A Great Day Out in the Boyne Valley


 A great day out. . .

The Irish Food Writers Guild which I’m proud to be a member of, meet occasionally to do reconnaissance trips around the country. We visit artisan producers to see their process and hear their stories. Our most recent Summer outing was to the Boyne Valley and wow, what an action packed day we had….!

First stop, Drummond House, where Marita and Peter Collier welcomed us warmly onto their farm outside Drogheda, they grow 5 varieties of garlic and several acres of green asparagus on their rich sandy soil. This enterprise like Ballymakenny Farm in Baltray was born out of desperation to find a different way to earn a living on the land and the family farms they all love. Marita and Peter told us the story of the roller coaster,  voyage of trial and error they embarked on to source varieties of garlic to suit their land and the Irish climate.  6 years later, through sheer hard work and help from Marita’s friends at the Termonfeckin NS gate who initially volunteered  to help with packing the garlic in their spare time. They now have a thriving business and have introduced the Irish market to a wide variety of garlic types and garlic scapes (tender shoots) which I’ve hitherto only seen in my own garden or in the Union Square Market in Manhattan.

Marita and Peter, like Maria and David Flynn of Ballymakenny Farm had high praise for the chefs who encouraged and supported them initially and continue to do so. 

Drummond House Garlic is now widely available around the country, www.drummondhouse.ie

Ballymakenny Farm also needed to add value to their produce, so Maria who has a business background decided to trial some unusual potato varieties, much to the amusement and scepticism of their neighbours and friends. They now grow 6 heirloom varieties, Violetta, Red Emmalie, Mayan Rose, Mayan Twilight, Mayan Gold and waxy Pink Fir Apple plus beautiful crops of long stem broccoli. The chefs go crazy for the deep purple Violetta, the mottled pink varieties and the fingerling potatoes, Ballymakenny can scarcely keep up with the demand. It was a extra special treat to meet David’s parents who were commercial potato growers in the past… 

Our next stop was Listoke Gin Distillery and School.  Bronagh Conlan gave us a spirited talk on gin production and the wide range of botanicals that can be added to the raw spirit to give it a unique flavour. Visitors can make their own unique blend at the gin school in the individual copper stills around the edge of the room. At the end of their visit, they take home their very own bespoke bottle of gin, a unique and hugely sought after visitor experience for corporate events too. Loved the psychedelic owl street art which has become the Listoke Distillery logo created by Dean Kane of visual waste.

Just a few miles to Tankardstown House where the young Romanian head chef Janos Sarkosi cooked us a seven course feast to showcase his considerable skills… Such a lovely place, no wonder it is also a favourite venue for weddings…

No time to dawdle, still lots more to see….. Next stop, The Cider Mill at Stackallan, near  Slane in Co. Meath www.cockagee.ie/

I’ve been a fan of Mark Jenkinson for several years now; he is a complete purist, grows a variety of cider apples in his own orchards, gently presses them in small batches in the time honored, traditional way between timber slabs. He makes 5 different styles of cider including his famous Cockagee name after an ancient cider apple variety that was thought to be extinct for over 125 years. . . .  .Mark managed to trace it to an old orchard in Gloucestershire and has now recovered and saved it for posterity. Cider is the wine of our land and there has been a rich tradition of cider making in the Boyne Valley for hundreds of years.

Mark is the only Irish cider producer to make keeved cider, a slow natural, painstaking process which results in a superb cider. His tasting room which also houses his eclectic collection of vernacular chairs , hardening stands and artefacts is worth the trip alone.

Carina Mount Charles brought along her organic eggs and salad leaves and nearby farmhouse cheese maker Michael Finnegan from Mullagh Farm delivered over his Boyne Valley Bán and Blue goat cheeses for us to taste…. a new find for me.

And there was still more, a whistle-stop tour of Slane Castle distillery where Henry Mount Charles and his son Alex have converted the stable yard into a highly impressive distillery in partnerships with Brown Forman (makers of Jack Daniels)

After an excellent tour and tasting we sped down the road to Boann Distillery where Peter Cooney had cans of several versions of Gin in a tin for us to taste. This super exciting innovative company in the heart of the Boyne Valley brews beer, non-alcoholic drinks, whiskey and cider from apples grown in their own orchards in Tara. The Boann Distillery, named for Boann the Irish Godess of the Boyne is housed in an amazing building repurposed from a car showroom. Book a tour and tasting if you are in the area.

Finally we had supper at the Eastern Seaboard Bar and Grill Jeni and Reuvans Diaz’s award winning restaurant in Bryanstown. Seek out this place in the suburbs of Drogheda, super innovative food made with many of the superb local ingredients.

Who knew the magic that awaits in an area that has been hitherto been regarded as a mere corridor between Dublin and Belfast. . . It was an eye opener to discover so many artisan food and drink producers flourishing in this historic area… Well, take my advice and take time out to explore this intriguing part of Ireland’s Ancient East….

Medjool Dates with Boyne Valley Bán and Blue Goats Cheese  

This cheese was presented to us by Michael Finnegan of Mullagh Farm and I loved it so much that I bought a wheel to bring home for the Ballymaloe House cheese trolley.

Makes 20

Medjool dates

Boyne Valley Bán and Blue Goats Cheese (or similar blue cheese)

Split the dates lengthways and remove the stone. Arrange on a plate, top each half with a little nugget of cheese. Serve as a canapé or amuse guile

Ana & Laura’s Kitchen Family Borscht

Very Special thanks to Jeni Glasgow of Eastern Seaboard Restaurant for sharing this delicious recipe.

Serves 4

150g (5oz) beef striploin cut into small cubes

70g (3oz) diced onion

100g (3 ½ oz) grated organic carrots

70g (30z) celery diced

150g (5oz) potatoes peeled and cubed small

300g (110z) grated organic long beets

1 litre (1 ¾ pints) good quality homemade chicken stock

500ml 18fl oz) water

2 bay leaves

Salt and pepper to season

Oil for frying

NOTE: We use long beets for a milder flavour

First sauté sliced beef in a large pot, add the diced onion, grated carrot, diced celery and potato cubes and sauté until just tender. Add the chicken stock, water and bay leaves. Simmer on a low heat for 40 minutes. Taste and check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as required.

To serve ladle into preheated bowls and add a dollop of sour cream, a  handful of elderberry capers and a drizzle of salsa verde.

Clare McQuillan’s Elderberry Capers

Pick & wash green elderberries and pat dry. Cover with sea salt and store in a jar for 3 weeks. After 3 weeks rinse the elderberries, pat dry and place in sterilized kilner jars and top up with good quality apple cider vinegar. These can be stored in the fridge for months and enjoy as you would capers.

Clare McQuillan’s Salsa Verde

Pick a handful of nettles (lightly blanched) sorrel, clover, broadleaf plantain & rosebay willow herb leaves – all foraged edible finds from the garden. 

1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard

1 small handful of wild capers (elderberry or wild garlic is also great)

2 tablespoons of Cider vinegar

Whizz with 3 – 4 tablespoons of rapeseed oil for a tangy, fresh & wild salsa verde.

Violetta Potato and Scallion Salad

The delicious dark purple colour of Violetta potatoes makes this an impressive salad to serve at any table.

Serves 4-6

900g (2lbs) freshly cooked Violetta potatoes, diced, allow about 1.1kg (2 1/2lbs) raw potatoes

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions or 2 teaspoons chopped onion

110ml (4fl oz) French Dressing (available on the Examiner website)

110ml (4fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise (available on the Examiner website)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

The potatoes should be boiled in their jackets and peeled, diced and measured while still hot. Mix immediately with onion, parsley, salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the French dressing, allow to cool and finally add the mayonnaise. Toss in the coarsely chopped nasturtium leaves and two thirds of the flowers.  Scatter the remaining nasturtium flowers on top of the salad.

Best served fresh but keeps well for about 2 days.

Note: This potato salad is also delicious without mayonnaise.   Potato salad may be used as a base for other salads, eg. add cubes of chorizo, cooked mussels or cockles or even diced cucumber.

Magic Wands with Smoked Oyster Mayo

This recipe was inspired by a menu item at Eastern Seaboard Restaurant in Drogheda, Co Louth. Eastern Seaboard source their smoked oysters from Marine Foods in Aughrim, Co Wicklow. If smoked oysters are difficult to source, make an alternative dip, tuna mayo, tapenade mayo, harissa mayo or just a perky garlic mayo would be delicious.

Save a little dough when you are making bread to make magic wands.

White Yeast Bread Dough

We use Doves Farm organic white bread flour, the water quantity may vary for other brands.  This bread can be baked in loaf tins or made into plaits or rolls.   

Makes 2 loaves

20g yeast

20g organic sugar

390g warm water

700g strong organic white flour

25g butter

16g pure dairy salt

2 x loaf tins 12.5cm (5 inch) x 20cm (8 inch)

Crumble the yeast into a bowl, add the sugar and 390g of warm water (anything above 45C will kill yeast).  Mix and allow to stand for a couple of minutes.  Meanwhile, put the flour into a wide mixing bowl, add the salt, mix then rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. 

Add all the liquid ingredients to the flour and mix to a dough with your hand.  Turn out onto a clean work surface (no flour). Cover with the upturned bowl and allow to rest for 15-30 minutes. 

Uncover, if it feels a little dry and tough, wet your hand, rub over the dough and knead by hand until silky and smooth – 10 minutes approximately.  Return to the bowl and cover with a tea-towel.  Allow to rise until double in size. 

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8

Turn out onto the work surface, knead for a minute or two and shape as desired.  

For loaves, divide the dough in half, fold over and knead with the heel of your hand into a roll, tuck in the ends and pop into an oiled tin. Cover and allow to rise to the top of the tin.

The bread is ready for baking when a small dent remains if the dough is pressed lightly with you finger. Spray with a water mister and dust with flour for a rustic looking loaf and slash with a blade. 

The bread will rise a little further when it goes into the oven – this is called ‘oven-spring’. Bake for 25–35 minutes, depending on size. When baked, the bread should sound hollow if tapped underneath. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Flaky Sea Salt

5 fl oz Homemade Mayonnaise

4 – 6 smoked oysters

Flaky Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Freshly squeezed lemon juice if necessary

First make the dough, allow to rise to double it’s size at least and then knock back. Pull off 45g of dough and roll in 12 – 14 inch bread sticks.

Lay each on a baking tray. Cover and allow to rise for 5 – 10 minutes at an ambient temperature. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7 and bake for 5 – 7 minutes or until crisp and golden.

Whizz the smoked oysters in a food processor with 5 floz mayonnaise, taste and correct the seasoning and add a little lemon juice if necessary.

Serve a magic wand with a dipping bowl of smoked oyster mayonnaise.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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