Irish Food Writers Guild Awards


Can you imagine the excitement when you open a letter – rare enough these days. Who can this be from? At least it doesn’t have a ‘window’ so hopefully it’s not another bill – WOW…. Guess what, we’ve won an Irish Food Writers Guild Award…!

Variations on this conversation happened in six different food producers’ kitchens recently. It was such a boost to the winners who have battled to stay afloat in unprecedented times.

Kristin Jensen, chair of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) remarked that the choice of winners reflected the times we are in.  During Covid – there has been a newfound appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.

Irish spuds topped with a generous knob of creamy, hand-rolled butter and served with traditional spiced beef are the makings of a fine feast and the cornerstone of many an Irish meal.  The kind of produce we take for granted in Ireland, these oft-considered store cupboard ‘basics’ have each been singled out for a 2021 Irish Food Award, and for good reason. 

That gives you a clue as to the winner’s identity.
Tom Durcan’s spiced beef was one of three awards to go to Co. Cork. Tom’s Spiced Beef can be found not just at his stall in the English Market but also in stores and restaurants nationwide, including Dublin’s Chapter One restaurant, where chef-proprietor and fellow Cork man, Ross Lewis is an enthusiastic champion of the tender, sweet-savoury delicacy.

Irish staples such as spuds and butter are also award winners. 

Abernethy Butter from Co. Down also impressed the judges.  The award recipients haven’t the slightest clue that they have been secretly nominated by a Guild or several Guild members until they get notice.  Allison and her husband, Will Abernethy, are custodians of a near-lost tradition of handmade butter which they revived around ten years ago and have grown it with a variety of flavours as well as handmade fudge and lemon curd. A unique dairy product, there isn’t any other comparable commercial butter in Ireland in terms of process, their small-batch, slow-churned, hand-rolled butter shaped with wooden pats is made using Draynes Farm grass-fed, single-herd superb quality cream. Top chefs both here in Ireland and the UK frequently list Abernethy Butter on menus as a star ingredient in their dishes. Check out a slew of stockists and their walls covered with prestigious awards.

And next the spuds.
Ballymakenny Farm Irish Heritage and speciality potatoes have developed a cult-like following in Ireland over the past few years for good reason, and despite the challenges of 2020 they continue to be the spuds everyone wants on their plates. Maria and David Flynn started out growing the usual potatoes for supermarket retail until Maria, unenthused by what they were doing, decided to literally inject a bit of colour into their farming by trying out the ‘purple spuds’ they have become best known for.

The Irish Drink Award went to Kinsale Mead – Wild Red Mead – Merlot Barrel aged, which was established by Kate and Denis Dempsey in 2017 – Ireland’s first commercial meadery for over 200 years. In 2020, Kate and Denis, inspired by the legends of Ireland’s Wild Geese, wanted to explore the potential of their mead further by ageing it in French wine barrels for twelve months. The IFWG Award is for their Wild Red Mead – Merlot Barrel Aged, a three-year-old fermented off-dry mead flavoured with tart Irish blackberry and juicy cherry, then aged for twelve months in Bordeaux wine casks. 2020 was a challenging year for the duo as direct sales were impacted, meadery tours were limited and tastings, food festivals and other promotional opportunities all ceased due to COVID-19 restrictions. They responded by creating virtual Online Mead Talk & Taste Zooms comprising tastings and intriguing insights into the history of mead in Ireland and the importance of mead in Irish food culture, held in high esteem and value.

The Outstanding Organisation Award went to NeighbourFood, the ‘virtual farmer’s market’, started in Cork in 2018 by Jack Crotty (Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni) and Martin Poucher.
NeighbourFood has helped immeasurably to brighten people’s lives during the pandemic but also to save the livelihood of countless food producers, artisan bakers, cake makers, fish mongers, vegetable and herb growers, dairy farmers, cheese makers, brewers…who supply more than 65 locations in Ireland and 20 in the UK
Suppliers know in advance what is required of them, so there is no waste. Minimal packaging is used – another win for the environment. NeighbourFood has become an essential service and resource for growers and producers whose livelihoods were threatened as a result of the shrinking of the hospitality industry.

Ballymore Organics Porridge, Stoneground Flour and Semolina Loaf

The Environmental Award went to Ballymore Organics, a Co. Kildare producer for their outstanding organic porridge oats, stoneground flour and semolina.

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

350g (12oz) stone ground wholemeal flour

75g (3oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

50g (2oz) semolina

25g (1oz) oatmeal (use half for sprinkling on top of the loaf before it goes into the oven)

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey or treacle

425ml (15fl oz) buttermilk or sour milk approx.

Loaf tin 23 x 12.5 x 5cm (9 x 5 x 2 inch) OR 3 small loaf tins 14.6cm x 7.5cm (5.75 x 3 inch) 

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins – using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Rory O’Connell’s Radishes with Smoked Eel Butter

Delicious served as a little nibble before dinner.

Serves 4-6 as a starter

Smoked Eel Butter

100g (3 1/2oz) smoked eel

50g (2oz) Abernethy’s butter 

a few drops of lemon juice

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

To Serve

16-24 chilled radishes with leaves attached

Blend the eel and butter in a food processor until just blended. Season with a few drops of lemon juice, a little pepper and if necessary a little salt.

Place the butter in a bowl and serve alongside the radishes sprinkled with a little sea salt.

If plating the dish individually, spread a little of the butter on each plate and simply but artfully lay the radishes alongside with a sprinkling of sea salt.  Serve immediately.

Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef with Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

1 ripe avocado, halved, stone removed, peeled and diced into neat scant 1 cm dice

3 tablespoons of hazelnuts, roasted, skinned and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons of hazelnut or olive oil

1 tablespoon of chopped flat parsley

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the ingredients for the avocado and hazelnut garnish. Taste and correct seasoning. This mixture will sit quite happily in your fridge for an hour as the oil coating the avocado will prevent it from discolouring.

Purple Potato, Pickled Beetroot, Red Onion and Scallion Salad

Purple potatoes cook pretty much the same as any other potatoes.  They can be boiled, mashed, roasted, made into soups…they also make delicious potato crisps, wedges and chips.  They always create a frisson of surprise and excitement when served and like all potatoes benefit from lots of seasoning, e.g. fresh herbs, spices, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or a generous pat of butter.  Here I’ve paired them with new season’s pickled beetroot and onions and a few scallions for extra flavour and a touch of green.

Serves 4-6

1kg (2 1/4lb) purple potatoes, freshly cooked

225-350g (8-12oz) pickled beetroot and onion

110g (4oz) scallions, green and white, sliced at an angle

small fistful of fresh mint leaves

salt and freshly cracked black pepper


175ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

salt and freshly cracked black pepper


Red Nasturtium flowers and leaves (if available)

First make the dressing by whisking the ingredients together to emulsify. 

Slice the cooked potatoes in half, quarters or wedges.  Season with salt and freshly ground cracked pepper.  While still warm, drizzle with the dressing and toss gently.  Transfer to a serving dish, add the coarsely diced beetroot and lots of the pickled onion slices.  Top with scallions and mint and mix very gently.  Garnish with red nasturtium flowers and pop a few small peppery nasturtium leaves around the edge if available. 

A gorgeous salad – both visually and nutritionally and of course delicious.  A little chorizo could also be tucked in with the purple potato for an even more substantial salad but don’t overdo it or better still, serve with Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef.

Old-Fashioned Pickled Beetroot

Serves 5-6

450g (1lb) cooked beetroot

225g (8oz) sugar

450ml (16fl oz) water

175g (8oz) red or white onion, peeled and thinly sliced

225ml (8fl oz) white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled, sliced (diced or cut into wedges) beet and leave to cool.

How to cook Beetroot

Leave 5cm (2 inch) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don’t damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 15-20 minutes (in May/June when they are young) depending on size (they can take 1-2 hours in late Autumn and Winter when they are tough). Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger.  If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.  Use in chosen recipe or store in covered sterilised jars for up to three months…in a cool dark cupboard.

A Madeira Cake with a glass of Kinsale Merlot Barrel Aged Wild Red Mead

Serves 10

110g (4oz) butter, soft

175g (6oz) caster sugar

3 eggs

finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon

175g (6oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon milk

1 x 18cm (7 inch) cake tin with high sides, base and sides lined with parchment paper

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

Cream the butter, add the caster sugar and beat until light, fluffy and pale in colour.  Add the eggs one by one, beating well between each addition so the mixture comes back to the original texture.  Stir in the grated lemon zest.  Add the baking powder to the flour, sieve gradually into the base, stirring gently rather than beating – add 1 tablespoon of milk to moisten.  Turn into the prepared tin, make a little dent in the centre and pop into the oven without delay.

Cook for 40-45 minutes or until fully cooked, the cake will have started to shrink in from the sides and be firm in the centre.

Allow to cool in the tin before turning out. 

Dust lightly with icing sugar and enjoy with a glass of Kinsale Wild Red Mead. 

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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