I’m sitting in my little garden in an enormous Adirondack chair sipping a glass of watermelon lemonade, the birds are twittering in the trees and the sun is beaming down – a lovely moment to be treasured.
But it sounds like there are tough times ahead of us this winter. The cost of everything seems to be skyrocketing, who knows what’s ahead, but it will certainly be challenging and as ever, those less fortunate will be most heavily impacted. Tough decisions to be made on how to allocate the weekly budget but whatever happens, let’s try to continue to feed ourselves and our families wholesome, nourishing food but that doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive.
I’ve written many times in this column about the importance of learning to be thrifty and mastering practical life skills. Already many of us are questioning virtually everything we do, not a bad idea, do we need to use the spin dryer, how about putting up a washing line – I love hanging clothes out in the breeze and dashing out to bring them in before it rains – a blast from the past…
Question everything in your shopping trolley too and tot up how much you save. Learn to recognise foods from the wild, they are bursting with goodness, much flavourful and more nutritious than virtually anything on the supermarket shelf because they haven’t been adapted to produce maximum yield at minimum cost. Buy a book on foraging or go for a ramble with a knowledgeable friend. If you are fortunate to be within a reasonable distance of upland areas or dry woodlands or scrubby mountains, how about collecting some wild bilberries. For years we got baskets of wild blueberries or fraughans at Ballymaloe from the Knockmealdown Mountains. Traditionally, the Celtic festival of Lughnasa on the last weekend in July was known as Frauchán Sunday.
These wild bilberries are really worth seeking out, the berries are smaller and tarter but truly delicious crushed with sugar then smothered with cream. We requested them as one of the desserts, with carrageen moss pudding for our ‘wedding breakfast’. If you have a glut – remember they freeze brilliantly.
Wild blueberries grow on scritchy low growing shrubs and boast nearly twice as many oxidants as their cultivated counterparts. So seek out some of these free foods and let’s build resilience for times ahead, it’s not too late to grow some of your own food for the Autumn and Winter. Even if you don’t have a garden or raised bed, you’ be surprised how much you can grow in large containers on your patio or balcony. Check out GIY Ireland for a myriad of terrific tips.
Wild watercress and sea spinach are easier to find and there will be damsons, sloes and wild hazelnuts in early autumn. There’s a fantastic crop of nuts this year but they won’t be ripe until late September so keep an eye out and bring children with you so they can have fun learning the skills of recognising food in the wild – Nature’s bounty to all of us.
Sea Spinach and Rosemary Soup
The trick with these green soups is not to add the greens until the last minute, otherwise they will overcook, and the soup will lose its fresh taste and bright green colour. For a simple spinach soup, omit the rosemary and add a little freshly grated nutmeg with the seasoning.
50g (2oz) butter
110g (4oz) onion, peeled and chopped
150g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and chopped
600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
425-600ml (15fl oz – 1 pint) creamy milk (1/4 cream and 3/4 milk)
salt and freshly ground pepper
225-350g (8-12oz) sea spinach or sea beet, destalked and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons whipped cream (optional)
sprig of rosemary or rosemary flowers
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams add the onions and potatoes and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the boiling stock and milk, bring back to the boil and simmer until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the sea spinach and boil with the lid off for about 4-5 minutes, until the sea spinach is tender. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Add the chopped rosemary.
Liquidise and taste. Serve in warm bowls garnished with a blob of whipped cream and a sprig of rosemary. If you have a pretty rosemary bush in bloom, sprinkle a few flowers over the top for extra pzazz.
Good to Know
If you need to reheat a green soup, do so at the last minute. If it sits in a saucepan or bain-marie for ages it will lose its lively colour.
Sounds very grand but they are simply Watercress sandwiches cut into triangles – a favourite supper or picnic food when we picked watercress in the Chapel Meadows behind the church outside the little village of Cullohill in County Laois where I spent my childhood.
a bunch of fresh watercress
4 slices of a good white pan loaf
flaky sea salt
Slather the thinly sliced bread generously with butter. Wash, dry and chop the watercress coarsely.
Spread an even layer of chopped watercress, about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick onto the slice, should be about the same thickness as the bread. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and a grind of black pepper. Top with the second slice, press down, trim the crust and cut into triangles.
Enjoy the butterfly sandwiches soon, also delicious with an extra layer of cucumber slices – perfect for afternoon tea…
Chicory, Watercress, Apple and Hazelnut Salad
The Irish apple season has begun, we’ve got an abundance of Beauty of Bath apples this year too. I love to put them into salads. The dressing for this salad doesn’t need a robust flavour, use a light olive oil.
a handful of whole unblanched hazelnuts
2 bunches watercress
2 bulbs chicory
4 medium sized tart/sweet crisp apples
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons light olive oil
a small bunch of chives cut into inch or so lengths
Maldon sea salt
Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.
Toss the hazelnuts in a little oil and a sprinkle of salt and roast in a hot oven until toasty brown. Leave to cool. Break them into coarse pieces with a rolling pin
Make the dressing in a large mixing bowl; mix the vinegar and a pinch of salt along with the light olive oil.
Remove the more fibrous stalks from the watercress and separate the leaves of chicory. Cut the apples into slim wedges, removing the core with a sharp knife.
Just before serving.
toss the chicory, watercress and apple in the dressing and transfer to a serving
dish. Sprinkle liberally with the broken hazelnuts and chives and a pinch of
Maldon sea salt.
Originally samphire was just pickled in a solution of 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water and a little salt, but of course one can add flavours, spices, herbs…
225g (8oz) fresh samphire
1 bay leaf
600ml (1 pint) wine or apple vinegar
1 dessertspoon sugar
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 sprig thyme
Put all the ingredients for the pickle into a stainless-steel saucepan, bring to the boil for 4-5 minutes.
Meanwhile, pick over and wash the samphire, blanch in boiling water for 1-2 minutes.
Pack in sterilized jars. Cover with pickle, cover tightly.
Store in a dark place and allow to mellow for 2 weeks before using. It will keep for a year or more but its best eaten sooner.
Delicious with cold mutton or lamb, in sandwiches, add a little to mayonnaise to serve with fish.
Wild Blueberry and Rose Geranium Sugar Bites
Everyone should have a sweet geranium plant on their windowsill. It’s got a haunting lemony scent and flavour and a variety of names. Pelargonium Graveolens is the Latin name. Cut this delectable ‘tray bake’ into bites. This recipe will become a favourite.
175g (6oz) soft butter
150g (5oz) caster sugar
2 large eggs, preferably free range
175g (6oz) self-raising flour
2 tablespoons freshly chopped sweet or rose geranium
225g (8oz) wild blueberries (blackberries or raspberries may also be used)
Rose Geranium Sugar
50g (2oz) caster sugar
1 tablespoon of freshly chopped rose or sweet geranium
25.5 x 18cm (10 x 7 inch) Swiss roll tin, well-greased or lined with parchment paper
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour and chopped sweet geranium into a food processor. Whizz for just a few seconds to amalgamate. It should be softish – add a little milk if necessary. Spread evenly in the well-buttered tin. Sprinkle the blueberries (blackberries or raspberries if using) 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.
In Winter when the butter is harder to cream, it may be necessary to add 2-3 tablespoons of milk to lighten the mixture and texture.
Ice-Cream with Crushed Blueberries
If you aren’t fortunate enough to find the wild ones, look out for the plump and delicious Irish cultivated blueberries which are in the shops at present.
350g (14oz) whole unsweetened natural yoghurt
75g (3oz) caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125ml (4 1/2fl oz) cream
Put the yoghurt and sugar into a bowl. Add the vanilla extract and mix well. Stir in the cream and freeze in an ice-cream machine if you have one. Otherwise an excellent result is achieved by simply freezing it as it is. Serve with crushed blueberries.
Crushed Fraughans or Blueberries
fraughans or blueberries
softly whipped cream
Crush the berries with a pounder or potato masher and sweeten to taste with caster sugar.
Serve well chilled.
110g (4oz) sugar
110ml (4fl oz) water
600g (1 1/4lbs) cubed watermelon
675ml (1 pint 3fl oz) cold water
110ml (4fl oz) fresh lemon juice
Place the watermelon into a blender. Cover and purée until smooth, then strain through a fine mesh sieve.
Next bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cold water and lemon juice. Put lots of ice cubes into 12 glasses, scoop 2 or 3 tablespoons of watermelon purée over the ice, then top with the lemonade.
Gently stir before serving.