bridge House Hotel, Tullamore, Co Offaly. Book online or 0719640688

You can travel to every part of Ireland and encounter an interesting, distinctive, local farmhouse cheese.  Read some amazing stories about the people behind farmhouse cheese on their new website or visit one of the farms and experience first-hand, the story of farmhouse cheese – farm visits are free to attend but you must book your place online

If you have visitors staying and are racking your brains for something original, stylish and fun to do with them, contact Eveleen and Pamela Coyle and they will arrange a Fabulous Food Trail for you in Dublin or Cork city. They’ll show you all that is best in contemporary Irish food, shops and cafés as you wander through the lesser known parts of each city, tasting as you go. or or by calling (01) 497 1245.




Dragon’s Blood and Vampire Butter!

Halloween creates almost as much excitement as Christmas nowadays, for weeks shop windows have been packed with witches, broomsticks, pumpkins and scary masks to tantalise the kids. Our grandchildren and their friends can’t wait to dress up in witches attire and ghoulish rig outs to frighten the life out of their neighbours and extract a ‘trick or treat’.

Even though it’s all becoming very commercial, kids still love the old fashioned games as well as apple bobbing and pumpkin carving.

When I was child Halloween was a very spooky time. We heard all about the banshee, a ghostly old woman who sat on a gate pier, keening and combing her long grey hair. People told scary ghost stories and we ate colcannon and barmbrack. It was all about fortune telling and divination. A favourite game was to arrange five saucers on the table, put some clay in one, water in another, a wedding ring in another, a rag in the fourth and a coin in the fifth. One after another we were blindfolded, and the plates were switched about before we reached out tentatively, to inevitable giggles – the water meant that you were going “on a journey”, the coin meant untold riches were coming your way, the rag signified hard times ahead, the soil was also bad news, it meant you’d be six feet under before long but the ring meant that wedding bells would soon ring, even if you were only six!

The contents of the barmbrack also held similar clues to one’s fortunes good or otherwise. All good innocent fun and apart from the barmbrack pretty uncommercial. Almost every culture marks Halloween, the Day of the Dead or All Souls Day. In Mexico many visit graveyards and bring the favourite food of their loved ones to picnic and reminisce on the graves. Increasingly Halloween is about witches and pumpkins in the American tradition. Shops and Farmers Market stalls are piled high with pumpkins. Kids have pumpkin carving parties and I’ve even seen a spectacular totem pole made from a variety of pumpkins and squash at an organic farm in the UK.

You can always lure the little witches and goblins into the kitchen to cook. They love to make spooky sounding soup like ‘Dragons blood’ (aka beetroot soup) or spicy bones (spare ribs) can keep them interested and nibbling. Spooky Meringue Pucás are also a great favourite.

Buy a couple of pumpkins and you’ll have several hours of peace, but keep an eye out while they carve and make sure to save the pulp to make a pumpkin soup.


Dragon’s Blood


This soup is a scary colour but brave children love the sweetness of the beets. The cream can be drizzled on top in a spider web or dragon.


Serves 8-10



900g (2 lb) young beetroot

25g (1oz) butter

225g (1/2lb) onions

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.2L (2 pints) homemade chicken or vegetable stock approx.

125ml (4fl oz) creamy milk



Chive Cream

125ml (4 fl oz) sour cream or crème fraiche


Finely chopped chives


Wash the beetroot carefully under a cold tap. Don’t scrub, simply rub off the clay with your fingers. You won’t want to damage the skin or cut off the top or tails because it will ‘bleed’ in the cooking.  Put the beetroot into cold water, and simmer covered for anything from 20 minutes to 2 hours depending on the size and age.


Meanwhile chop the onions, sweat carefully and gently in the butter until they are cooked.   The beetroot are cooked when the skins will rub off easily.


Chop the beetroot and add to the onions. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. * Put into a liquidiser with the hot chicken stock. Liquidise until quite smooth.  Reheat, add some creamy milk, taste and adjust the seasoning, it may be necessary to add a little more stock or creamy milk. Serve garnished with little swirls of sour cream and a sprinkling of finely chopped chives. Watchpoint: careful not to damage the beetroot during preparation or they will bleed


Spicy Bones

Serves 8

1.8kg (4lbs) meaty preferably organic pork spare ribs

2 tablespoons sunflower

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

3 teaspoons of ginger, grated

175g (6ozs) finely chopped onion

125ml (4floz) pineapple juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce, Nam Pla

3 tablespoons tomato purée

4 tablespoons lime or lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

6 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce

Ask the butcher to cut the ribs across horizontally into two strips. Divide each piece into individual short ribs.

Put the ribs into a deep saucepan and cover with cold water, add salt and bring to the boil. Skim and then simmer for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again, allow to cool.


Adapted from “Barbeque, Where There’s Smoke, There’s Flavour” by Eric Treuille & Birgit Erath”


Heat the sunflower oil in a saucepan and add the crushed garlic, grated ginger and chopped onion, cover and cook on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. Add the pineapple juice, fish sauce, tomato purée, lime or lemon juice, honey and 2 tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the mixture thickens, then put into a large bowl and allow to cool. Add in the ribs and toss until completely coated (hands are best for this).

Place under a hot grill for 10 – 15 minutes, basting and turning frequently until golden, transfer to a serving dish. Drizzle with a little more sweet chilli sauce and serve the sweet and sticky ribs. You’ll need lots of paper napkins!



Irish Tea Barmbrack

This is a more modern version of barmbrack, now commonly called a ‘tea brack’ because the dried fruit is soaked in tea overnight to plump it up (rather than boiled as in the recipes above). Everyone in Ireland loves a barmbrack, perhaps because it brings back lots of memories of excitement and games at Halloween. When the barmbrack was cut, everyone waited in anticipation to see what they’d find in their slice – a stick, a pea, a ring – and what it meant for their future. Now they’re available in every Irish bakery, but here’s a great recipe you can use to make one at home. It keeps in a tin for up to a week.  Even though it is a very rich bread, in Ireland it is traditionally served sliced and buttered.


Yields about 12 slices (eat the crusts, too!)


110g (4oz) sultanas

110g (4oz) raisins

110g (4oz) currants

50g (2oz) natural glace cherries, halved or quartered

300ml (10fl oz) hot tea

1 organic egg, whisked

200g (7oz) soft brown sugar

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

1 level teaspoon mixed spice

50g (2oz) homemade candied peel


450g (1lb) loaf tin – 12.5 x 20cm (5 x 8in) OR 3 small loaf tins 15 x 7.5cm (6 x 3in)

ring, stick, pea, and a piece of cloth, all wrapped in greaseproof paper


Put the dried fruit and cherries into a bowl. Cover with hot tea and leave to plump up overnight.


Next day, line the loaf tin with silicone paper.


Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.


Add the whisked egg, soft brown sugar, flour and mixed spice to the fruit and tea mixture. Stir well. Add the ring, stick, pea and piece of cloth, tucking them in well and ensuring they are hidden by the dough. Cook in preheated oven for about 1 1/2hours or until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.  Keeps very well in an airtight tin.


Spooky Shepherd’s Pie with Vampire Butter

Vampires are scared of garlic!


Serves 6


1 oz (25g) butter

4 ozs (110g) chopped onion

1 oz (30g) flour

3/4 pint (450ml) stock and left over gravy

1 teaspoon tomato puree

1 dessertspoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 dessertspoon chopped parsley

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 lb (450g) minced cooked lamb


1 lb (450g) cooked mashed potatoes

2 peas



Vampire Butter


2 ozs (50g) butter

4 teaspoons parsley, finely chopped

2-3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed


Cream the butter, stir in the parsley and a few drops of lemon juice at a time.  Add the crushed garlic.  Roll into butter pats or form into a roll and wrap in greaseproof paper or tinfoil, screwing each end so that it looks like a cracker.  Refrigerate to harden.


Melt the butter, add the onion, and cover with a round of greased paper and cook over a slow heat for 5 minutes.  Add the flour and cook until brown.  Add the stock, bring to the boil, skim.  Add the tomato puree, Worcestershire Sauce, chopped parsley, thyme leaves, salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes.


Add the meat to the sauce and bring to the boil.  Put in a pie dish. Cover with the mashed potatoes and score with a fork and form into a spooky shape using a couple of peas for eyes and chives for a screaming open mouth.  Reheat in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4 for about 30 minutes.  Garnish with parsley and serve with Garlic butter.


Spooky Meringue Pucás

Serves 4-6


2 egg whites

4 ozs (110g) castor sugar


éclair pipe no. 9 and piping bag


Beat whites until stiff but not yet dry.  Fold in half the sugar.  Beat again until the mixture will stand in a firm dry peak.  Fold remaining sugar in carefully. Fill into a piping bag. Cover a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper; pipe a small blob onto the paper, pulling the piping bag upwards quickly to create a point.  Bake in a very low oven, 100ºC/200ºF/regulo 1/4 for 4 hours approx.  Meanwhile melt some chocolate put into a paper piping bag and decorate by piping little dots for eyes and little oval for a scary mouth.  Serve with a bowl of softly whipped cream.


Hot Tips

Savour Kilkenny Festival of Food  – 24th – 28th October, 2013. Lots of excellent cookery demonstrations including Sunil Ghai, Arun Kapil, Rory O’Connell, Fiona Uyema, Alan Foley, Cormac Crowe, Kevin Dundon…Pop up dinner by Yannick and Louise, Town of Food Long Table Dinner, Kiddies-Cook-Along, Food Markets, Cheese Making, French wine masterclass…and much more see


How to Cure a Pig in a Day and Use Every Morsel with Philip Dennhardt-  Saturday 9th November 9:30am to 5:00pm at Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Philip will start by showing you how to butcher a side of pork like a professional. He will then show you how it can be transformed into a full range of yummy hams, succulent sausages and perfect charcuterie.

Full instructions will be given for the making of air dried ham, brine cured hams, brawn, bacon, sausages, chorizos, salamis as well as some recipes for country pâtes and terrines to ensure everything is put to good use. 021 4646785 –


If you are a lover of whiskey then you might consider booking your staff Christmas lunch at the Jameson Distillery in the Malt House restaurant in Midleton – 0214613594

Wild, Wonderful and Free!

“Season of mist and yellow fruit fullness” and despite the warm misty weather there are a few mushrooms about. I found a little scattering of field mushrooms on the grass under the windows of the garden café earlier this week – just enough to make a tiny feast for one when I cooked them directly on the cool plate of the Aga with no embellishment, except for a few grains of sea salt and a knob of butter.

Driving across from Cahir over the Knockmealdon Mountains last week I collected lots of rowanberries from the mountain ash, the trees were dripping with plump berries, we added them to crab apples to make delicious rowanberry jelly. It’s a terrific year for crab apples (wild apples) too but if you don’t find any in your area use Bramley windfalls or a mixture of tart apples. Elderberries too are dropping off the bushes. You can substitute elderberries for rowan berries in the apple jelly or even mix both and if you have them. Throw in a handful of sloes and blackberries as well and then change the name to Hedgerow Jelly. Elderberries are also good pickled and I’ve tried an elderberry liqueur for the first time this year – can’t imagine why I didn’t think of it before now, it’s made exactly the same way as sloe or damson gin.

There’s also a fantastic crop of blackberries this year, pick them now without delay – they don’t necessarily improve late in the season. Of course they make great tarts, pies, wine and liqueurs. They also freeze perfectly also and pickle well. They tend to be very low in pectin so it’s difficult to set blackberry jam on its own, unless you use jam sugar which tends to produce a more solid set reminiscent of commercial jam. Apples particularly tart apples have tons of pectin hence the time honoured combination of Blackberry and Apple. If you own a sweet geranium plant (pelargonium graveolens) add a few of those leaves chopped up and it will imbue the jam with an irresistible haunting lemony flavour. Blackberries can also be dried and added to fruit cakes or you may enjoy them in this Blackberry and Rose Geranium Slice.

There are lots of hazelnuts in the woods and hillsides – they won’t be fully ripe for another week or two but do organise an expedition and collect enough to dry for the winter. Cob nuts and filberts will also be ripe around now, they should slip easily out of the husks otherwise you’ll find that the nuts are empty. Apart from nuts and berries, there are many plants – chick weed (Stellaria media), meadow sweet (Filipendula ulmaria), sedum (Hylotelephium telephium), sweet cicely(Myrrhis odorata), orach (Atriplex hortensis) Bishops Weed (Aegopodium podagraria)… We’ve been enjoying lots of wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) the little three leaf version that grows in abundance in the woods but also in our greenhouse underneath the plants. Wild sorrel and lambs tongue sorrel (Rumex acetosella) grow in the grass and are recognisable by its pointy ears and sharp fresh lemony taste. Of course it’s delicious in salads but it is also intriguing in this sorrel pie which the late Charles Haughey traced for me in Inishvickillane, one of the Blasket Islands of Co Kerry.  It would originally have been baked in a bastible over the open fire but can be successfully make in a covered casserole in the oven. All food for free and delicious.


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.


Ballyvolane House Hedgerow Martinis

Justin Green from Ballyvolane House shared this recipe with us “A couple of Hedgerow Martinis before dinner promises lively and spirited conversation throughout dinner. They are incredibly easy to make and totally delicious.”


Serves 2


2 shots gin

3 shots sloe gin

1 shot fresh lime juice

3/4 shot of elderflower cordial

2 fresh blackberries

2 frozen blackberries (for the garnish)

3 lumps of ice


1 cocktail shaker

2 martini glasses


When using a cocktail shaker, always avoid trying to make too much in one go as overfilling the cocktail shaker means it doesn’t mix well. Mixing two martinis per cocktail shaker works best. Put all the ingredients (except for the frozen blackberries) into the cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Hold the shaker in both hands (a bit like a hooker throwing a rugby ball into the line-out) and shake it over your shoulder. Chill the martini glasses by putting them in the freezer or leave a few lumps of ice in them for a few minutes. Pour the Hedgrerow Martini through a cocktail strainer into the glasses. Garnish with one frozen blackberry per martini glass. Enjoy!


Crab Apple and Rowanberry Jelly

Rowanberries (Sorbus aucuparia) come from the rowan tree (also known as mountain ash) and are in season during the autumn. They grow on acid soil in hills, and their brilliant orangey-red berries were historically much eaten, although few people eat rowanberries any more. We gather them from the Knockmealdown mountains in West Waterford for our rowanberry jelly.

Crab or Bramley apples


450g (1lb) sugar to every pint of juice

Chop the apples (windfalls are fine) into chunks, barely cover with water, bring to the boil and cook until the apples are soft and pulpy. Strain the juice through a jelly bag.

Crush the rowanberries, add a very little water, cook them in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until they are soft, and strain through a nylon sieve.


Combine all the juices and measure. Allow 450g (1lb) of sugar for every pint of juice Heat the sugar and add to the boiling juice. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved and boil rapidly until the jelly reaches setting point. Jelly should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. Pot into sterilized jars, seal and store in a cool place. Serve with game or a fine leg of mutton if you can find it.


Sorrel Pie from Inis Mhic Uibhleáin


I first learned about the existence of this recipe from Jane Grigson. Charles J Haughey tracked it down for me in the book Bean an Oileain by Márie Ni Ghuithin (1986) and had it translated from Irish.

Serves 6 – 8


1 lb (450g) all-purpose flour

1 level teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

½ oz butter

1 ¼ – 1 ½ cups buttermilk

4-6 ozs (110-170g) sorrel leaves

2 heaping tablespoons brown sugar


Baking dish, 9 inch x 2 inch (23cm x 5cm) with a lid


Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/mark 8.

Place the flour in a bowl with the baking soda and salt. Rub in the butter and wet with buttermilk to form a soft pliable dough.  Knead lightly on a lightly floured work surface and cut in half.  Flatten dough with your hand to form a circle the same size as your pot.  Place the sorrel leaves on one half of the flattened dough and sprinkle with brown sugar (we put some underneath and on top of the sorrel).  Flatten second piece of dough to the same size and use to cover the sorrel mixture, pressing the edges to seal.

Butter and flour your cooking pot and place the pie inside. Put on the lid and transfer to a hot oven.

Our pie took 1 hour to bake and cooked to a pale golden colour in the covered pot.  It had a bitter sweet flavour and was quite delicious.


Blackberry and Rose Geranium Squares


Makes 24


6 ozs (175g) soft butter

6 ozs (175g) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

6 ozs (175g) self-raising flour

2 tablespoons freshly chopped rose geranium leaves

8 ozs (225g) blackberries


2 ozs (50g) castor sugar

1 tablespoon of freshly chopped rose geranium leaves


10 x 7 inch (25.5 x 18 cm) Swiss roll tin, well-greased


Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.


Put the butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour and chopped rose geranium leaves into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well-buttered tin.  Sprinkle the blackberries as evenly as possible over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Allow to cool slightly, sprinkle with caster sugar whizzed with leaves of rose geranium. Serve in squares.


Hot Tips

If you’d like to polish up on your foraging skills here are two dates for your diary

Longueville House Mushroom Hunt Sunday 20th October 9:30am – lunch included (€80 Per Person) –

Wild in Wicklow at Brooklodge Hotel in Macreddin Village on Saturday 16th November– Irelands largest wild food dinner – apart from the potatoes the menu is made up of exclusively wild foods – for more information and to book the dinner – 040236444

The Women in Agriculture Conference is a truly inspirational event. It will be held on 24th October at the Europe Hotel in Killarney – 0646671340

East Cork Slow Food event – Shana Wilkie from Wilkie Chocolates is the only chocolatier I know in Ireland who conches the cocoa beans from scratch, so join us to hear her talk about the whole process from bean to bar, her chocolate bars are sensational. Ballymaloe Cookery School – Tuesday 15th October 7pm- Slow Proceeds raised for the East Cork Slow Food Mobile Kitchen Project.

Halloween Demonstration at Ballymaloe Cookery School – Friday 18th October 2:00pm to 5:00pm –  lots of delicious pumpkin recipes, including a hearty pumpkin soup. Learn how to bake the perfect traditional Irish barmbrack too – rich yeasted bread, packed with dried fruit and a dash of spice. Phone 021 4646785 to book or

Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen – Simple, Delicious Family Food

Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen – Simple, Delicious Family Food has just been published by Harper Collins. For me this is Rachel’s best so far, her eleventh book in ten years so you can imagine how hectic Rachel’s schedule is, trying to balance family life, teaching, writing, plus TV commitments. I really marvel at how she does it.

During the years, she has tried and tested hundreds of family friendly hassle free recipes on her children who are just as able to say ‘yuk’ if they don’t like something as anyone else’s brood. Feeding children is always a challenge but Rachel feels as I know we all do that cooking for yourself and your family is such an important thing to be able to do. Eating good food has a profound impact on your health, energy and outlook. It may take a little longer than heating up a ready-meal or ordering a take-away, but it is the only way of ensuring you know where all the ingredients come from. Cooking ensures your family’s meals are nutritious and delicious but can also be creative and fun.

This time, Rachel is focusing on clever everyday cooking: simple short cuts, advice on weekly planning and shopping, wasting less, freezing more, preparing ahead and using leftovers, recipes that can serve more and those that can be adjusted to a tasty meal for one or two. With a bit of forward thinking, you can turn one meal into several different dishes, keeping waste to a minimum, If you’re going to buy the best ingredients you can afford, then it’s vital than nothing is wasted. Cooked potatoes left over from lunch could be made into a delicious and comforting tartiflette for supper on another day, for instance, while roasted butternut squash enjoyed hot at the table could be transformed into a tasty salad for a packed lunch.

Buying fresh ingredients in season will ensure that you get maximum value and flavour from what you eat. Cooking in bulk can save both time and money as well. In Everyday Kitchen, Rachel has lots of recipes that are just as easy to make in a slightly larger quantity and then freeze the extra portion. Stews, soups, pies, along with many other recipes, can be doubled up and frozen for another day. So rather than resorting to a ready meal, you can defrost something homemade instead – guaranteed to be more nutritious and much tastier.

Nowadays most people seem to be crazily busy particularly when children are younger, dashing in all directions, school runs, extra curricula activities, sleep overs, but one could see how with just a few small adjustments to the weekly routine one could reap big rewards for yourself and your family and even have more time for the most precious of all family activities, sitting down around the kitchen table.


Rachel Allen’s Lamb and Pearl Barley Broth


A simple yet soothing soup that I find hugely restorative on cold and rainy evenings, this is a delicious way to make roast lamb go that little bit further. It uses pearl barley, which has long been added to soups and stews to bulk them up when meat was scarce. Pearl barley provides more than just bulk; however, it’s soft, yielding texture as welcome here as it’s delightfully nutty taste.


Serves 6


25g (1oz) butter

2 tbsp olive oil

2 onions, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or finely grated

2 sticks of celery, trimmed and finely chopped

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of rosemary

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

200g (7oz) cooked lamb sliced or shredded into roughly bite-sized pieces

1 parsnip, peeled and finely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

100g (3½ oz) pearl barley or pearled spell 1.25litres (2 pints) chicken stock

2 tbsp chopped parsley


Place the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat. Once the butter is melted and foaming, add the onions, garlic, celery, bay leaf and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper, then turn the heat to low, cover with a lid and sweat gently for 5-8 minutes or until the onions are softened but not browned.

Add the lamb, parsnip, carrots, pearl barley or pearled spelt and the stock. Turn the heat up and simmer, with the lid on, for about 25 minutes or until the vegetables and barley are tender. Remove the bay leaf and rosemary and stir in the chopped parsley, then season with more salt and pepper to taste and serve.

  • The soup can be made up to two days in advance, covered and stored in the fridge; reheat on the hob to serve. It can also be frozen for up to three months.
  • The quantities in this recipe can be halved or multiplied.


Rachel Allen’s Thai Butternut Squash Soup


The squash gives real body to this soup, making it a meal in a bowl.  It’s sweet taste provides the perfect foil for the dish’s strong Southeast Asian flavours. This recipe can be made in advance, but don’t add the basil until just before serving.


Serves 6


500ml (18 fl oz) chicken stock

1 stick of Iemongrass, crushed with a rolling pin 50ml (2 fl oz) sunflower oil

1 large onion, peeled and diced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or finely grated

1 fresh red chilli pepper, deseeded (optional) and diced

5cm (2in) piece of root ginger, peeled and grated

1 large butternut squash (about 1kg/2lb 3oz), peeled, deseeded and cut into roughly 3cm (1¼in) chunks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1x 400ml tin of coconut milk

1-2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

Small bunch of basil, shredded (about 2 tbsp), to serve


Pour the chicken stock into a saucepan and add the Iemongrass. Place on a medium heat and bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and allow to infuse for at least 10 minutes.

Place a large saucepan on a high heat and add the sunflower oil. Add the onion, garlic, chilli, ginger and raw squash (if using), and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to low, then cover with a lid and cook for about 10 minutes or until the squash is tender. Pour in the coconut milk and the hot chicken stock, including the lemongrass. Bring to the boil and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

If using roasted butternut squash, add this with the coconut milk and stock and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat, then transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Return the finished soup to the pan to heat through gently, then season with fish sauce to taste and serve sprinkled with the basil.

The soup will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to three days; simply reheat to serve. It can also be frozen for up to three months.


Rachel Allen’s Roasted Butternut Squash


Leftover roast vegetables can be equally good served at room temperature, and squash is no exception. With just a few more ingredients, it makes a handsome meal. Packed full of nutrition, it also makes a great lunchbox meal.

Serves 4-6


1 large butternut squash (about 1kg/2lb 3oz), peeled, deseeded and cut into 3cm (1¼in) pieces

3 red onions, peeled and each cut lengthways into about 8 wedges

3 tbsp olive oil

10 small sprigs of thyme (if using raw squash) Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1tbsp balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar

200g (7oz) mozzarella, torn into bite-sized chunks

50g (2oz) rocket leaves

25g (1oz) Parmesan cheese, grated


Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F), Gas mark 6.

Place the raw squash (if using) and onion wedges in a roasting tin with the thyme sprigs and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until completely tender and slightly caramelised around the edges.

Drizzle the vinegar over the warm vegetables and set aside to cool to room temperature. If using previously roasted squash, add it to the onions once they have cooled down.

When the vegetables have cooled, add the mozzarella and rocket and toss gently together. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, then taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary, and serve.


  • Leftover roasted butternut squash salad makes a great packed lunch or picnic dish (just remember to leave out the rocket leaves if making it in advance, adding them just before serving).


Rachel Allen’s Cheesy Kale Bake


I find a dish like this a good opportunity to use up any ends of cheese lurking in the fridge. Within reason, of course: the better the cheese, the better the dish will be, but a few different types of hard cheese mixed together are perfect. I prefer not to use blue cheese, however.


Serves 4


400g (14oz) curly kale (stalks removed), thickly shredded

25g (1oz) butter

25g (1oz) plain flour

400ml (14fl oz) milk

250g (9oz) Cheddar or Gruyere cheese (or mixed leftover hard cheese), grated

1tsp Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper




20 x 25cm (8 x 10in) ovenproof dish

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F), Gas mark 6.

Place a large pan of water on a high heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to the boil. Tip in the kale and cook for just a couple of minutes or until almost tender, then drain, squeezing the leaves to remove all the excess water, and place in the ovenproof dish.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat, add the flour and cook for 1 minute or until bubbling. Gradually pour in the milk, whisking it into the flour and butter, and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat, then add half the cheese and the mustard and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the cheese sauce over the kale and sprinkle over the remaining cheese, then bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until bubbling and golden on top.


  • This can be prepared in advance right up until assembling in the dish and kept in the fridge for 24 hours, or it can be frozen for up to three months. Defrost fully before halting as above. This dish will keep in the fridge for a couple of days once cooked. It’s best served warm, reheated in the oven (preheated to 180°C/350°F/ Gas mark 4) for about 20 minutes to allow the cheese sauce to melt again.


Rachel Allen’s Butterscotch Apple Pudding


Serves 4-6


2 large cooking apples (about 45og/ 1lb total weight), peeled, cored and cut into roughly 2cm (¾ in) dice

125g (4½ oz) self-raising flour

¼ tsp salt

200g (7oz) brown sugar, plus 2 tbsp for sprinkling

100g (3½ oz) butter, melted

1tsp vanilla extract


200ml (7fl oz) milk

2 tbsp golden syrup

150ml (5fl oz) boiling water




20 x 30cm (8 x 12in) ovenproof dish

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas mark 4. Place the apple pieces in the bottom of the ovenproof dish, spreading them out to form an even layer.

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and mix in half the sugar. In another bowl, mix together the melted butter, vanilla extract, egg and milk.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones, then whisk briefly to bring everything together. Pour the mixture into the dish, distributing it evenly over the apples.

Next, place the golden syrup in a saucepan with the boiling water and remaining sugar. Bring to the boil, stilling to dissolve the sugar, then pour this evenly over the mixture in the dish. Most of it will sink through the pudding mixture to the bottom of the dish, but don’t be alarmed

-this creates a beautiful butterscotch sauce underneath the sponge when baked.

To finish, sprinkle over the 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, then place in the oven and bake for about go minutes or until the top of the pudding has a very light spring when you press it with your finger. This is best served warm with softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


  • Any leftover pudding will keep well in the fridge for up to three days; simply reheat in a moderate oven (preheated to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4) for just a few minutes to warm through


Crab Apple and Rowanberry Jelly

Rowanberries (Sorbus aucuparia) come from the rowan tree (also known as mountain ash) and are in season during the autumn. They grow on acid soil in hills, and their brilliant orangey-red berries were historically much eaten, although few people eat rowanberries any more. We gather ones from the Knockmealdown mountains in West Waterford for our rowanberry jelly.


Crab or Bramley apples


450g (1lb) sugar to every pint of juice


Chop the apples (windfalls are fine) into chunks, barely cover with water, bring to the boil and cook until the apples are soft and pulpy. Strain the juice through a jelly bag.

Crush the rowanberries, add a very little water, cook them in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until they are soft, and strain through a nylon sieve.


Combine all the juices and measure. Allow 450g (1lb) of sugar for every pint of juice Heat the sugar and add to the boiling juice. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved and boil rapidly until the jelly reaches setting point. Jelly should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. Pot into sterilized jars, seal and store in a cool place. Serve with game or a fine leg of mutton if you can find it.


Hot Tips


Look out for Irish Craft Ciders there are now almost 20. I tasted several delicious examples at Applefest the Slow Food Apple and Craft Cider Festival at the Apple Farm in Moorstown, Cahir, Co Tipperary. Kilmegan, Orpens, Craigies, MacIvors, Highbank Proper Cider and Cockagee Pure Irish Keeved Cider, Llewellyns – Longueville House and Stonewell are even closer to home.


The 12th edition of Georgina Campbell’s Ireland Guide – The Best of Irish  Food and Hospitality has just been published and is a must have to keep in the car so you can swing by the best hotels, restaurants, cafes, pubs, country houses, guest houses and farmhouses both north and south. The entries are concise and there are also county maps and lots more detailed information on Ireland – A perfect small gift for a treasured friend.


It’s a fantastic year for apples as well as blackberries, I came across a Crispy Apple Crumble Mix from the Cookie Jar Company based at Poulmucka Clonmel Co. Tipperary – use it to make a delicious bubbly crumble with home-grown apples.


Lots of mountain ash or rowan berries on hillsides at present, added them to some crab apples or windfall cookers, they make a fantastic rowan and crab apple jelly, delicious to serve with game or lamb. See and follow link to Darina’s Saturday letter for the recipe.



Past Letters