CategorySaturday Letter

Food of Sichuan

Travel is understandably out of the question for the foreseeable future. How fortunate am I to have been able to visit and enjoy the food of so many countries, such happy memories…Amongst others, I long to revisit Myanmar, Transylvania, Egypt, Turkey, Mexico, Cambodia, Laos, Tasmania, China, and of course India, my perennial favourite.

No hope of that any time soon, so for the present, I relive the memories through photos and videos on my iPhone and the interviews I recorded with many of the fascinating cooks, farmers and artisan producers I encountered and of course I wish I had done many, many more.

But the most poignant way to bring precious memories flooding back is through the food.  Even smells transport me to far away places, to bustling food markets, ‘hole in the wall’ eateries, street stalls, as well as world renowned restaurants like Noma in Copenhagen, Fäviken in Sweden, Chez Panise in California, Atica in Melbourne and Restaurante Tlamanalli in the Teotitlan del Valle outside Oaxaca in Mexico.

This week I am going back to China, particularly poignant in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. My first visit, in February 2018 was to attend the International Slow Food Conference in Chenghu, the UNESCO capital of gastronomy in the Sichuan province. The food was fantastic, the city of Chenghu welcomed the delegates from all over the world whole heartedly, with wonderful entertainment, opera, theatre, music and superb Chinese food for which the Sichuan province is justly famous. We visited day and night food markets with super fresh food, the freshest fish I have ever seen, some still alive. In Pixian, a suburb of Chengdu, we were shown how the famous Chinese spicy bean paste, Dobuanjiang is slowly fermented for several years in huge earthenware pots with wheat, salt and a variety of chillies – it’s the quintessential flavour of China.  Dobuanjiang, is considered to be the soul of Sichuan cooking is an essential ingredient in Mapotofu.

We visited organic farms in the highlands, a 2 hour bus journey outside the city, a wonderful opportunity to see the countryside and wave to the friendly people, many of whom may not ever have seen a non-Chinese person before. It was an intriguing cultural experience, one I will never forget.

One of the special highlights of my visit to Chenghu was meeting  Fuchsia Dunlop who was the very, first Westerner to train at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine and for almost three decades. Since then she has travelled around China collecting recipes. Fuchsia speaks, reads and writes in Chinese and is the author of four outstanding books on Chinese Food. Her Sichuan Cookery published in 2001 was voted by Observer Food Magazine as one of the greatest cook books of all time – how about that for an accolade.

On this trip, Fuchsia was revisiting the region where her culinary journey began, adding more than 50 recipes to the original repertoire and accompanying them with her incomparable knowledge of the taste, textures and sensations of Sichuanese cookery. Fuchsia’s writing on the cultural and culinary history of Sichuan is quite simply spellbinding and there are food and gorgeous travel photos.

Sounds like I’m getting a bit carried away, well if you have even the remotest interest in Chinese food prepare to be captivated by The Food of Sichuan – Fuchsia Dunlop’s insight into one of the world’s greatest cuisines published by Bloomsbury.

Here are a few tantalising tastes to whet your appetite plus one of the favourites from my One Pot Feeds All cookbook.

Fuchsia Dunlop’s Mapo Tofu

This is the quintessential Sichuan dish.

Serves 4 approximately

500g (18oz) plain white tofu

2 spring onions or 2 stalks Chinese green garlic

6 tablespoons cooking oil

100g (3 1/2oz) minced beef

2 1/2 tablespoons Sichuan chilli bean paste

1 tablespoon fermented black beans

2 teaspoons ground chillies

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

175ml (6fl oz) stock or water

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon potato starch, mixed with 2 1/2 tablespoons cold water

1/4 – 1 teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper

Cut the tofu into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes and leave to steep in very hot, lightly salted water while you prepare the other ingredients.  Cut the spring onions or green garlic into 2cm (3/4 inch) lengths.

Heat a seasoned wok over a high flame.  Pour in 1 tablespoons cooking oil and heat until the sides of the wok have begun to smoke.  Add the beef and stir-fry until it is fully cooked and fragrant, breaking the clumps of meat into tiny pieces as you go.  Remove from the wok with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Rinse and dry the wok if necessary, then re-season it and return to a medium flame.  Pour in 5 tablespoons cooking oil and swirl it around.  Add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is a rich red colour and smells delicious.  Next add the black beans and ground chillies and stir-fry for a few seconds more until you can smell them too, then do the same with the garlic and ginger.  Take care not to overheat the aromatics – you want to end up with a thick, fragrant sauce, and the secret is to let them sizzle gently, allowing the oil to coax out their flavours.

Remove the tofu from the hot water with a perforated ladle, shaking off any excess liquid, and lay it gently in the wok.  Sprinkle over the beef, then add the stock or water and white pepper.  Nudge the tofu tenderly into the sauce with the back of your ladle or wok scoop to avoid breaking up the cubes.

Bring to the boil, then simmer for a couple of minutes to allow the tofu to absorb the flavours of the seasonings.  If you’re using green garlic (or baby leeks or garlic sprouts), stir them in now.  When they are just cooked, add a little of the potato starch mixture and stir gently as the liquid thickens.  Repeat this twice more, until the sauce clings deliciously to the seasonings and tofu (don’t add more than you need).  If you’re using spring onions, add them now, nudging them gently into the sauce.

Pour everything into a deep serving bowl.  Sprinkle with the ground roasted Sichuan pepper and serve.

Fuchsia Dunlop’s Twice-Cooked Pork

Twice-cooked pork derives its name from the fact that the pork is first boiled and then stir-fried.

Serves 4 approximately

30g (1 1/4oz) ginger, unpeeled

1 spring onion, white part only

350g (12oz) fatty pork rump, leg or belly, in one piece, with skin

90g (scant 3 1/2oz) Chinese green garlic (or baby leeks, red onions or green and/or red peppers)

2 tablespoons lard or cooking oil

a pinch of salt

1 1/2 tablespoons Sichuan chilli bean paste

1 1/2 teaspoon sweet flour sauce

2 teaspoons fermented black beans, rinsed and drained

1/4 teaspoon dark soy sauce

Lightly smack the ginger and spring onion white with the flat of a cleaver blade or a rolling pin to loosen them.  Bring a large panful of water to the boil.  Add the pork and return to the boil.  Add the ginger and spring onion white, turn the heat down and simmer until the pork is barely cooked: about 10-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the piece.  Remove from the water and set aside for a few hours to cool completely; refrigerate until needed (the pork can be cooked a day ahead).

When you are ready to make the dish, slice the pork as thinly as possible, making sure each piece has skin, fat and lean meat.  Cut the green garlic at a steep angle into long, thin ‘horse ear’ slices (baby leeks can be cut in the same way, onions or peppers into bite-sized slices).

Heat the lard or oil in a seasoned wok over a meadium flame.  Add the pork and stir-fry, with a pinch of salt, until the pieces have curled up and released some of their oils, and smell delicious.  Tilt the wok, push the pork up one side and add the chilli bean paste to the oil that pools in the base; stir-fry until it smells wonderful and has reddened the oil.  Add the sweet flour sauce and black beans and stir briefly, then tilt the wok back and mix everything together.  Finally, add the soy sauce and green garlic (or other vegetable) and stir-fry until just cooked.

Fuchsia Dunlop’s Bang Bang Chicken

The dish became known as bang bang chicken, because of the sound their wooden cudgels made when hammered down (bang) on the backs of cleaver blades to help them through the meat.

Serves  4 approximately

400g (14oz) cold poached chicken meat, off the bone (about half a chicken)

4 spring onions, white parts ony, cut into fine slivers (optional)

30g (1 1/4oz) roasted or deep-fried peanuts

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

For the Sauce

2 tablespoons sesame paste

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons caster sugar

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper or 1-2 teaspoons Sichuan pepper oil

4 tablespoons chilli oil, plus 1-2 tablespoons sediment

2 teaspoons sesame oil

If you want to be traditional, pummel the chicken with a rolling pin to loosen the fibres, and then tear into bite-sized slivers; otherwise, simply tear or cut into bite-sized slivers or strips.  Toss with the spring onion slivers, if using.  Roughly chop the peanuts: the easiest way to do this is to gather them on a chopping board, lay the flat of a cleaver blade over them and press firmly to break them up a bit, then chop them into smaller pieces.  Toast the sesame seeds in a dry wok or frying pan over a very gentle heat, until fragrant and tinged with gold.

Next make the sauce.  Dilute the sesame paste with a little oil from the jar and about 2 tablespoons of cold water: you should end up with a paste the consistency of single cream – it needs to be runny enough to clothe the chicken.  Place the salt, sugar, soy sauce and vinegar in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Add the remaining sauce ingredients and mix well.

Shortly before serving, pile the chicken onto a serving dish and pour the sauce over it.  Garnish with the peanuts and toasted sesame seeds.

Fuchsia Dunlop’s Fine Green Beans in Ginger Sauce

The dressing can also be used as a sauce for blanched spinach or other green, leafy vegetables, blanched mangetout, cold chicken or rabbit and various types of pork offal.

Serves 4 approximately

200g (7oz) fine green beans or yard-long beans

1 1/2 tablespoons very finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons cold stock or water

1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

Top and tail the beans.  If using yard-long beans, cut them into shorter lengths.

Bring a large panful of water to the boil.  Add the beans.  Return quickly to the boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, until just tender.  Tip into a colander and refresh under the cold tap, then shake dry.  Arrange the beans neatly on a serving dish. 

Combine the ginger with the vinegar, salt and stock or water in a small bowl.  Mix well, then add the sesame oil.  (The vinegar should lend the sauce a light ‘tea colour’ and gentle sourness.)  Pour the sauce over the beans or, for a more refined presentation, strain the sauce over the beans and then arrange the ginger across the top.

Kung Pao Chicken

Taken from One Pot Feeds All by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books

Everyone loves this spicy dish originally from Sichuan, known as Gong bao or Kung Po, but often better recognised by its American name ‘kung pao chicken’. It can be super hot or a little less punchy, depending on the chillies, but don’t dumb it down too much as the rice will absorb some of the heat.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon corn flour

4 tablespoons light soy sauce

450g (1lb) organic, free-range chicken breast or thigh meat, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes

3 tablespoons Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons homemade chicken stock (see recipe)

4 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar (brown Chinese vinegar)

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

3 tablespoons peanut or sunflower oil

4-12 dried hot red chillies, halved crosswise, and deseeded

5 spring onions (both white and green parts), sliced on the diagonal

1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced

1cm (1/2 inch) piece of fresh ginger, grated

75g (3oz) shelled peanuts

fresh coriander leaves

To Serve

400g (14oz) boiled basmati rice

Mix the cornflour with 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of the light soy sauce in a medium bowl. Add the chicken cubes, toss well to coat and set aside to marinate for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix together the remaining light soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, chicken stock, vinegar, sesame oil and dark soy sauce.

Heat the oil in a 30–35cm (12-14 inch) wok or large frying pan over a high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the chillies, half the spring onions, the garlic, ginger and marinated chicken and stir-fry for 3–5 minutes until the chicken is golden. Add the soy sauce mixture and stir-fry for a further 2–3 minutes until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir in the peanuts. Scatter with the remaining spring onions and lots of coriander, and serve with the basmati rice, if you wish.

Wild Food of the Week

Marsh Samphire (Salicornia europea) which looks a bit like a miniature cactus without the prickles, grows, as the name suggests, in salt marshes close to the sea. It’s easy to gather if you don’t mind the odd scratch from surrounding bushes and getting covered in mud. Pinch off the young shoots above the root. Later in the season, marsh samphire develops a tough fibrous core, so the earlier you harvest it, the better. The fresher it is, the more vibrant the flavour, but it keeps remarkably well for 1–2 weeks. Marsh samphire is now much sought after by creative young chefs who are putting it onto their menus. We sell it at the farmers’ market and people who aren’t familiar with it fall in love with its salty flavour and crunchy texture.

Summer Salads

This week a range of beautiful chunky salads that can be easily put together with the gorgeous summer produce that is coming in from the garden and greenhouse everyday.
Everyone on the farm and gardens continued to sow and plant for the past three months during the Covid-19 pandemic. They too are heroes providing nourishing nutrient dense super delicious vegetables and fruit to boost our immune system and keep us healthy. Now we are reaping the dedicated rewards of their hard work. Baskets of fresh peas, cucumbers, onions, broad beans, beets…the tomatoes have been ripening slowly for the past few weeks but now we have lots for the kitchens, Farm Shop, Farmers Markets and online NeighbourFood Markets.


The field crop of flowery potatoes, a blight resistant variety called Orla, is ready. If you haven’t ever dug potatoes out of the ground, you haven’t lived! It’s a special ‘Woops in the tummy’ moment when you uncover those jewels under the stalk. Will it be one or two or maybe five or six….?
Everyday we have big platters and bowls of salads oozing with fresh flavours and vitamins and minerals, no need for supplements – this is the real thing. So what’s the secret of making a memorable salad, apart from beautiful fresh produce of course, here are a few tips…
1. Think about a contrast of colour, texture and flavour – counterbalance of sweet, salty and sharp and sour.
2. Vary the greens from crunchy little gem, bitter and beautiful Castlefranco, radicchio, mustard greens, mizuna, tender butterhead, watercress, pea tendrils, peppery rocket and edible flowers. 
3. Add lots of fresh herbs, mint leaves, little sprigs of tarragon, coriander leaves, dill and a variety of basil leaves, purple Opal, Lemon, Vietnamese, Thai, Genovese basil all produce a different burst of flavour. Even flat parsley and of course chervil.
4. Keep it chunky, a base of potatoes cooked in well salted water and tossed while still warm in perky dressing can have a myriad of other ingredients added. Substitute potatoes with chunky roast beetroot, sweet potatoes, white turnips…Pasta, egg noodles, rice or buckwheat noodles are also great.
5. Don’t forget the pulses, chickpeas, cannellini beans, lentils, dress with a perky dressing – a great foundation to embellish with summer vegetables, herbs and spices.
6. Grains and pearl barley must be soaked overnight to make them digestible.
7. Freshly roasted and ground spices also add magic to your salads and dressings adding the flavour of the East and Far East, India, Morocco, Mexico depending on the combination you choose.
8. Vary the dressings too, a basic French dressing of 3 parts cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and 1 part aged vinegar seasoned with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper can be superb, depending on the quality of its oils and vinegars and then there’s flavoured oils – hazelnut, walnut, avocado…. Add a little honey, some excellent mustard, maybe some finely chopped shallot, crushed garlic and lots of fresh herbs – sublime to dress leaves or even a potato salad. The proportions could be 2-1 instead of 3-1 if you want a perkier flavour.  But there’s so much more, don’t forget tahini, miso, pomegranate molasses, date syrup…Look out for Katie Sanderson’s White Rayu Mausu. There are so many addictive hot sauces to experiment with now.
9. Sprinkle roasted, salted and toasted nuts and seeds over your salads – hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, sesame seeds, sunflower, pumpkin…

10. Dried fruits also add a burst of sweetness, extra nutrients and deliciousness. Apricots, dates, dried cherries or cranberries, raisins, sultanas, currants, goji berries….
11. Crunchy croutons, seedy brittle or crispy chicken skin add magic too.
12. Experiment with dressings, maybe natural yoghurt, lime and harissa, mayo, rice vinegar, grated new seasons garlic…. Combine grape seed oil, rice vinegar, miso and grated ginger. Experiment with different vinegars – white balsamic, apple cider vinegar, Moscatel vinegar. Don’t forget a generous squeeze of lemon juice to cut the richness in a mayo dressed salad.

The world’s your oyster as salads are concerned – start with beautiful ingredients, be creative and adventurous…experiment and taste, taste, taste…


Beetroot, Apple, Haloumi and loads of Herbs

If you can’t find Haloumi use chunks of Feta instead.

Serves 4

100g (3 1/2oz) red onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon of runny honey

2 dessert apples, half inch dice

3 – 4 cooked beetroot, peeled and chopped (3/4 inch)

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

100g (3 1/2oz) approx. pomegranate seeds

125g (4 1/2oz) Haloumi, sliced (5mm/1/4 inch thick)

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

4 handfuls of rocket leaves

1 handful fresh mint leaves

1/2 handful dill sprigs

Sprinkle the cider vinegar over the thinly sliced red onions in a bowl, drizzle with honey, toss. Dice the apple and beets – keep them chunky, season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the pomegranate seeds to the onions.

Put a pan on a high heat, film it with a little extra virgin olive oil. Cook the Haloumi until golden on each side – 30 seconds approx.

Pile the rocket into a wide shallow dish, add most of the fresh mint leaves. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Top with apples and beets and some coarsely chopped or sliced Haloumi. Throw the pumpkin seeds onto the pan to toast for a couple of seconds in the residual heat. Meanwhile, drizzle the onion and pumpkin seed dressing over the salad, then sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and the remainder of the mint and sprigs of dill. Enjoy soon….

Chicken Satay Salad

Serves 4

2 organic chicken breasts or 500g (18oz) free range chicken breasts

extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Spicy Peanut Satay Sauce

This satay sauce recipe was given to me by Eric Treuille of ‘Books for Cooks’ in London can be made up to 3 days in advance. 

Makes 250ml (8fl oz)

110g (4oz) peanut butter

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco

1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon runny honey

juice of 1 lemon

62ml (2 1/2 fl oz) water or coconut milk

2 Little Gem lettuces cut in wedges

1/2 – 1 cucumber, halved and sliced at an angle into 5mm (1/4 inch) pieces

flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

small handful of fresh coriander leaves.

small handful of fresh mint leaves

75g (3oz) roast peanuts

4 tablespoons of Crispy shallots

pomegranate seeds, about 4 tablespoons

Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the chicken.  Sprinkle with chopped rosemary. Season well with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Cover and allow to marinate so the flavours can penetrate while you make the satay sauce.

To make the satay sauce, put the peanut butter, garlic, ginger, turmeric, Tabasco, oil, soy sauce, honey, lemon juice and water a food processor or blender; pulse until smooth.  Cover and let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow flavours to blend.  It can be chilled or at room temperature. (Add a little more coconut milk if too thick).

Heat a wide sauté pan, add a little olive oil, arrange the chicken in a single layer, cover and cook over a medium heat for 5 – 7 minutes or until cooked through. Alternatively cook in a roasting tin in a preheated moderate oven (180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4) until just cooked through but still nicely moist. Allow to rest while the salad is assembled. Cut in chunky bits, drizzle with the satay sauce, toss to coat and taste.

Mix the Little Gem lettuce, cucumber, coriander and mint leaves in a wide serving dish.  Distribute the satay chicken over the salad. Sprinkle with toasted peanuts, crispy shallots and a few pomegranate seeds if available.

Enjoy with a little extra satay sauce if you wish.

Tuna, Butterbean, Cherry Tomato and Flat Leaf Parsley Salad

I like to cook the beans from scratch (see below). Cannellini or haricot are also delicious in this salad – a very inexpensive source of protein.

Serves 4

100g (3 1/2oz) red onion

200g (7oz) tuna

400g (14oz/1 tin) cooked butterbeans (200g/7oz dried)

250g (9oz) cherry tomatoes, halved around the equator

175g (6oz) of French beans, cut at a 4cm (1 1/2 inch) angle, blanched and refreshed in boiling salted water, toss when warm.

Dressing

6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons of lemon juice

1 teaspoon of runny honey

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

A small handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped (1/2 for the dressing and 1/2 to scatter over the salad at the end)

Peel, half and thinly slice the red onion. Rinse in cold water and drain.

Meanwhile, whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together and add 1 tablespoon chopped parsley. Put the preferably still warm beans into a wide bowl, pour the dressing over and toss. Add the halved cherry tomatoes, blanched French beans, and tuna chunks. Stir again very gently. Taste, correct the seasoning if necessary – it should be highly seasoned. Sprinkle the red onions and the remainder of the flat parsley over the top and serve.

To cook the butterbeans – the day before, cover the butterbeans with plenty of cold water. Next day discard the soaked water, cover with fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer until the beans are tender (30 minutes approx. depending on the age of the beans). Top Tip – soak and cook more beans than you need for the recipe. They freeze perfectly and can be used in salads, soups and stews at a moment’s notice.

Gomasio (pronounced gomazio)

A Japanese condiment – great to have in your pantry to sprinkle over rice, cabbage, eggs, roast vegetables, salads, even mashed potato – really good for the gut.  You’ll find yourself reaching for gomasio regularly.

15 tablespoons white sesame seeds

1 tablespoon sea salt or Himalayan pink salt

a heavy iron pan

Put the heavy iron pan on a very low heat, add the sesame seeds.  Slowly dry fry the sesame seeds shaking the pan continuously while pulling the seeds slowly towards you.  The sesame seeds will very gradually change colour.  It’s vital to keep shaking the pan so they colour evenly – this will take 6-8 minutes. 

When the sesame seeds have turned a light golden colour.  Pour out onto a wide plate and allow to cool.  Add salt to the pan and toast in the residual heat of the cast iron pan for 2-3 minutes.  Add to the seeds. 

Tip into a food processor. In Japan they use a suribachi – Japanese pestle and mortar).  Whizz to a coarse texture with a little powder.  The aroma will be divine.  It will keep in an airtight jar for 3-4 weeks if you haven’t already used it all.

Shredded Cabbage, Carrot and Radish Salad with Gomasio

Simple but totally delicious

Serves 4 -6

4 cups cabbage, shredded really thinly

1-2 cups grated carrot

1 cup thinly sliced radish

4 tablespoons approx. Gomasio (see recipe)

Prepare the vegetables and pop into a wide bowl.  Sprinkle with gomasio and serve immediately.

Potato, Spring Onion and Marsh Samphire Salad

Salty samphire is delicious added to the potato salad.  The secret of a good potato salad is to use freshly cooked potatoes and then season and toss in French dressing while they are still warm. This simple trick makes a phenomenal difference to the flavour of the finished salad. I’ve had delicious results with both waxy (Pink Fir Apple or Sharpe’s Express) and floury (Golden Wonders) potatoes, though waxy are definitely easier to handle.

Serves 4–6

1.6kg (3 1⁄2lb) raw potatoes

salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons chopped chives or spring onions

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

150ml (5fl oz) French Dressing

150ml (5fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise, thinned with a little water

110g (4oz) marsh samphire, blanched

Wash the marsh samphire.  Blanch in boiling water (no salt for 1-2 minutes).  Drain and refresh in cold water.  Drain again.

Boil the potatoes in their jackets in a large amount of well-salted water. Peel and dice the potatoes while they are still hot and put into a large, wide dish. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle immediately with the chives or spring onions, parsley and most of the samphire fronds.  Drizzle over the French dressing and mix well. Leave to cool and then add the mayonnaise. Sprinkle the remainder of the samphire on top.  Taste and correct seasoning.

Summer Fruit Salad with Lemon Verbena Leaves

I discovered this recipe which has now become a perennial favourite, quite by accident a few summers ago as I raced to make a pudding in a hurry with the ingredients I had at that moment.  Fresh mint or sweet geranium leaves may be substituted for the lemon verbena in this recipe.

Serves 8-10

110g (4oz) raspberries

110g (4oz) loganberries

110g (4oz) redcurrants

110g (4oz) blackcurrants

110g (4oz) small strawberries, halved

110g (4oz) blueberries

110g (4oz) fraises du bois or wild strawberries 

110g (4oz) blackberries

Syrup

325g (11oz) granulated sugar

8-10 lemon verbena leaves, plus extra to garnish

Put all the berries into a white china or glass bowl. 

To make the lemon verbena syrup, put the sugar, 450ml (16fl oz) water and lemon verbena into a stainless steel saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Boil for just 2 minutes, then leave to cool for 4-5 minutes.

Pour the hot syrup over the fruit and leave to macerate for several hours.  Remove the lemon verbena.

Serve the fruit salad with softly whipped cream or vanilla ice-cram or simply by itself.  Decorate with a few fresh lemon verbena leaves. 

Wild Food of the Week

Herb Robert – Geranium robertianum. 

Sometimes called Red Robin or Storksbill – used in traditional medicine.  Good for toothache and nose bleeds.  Rub on skin, the smell is said to repel mosquitos. 

Summer Foraging

The Covid-19 experience has been quite the wake-up call for many of us, not just for the obvious reasons but also because many highly achieving, super-efficient people have found themselves floundering when they are out of their usual medium having to cope with the day-to-day reality of feeding the family, doing the laundry, stimulating and home-schooling the kids and planning menus, not to speak of keeping the peace during these challenging times.  Learning a language or how to play a musical instrument or delving deep into an unfamiliar subject has been deliciously distracting – yoga and exercise do it for some, a new hobby, maybe gardening, embroidery or China restoration.

Being able to get out for walks in the countryside has been a life-saver for those who were cooped up indoors for weeks on end – so I’m going to devote this column to Summer foraging to focus on the many delicious edible foods growing around us not just in the wild but also in urban areas.  There has also been a very positive response to my ‘Wild Food of the Week’ in this weekly column and I get regular questions and photos from readers asking if something is edible.  Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we’ve been doing Foraging courses throughout the seasons for over 20 years and we all continue to add to our knowledge of the abundance of wild and free food all round us.

Apart from the fun and extra dimension foraging adds to a walk collecting food in the wild, there’s an even more important reason to become more knowledgeable about the free bounty of nature.  A high percentage of foods, berries and nuts in the wild are edible.  Unlike many conventional foods they have not been tampered with to produce maximum yields at minimum costs so their full complement of vitamins and minerals and trace elements are intact making them highly nutritious and nutrient dense, up to 20 times, more than in the ultra-processed food on which so many of us depend nowadays.

One can forage all year but there are particularly rich pickings at present both in the countryside and along the seashore!  So let’s mention a few, succulent marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea) which is also known as glasswort because it was used in the 14th Century by glass makers, grows in marshy areas close to the sea.  It’s at the peak of perfection as present, full of Vitamin A, Calcium and iron, nibble raw or blanch it in lightly salted water – it’s salty crunch is great with fish or indeed with lamb.   Sea Purslane which grows close is also abundant at present. 

Pretty much everyone recognises dandelions, I regularly urge people to nibble at least one dandelion leaf a day or pop some into a green salad – full of vitamins A, C, and K, calcium and iron.

Gardeners will be cursing chickweed at present, it romps around the garden between the vegetables and in flower beds.  Where others ‘see weeds, we see dinner’.  Pick the chickweed and add to salads or wilt it like spinach, add to mashed potato, risotto or pasta.  It too is highly nutritious.  There’s several varieties of wild sorrel about too, buckler leaf sorrel, lambs tongue sorrel and common field sorrel.  There’s masses of fluffy meadow sweet along the roadside at present, it will last into early autumn – use to flavour panna cotta, lemonade, custards…Watch out for wild mushrooms too, I found just one ‘field’ mushroom yesterday but they usually pop up in warm muggy weather in fields or even on lawns that haven’t had chemicals added.  The flavour is exquisite, don’t waste a scrap.  Chop or slice a glut (including the stalks), sauté and freeze to add to a stew or make into a ketchup. 

And there’s so much more, if you’re a newbie to foraging, be careful – buy a good beginners guide to foraging e.g. Wild Food by Roger Phillips, The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler, Forgotten Skills by Darina Allen, The Seaweed Kitchen by Prannie Rhatigan, Extreme Greens by Sally McKenna, Wild Food Plants of Ireland by Paul Whelan and Tom Curtis.  Don’t nibble anything you are unsure of, and introduce foraged food gradually into your menu, better not to binge at first.

These are just a few suggestions.  If you’d like to learn more about foraging on land and along the seashore, perhaps you would like to join Pat Browne and myself on Saturday, 25th July for a 1-Day Summer Foraging course.  Numbers limited, booking essential – 021 4646785 

Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Marsh Samphire

The salty tang of marsh samphire is delicious with slow cooked shoulder of lamb.  A shoulder of lamb is much trickier to carve than a leg, but the flavour is so wonderfully sweet and juicy, it’s certainly worth the struggle particularly at home where perfect slices of meat are not obligatory.  I sometimes put this into the low oven of the Aga in the morning.  By 7.30 in the evening, it is beautifully cooked – how easy is that!  Marsh samphire is available at the Mahon Point & Midleton Farmers Market and Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop (021 4646785).

Serves 8-10 approximately

1 shoulder of lamb 3.3-3.6kg (7-8lbs) on the bone (neck and shank removed)

extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Gravy

600ml (1 pint) homemade lamb or chicken stock

Marsh Samphire (see recipe).

A few hours ahead if possible, score the skin of the meat in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife.  Sprinkle the meat generously with salt and freshly ground pepper and drizzle with olive oil, roast in a low oven 140°C/275°F/Gas Mark 1 in the usual way for 6-7 hours – this gives a delicious juicy succulent texture.  Alternatively cook in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 2 – 2 1/2 hours.   

To make the gravy: Spoon the fat off the roasting tin. Add the stock into the remaining cooking juice. Boil for a few minutes, stirring and scraping the pan well, to dissolve the caramelised meat juices (I find a small whisk ideal for this).  Allow to thicken with a very little roux if you like.

Taste and add salt and freshly ground pepper if necessary. Strain and serve the gravy separately in a gravy boat.

Carve it into thick slices.  Serve with a light gravy to which some samphire is added. 

Serve with crusty roast potatoes.

Marsh Samphire

Marsh Samphire is also called soapwort and sea beans in the US.

Marsh Samphire (Salicornia europaea), grows in intertidal salt marshes.

500g (18oz) samphire

freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) butter

Put the samphire into a saucepan of boiling water, bring back to the boil and simmer for about 2–3 minutes or until tender. Drain off the water (refresh in cold water if serving later), season with freshly ground pepper and toss in butter – no salt because samphire has a natural salty tang.

Foragers Caesar Salad

We use a mixture of foraged leaves for this salad.  You are unlikely to have all of these so just add what you can find to a bowl of crisp lettuces and salad leaves. 

In early Spring, we add some young beech and ground elder leaves.

The Caesar Salad dressing makes more dressing than you will need for this salad, it will keep in a covered glass jar in your fridge for several weeks.

Serves 8.

A selection of wild leaves such as (about 8 handfuls):

dandelion

wild garlic

wild watercress

bittercress

chickweed

wild sorrel (buckler leaf or lamb’s tongue)

salad burnet

buckler leaf sorrel

pennywort (also known as bread and butter, walkers friend and navelwort)

sweet cicely

red orach

40 croutons (see recipe)

16 anchovies

freshly grated Parmesan

Caesar Dressing

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range

2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 x 50g (2oz) tin anchovies

1 clove garlic, crushed

a generous pinch of English mustard powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2-1 tablespoon Worcester sauce

1/2-1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

52ml (2fl oz) cold water

Allow a handful of wild leaves per person. Wash them carefully in cold water and dry them in a salad spinner. Keep chilled until ready to use.

To make the dressing.

I make it in a food processor but it can also be made very quickly by hand. Drain the anchovies and crush lightly with a fork. Put into a bowl with the egg yolks, add the garlic, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, Worcester and Tabasco sauce. Whisk all the ingredients together.  As you whisk, add the oils slowly at first, then a little faster as the emulsion forms. Finally whisk in the water to make a spreadable consistency. Taste and correct the seasoning: this dressing should be highly flavoured.

Toss the dried leaves in just enough of the dressing to make them glisten. Taste a leaf to check that the seasoning is correct.  Sprinkle with a few croutons and anchovies.  Grate a dusting of Parmesan over the top.

Serve immediately.

Note

For maximum flavour pick the leaves when young.

Croutons

Sprinkle over salads or serve with soups.

Serves 4

1 slice of slightly stale pan bread, 5mm (1/4 inch) thick

sunflower or olive oil

First cut the crusts off the bread, next cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) strips and then into exact cubes (a cube is a six-sided square with equal sides).

Heat the sunflower or olive oil in a frying pan, it should be at least 2cm (3/4 inch) deep and almost smoking. 

Add the croutons to the hot oil.  Stir once or twice, they will colour almost immediately.  Put a tin sieve over a Pyrex or stainless steel bowl.  When the croutons are golden brown, pour the oil and croutons into the sieve.  Drain the croutons on kitchen paper.

Note: Croutons may be made several hours ahead or even a day.  The oil may be flavoured with sprigs of rosemary, thyme or onion.

Croutons may of course be stamped out into various shapes, hearts, stars, clubs, diamonds, etc….

Foragers Soup with Chorizo Lardons

Throughout the seasons one can gather wild greens on a walk in the countryside – foraging soon becomes addictive.  Many greens are edible and some are immensely nutritious.  Arm yourself with a good well-illustrated guide and be sure to identify carefully and if in doubt – don’t risk it until you are quite confident.  Don’t overdo the very bitter herbs like dandelion.  Of course the chorizo is optional – use vegetable stock for a vegetarian version.

Serves 6

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) diced onion (7mm/1/3 inch)

150g (5oz) diced potatoes (7mm/1/3 inch)

250g (9oz) chopped greens – alexanders, nettles, wild sorrel, a few young dandelions, wild garlic, borage leaves, wild rocket, ground elder, beech leaves, chickweed, watercress

600ml (1 pint) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk

75g (3oz) chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon

extra virgin olive oil

wild garlic flowers if available

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. 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 greens and boil with the lid off for 2-3 minutes approx. until the greens are just cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser. Taste and correct seasoning.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan.  Add the diced chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon, cook over a medium heat until the fat starts to run and the bacon is crisp.  Drain on kitchen paper.  Sprinkle over the soup as you serve.  Use the chorizo oil to drizzle over the soup also and scatter a few wild garlic flowers over the top if available.

Meadowsweet Ice-Cream with Fraises du Bois (Wild Strawberries)

Makes 2 pints (5 cups)

This is wonderfully rich ice-cream flavoured with the evocative aroma of meadowsweet.  Delicious on its own or even more of a treat with some wild strawberries. 

60g (2 1/2oz) meadowsweet flowers (weighted off stalk)

350ml (12fl oz) whole milk

8 egg yolks

110g (4oz) sugar

350ml (12fl oz) rich cream, cold

Place the meadowsweet flowers and milk in a heavy saucepan.   Heat to just below the boiling point and remove from the heat.   Cover and allow to steep for 10 minutes.  Strain through a fine sieve.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.  Add warm milk gradually, stirring constantly until all the milk is added.  Return to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (170°-175°C).

Pour the cream into a large bowl.  Strain the custard into the cream.  Mix well, then chill thoroughly.

Freeze according to the directions of your ice-cream machine.

Serve with a sprinkling of wild strawberries or raspberries if available.

Summer Fruits

Beautiful apricots, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries piled up onto the greengrocers shelves.  The blackcurrants and redcurrants are also beginning to ripen in our Currant and Berry garden.  The abundance of fruits makes our hearts sing and helps us to forget our woes and count our blessings.

Mother Nature sweetly cheering us up…My grandchildren are in their element crawling in under the netting on the fruit cage to steal the ripest strawberries – sweet, juicy berries, often half the size of the perfect commercial fruit but intensely flavoured from all that delicious sunshine.  Can’t wait to drizzle them with a slick of thick yellow Jersey cream and a sprinkling of caster sugar, that’s all the first of the new seasons organic strawberries need but as they become more abundant, I start to search for other delicious ways to enjoy them.  One of the simplest is to add shredded mint leaves, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of caster sugar or honey.

Jane Grigson’s Fruit book published in 1982 is a classic, one of my favourite cookbooks of all time.  It’s an alphabetical guide to fruit from the apple onwards.  It was out of print for a while but is now available again.  If you don’t have it, try to source an original – they are a collector’s item.  Jane’s beautiful prose and immense knowledge of the history of each fruit makes it bedtime reading…maybe not everyone idea but I find myself licking my lips and longing to get into the kitchen to try some of her suggestions. 

Bushby’s Rosscarbery Strawberry Farm (023) 883 8140) and Rose Cottage Fruit Farm from in Co. Laois grow a large selection of fruit.  Look out for loganberries and tayberries at local Farmers Markets and the Wexford strawberries are along the roadside right up as far as the midlands – www.rosecottagefruitfarm.ie

Don’t forget to use lots of fresh herbs with fruit of course elderflower with gooseberries but it’s also delicious added to syrup to poach other stone fruit, peaches, pears and nectarines.  The Ballymaloe sweet geranium is another must have to add a magical haunting lemony flavour to so many dishes.

A glut of fruit is an opportunity to make a few pots of jam.  Strawberries are low in pectin, the substance that helps with gelling.  Jam made with commercial strawberries that are constantly irrigated seem to be even more difficult to set.  Some people use jam sugar which I’ve never been fond of partly because the jam can easily end up the texture of ‘bought jam’ so what’s the point of making your own.  I recently discovered that jam sugar also has hydrogenated palm oil which I try to avoid at all costs.  However don’t fret, fruits that are low in pectin like the aforementioned strawberries can be combined with fruits with high pectin e.g. redcurrants which by a happy coincidence of nature both are in season at the same time.  We’ve had a brilliant crop of red, white and black currants.  The latter won’t be ready for a few weeks.

Look out for wild strawberries too, divinely sweet.  We’ve also got a patch of wild raspberries, watch out for them around the country and soon there will be blueberries…

Strawberry and Redcurrant Preserve

Makes 3.2kg (7lbs) approximately

Homemade strawberry jam can be sensational but only if the fruit is a good variety. It’s one of the most difficult jams to make because strawberries are low in pectin, so don’t attempt it if your fruit is not perfect. Redcurrants are well worth searching out for this jam. They are very high in pectin and their bitter-sweet taste greatly enhances the flavour.

1.8kg (4lb) unblemished strawberries (El Santa or Rapella if available)

225g (8oz) redcurrants

1.5kg (3 1/4lb) granulated sugar (not castor sugar) or 1/2 jam sugar and 1/2 granulated sugar

150ml (5fl oz) redcurrant juice or if unavailable the juice of 2 lemons

First prepare the redcurrant juice (see method) using about 450g (1lb) fruit to obtain 150ml (5fl oz) of juice. 

Put the strawberries and redcurrants into a wide stainless steel saucepan with redcurrant juice. Use a potato masher to crush the berries, leave a few intact. Bring to the boil and cook the crushed strawberries in the juice for about 2 or 3 minutes. Warm the sugar in a low oven and add to the fruit, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil for about 10-15 minutes stirring frequently. *Skim, test and pot into sterilized jars, cover and store in a cool dry cupboard.

* This jam sticks and burns very easily so make sure to stir the base of the pot regularly using a wooden spatula.

Redcurrant Juice

Put 450g (1lb) redcurrants (they can be fresh or frozen) into a stainless steel saucepan with 175ml (6fl oz) of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve. This juice can be frozen for use another time if necessary.

Scorched Apricot Tart

This tart looks like it came straight from a French patisserie. Try to follow the edges of the fruit to scorch.

Serves 10-12

Makes 1 x 28cm (11 inch) or 2 x 18cm (7 inch) tarts

Pastry

225g (8oz) flour

110g (4oz/1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons icing sugar

1 large organic egg

Filling

10-20 apricots or figs depending on size

25g (1oz) butter

3-4 tablespoons castor sugar

Apricot Glaze (see recipe)

softly whipped cream, to serve

Make the pastry in the usual way.

Sift the flour onto a work surface and rub in the butter.  Add the icing sugar.  Make a well in the centre and break in the egg, adding a little water if necessary.  Use your fingertips to rub in, pulling in more flour mixture from the outside as you work.  Knead with the heel of your hand, making three turns.  You should end up with a silky smooth ball of dough.  Cover and leave in the fridge for at last 1 hour before using. It will keep for a week in the fridge and also freezes well.

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

Roll out the pastry, line the tart tin or tins, fill with baking parchment and dried beans and bake blind for 20-25 minutes. Remove the beans and paper.

Cut the apricots in half (figs in quarters if using), discard the stones and arrange cut-side up on the tart, packing them in quite tightly at an angle because they will shrink in cooking. Sprinkle with castor sugar and dot with butter. Cook for 30-45 minutes until the fruit is really soft and slightly scorched. Serve the tart warm just as it is with some softly whipped cream or paint with apricot glaze thinned out with some of the juices.

Apricot Glaze

350g (12oz) apricot jam

Juice of 1/4 lemon

2 tablespoons water

Makes 300ml (10fl oz) approx.

In a small stainless steel saucepan, melt the apricot jam with 1 – 2 tablespoons of juice or water. Push the hot jam through a nylon sieve and store in a sterilized airtight jar. 

Melt and stir the glaze before use of necessary.

Rustic Peach Tart (Galette) with Summer Berries

Irish blueberries are just beginning to ripen – contact Nuala O’Donoghue at Derryvilla Blueberry Farm (087 2466643) for delicious blueberries from the Bog of Allen.

Serves 6-8

Pastry

225g (8oz) plain white flour

1 tablespoon castor sugar

110g (4oz) butter, cut into 1/2 inch (1cm) dice

cold water or cream to mix

Filling

50-75g (2-3oz) sugar

1 tablespoon corn flour

4 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced 1cm (1/2 inch) thick

110g (4oz) blueberries

110g (4oz) raspberries

Demerara sugar for sprinkling, about 1 tablespoon

1 x 23cm (9 inch) pie plate or tart tin.

First make the pastry, put the flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in the cold butter.  When the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, add just enough water or cream to bind.  Knead lightly to get the mixture to come together.  Cover with wax or silicone paper and rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. 

Roll the pastry on a lightly floured surface into a 35cm (14 inch) round approximately.  Transfer to a 23cm (9 inch) greased plate or baking sheet. 

Just before filling the tart.

Mix the sugar with the corn flour.  Toss in the sliced peaches and blueberries.  Stir gently.  Add the raspberries, but don’t stir. Pour the fruit and the juices into the chilled tart shell and distribute evenly.  Fold the overhanging edge to cover the outer portion of the filling, leaving a 12.5cm (5 inch) opening of exposed fruit in the centre of the tart.  Brush the pastry with cream, sprinkle with a little sugar.  Alternatively, sprinkle with castor sugar when cooked

Bake the tart in a preheated oven 220°C/427°F/Gas Mark 7 for 8-10 minutes, lower the temperature to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and bake for 30 to35 minutes longer.  Serve warm or at room temperature with softly whipped cream.

Cherry, Pistachio and Coconut Cake

This was the first cake I made for the restaurant.  We wanted something that would sit on the bar counter and just make people stare.  It has been with us from the first day and I have a feeling it will stay there until the end.  We do vary the fruit on top, so we use red plums or yellow plums or raspberries, but really the cherries are the best version.  The contact between the cherries and the green pistachios, and the addition of mahleb to the cake batter, together create something electric. It is such an easy recipe to follow, I am sure it will become a huge favourite in any household.  

Makes a 22cm (9 inch) diameter round cake

100g (3 1/2oz) sugar plus 20g (3/4oz) for the topping

90g (3 1/4oz) light brown sugar

180g (6 1/4oz) ground almonds

30g (1 1/4oz) ground pistachio

45g (1 3/4oz) desiccated coconut

50g (2oz) self-raising flour

a pinch of salt

1 teaspoon ground mahleb

150g (5oz) butter – melted

3 eggs 

300g (12oz) cherries

50g (2oz) rough chopped pistachios for the topping

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

Line the cake tin with parchment paper.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Pour over the melted butter and mix in the eggs, spoon the batter into the pre-greased tin and smooth down. 

Remove the stones from the cherries – you can do this with a cherry stoner or by just pulling them apart and popping the stones out with your fingers. I like to do this over the cake tin, so that any juice drips onto the cake and adds colour.  Drop the pitted cherries onto the batter and sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining 20g (3/4oz) of sugar and the roughly chopped pistachios.  Bake in the centre of the oven for 45-50 minutes, then turn the cake around and bake for a further 5 minutes until the cake between the cherries goes all golden.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin, as it needs time to settle, then gently remove by running a knife around the edges.  Covered well, it will keep in the fridge for up to a week (not much chance of that happening), but for the best flavour, allow it to return to room temperature before eating.

Redcurrant or Whitecurrant Jelly

Redcurrant jelly is a very delicious and versatile product to have in your larder.  It has a myriad of uses. It can be used like a jam on bread or scones, or served as an accompaniment to roast lamb, bacon or ham. It is also good with some rough pâtés and game, and is invaluable as a glaze for red fruit tarts. Whitecurrants are rarer and more difficult to source, they too make delicious jelly that we use in a similar way.

This recipe is a particular favourite of mine, not only because it’s fast to make and results in delicious intensely flavoured jelly, but because one can use the left over pulp to make a fruit tart, so one gets double value from the redcurrants.  Unlike most other fruit jelly, no water is needed in this recipe.

We’ve used frozen fruits for this recipe also, stir over the heat until the sugar dissolves, proceeds as below.  You can use whitecurrants – which will be difficult to find unless you have your own bush. The whitecurrant version is wonderful with cream cheese as a dessert or makes a perfect accompaniment to lamb or pork.

Makes 3 x 450g (1lb) jars

900g (2lb) redcurrants or whitecurrants

790g (1lb 12oz) granulated sugar

Remove the strings from the redcurrants either by hand or with a fork. Put the redcurrants and sugar into a wide stainless steel saucepan and stir continuously until they come to the boil. Boil for exactly 8 minutes, stirring only if they appear to be sticking to the bottom. Skim carefully.

Turn into a nylon sieve and allow to drip through, do not push the pulp through or the jelly will be cloudy. You can stir in gently once or twice just to free the bottom of the sieve of pulp.

Pour the jelly into sterilised pots immediately. Redcurrants are very high in pectin so the jelly will begin to set just as soon as it begins to cool.

Wild and Free

Feverfew – Tanacetum parthenium, is a familiar perennial herbaceous plant with daisy like flowers (Asteraceae). It is a traditional medicinal herb used commonly to prevent migraine headaches, arthritis and digestive problems. It’s also brilliant for flower arranging.  Pour boiling water over the flowers and leaves to make an infusion.  Pretty disgusting but depends how sever your headache is.

Blessed are the cheesemakers….

Blessed are the cheesemakers!  Let’s all do our bit to support small Irish producers, many of whom are still experiencing real hardship.  The farmhouse cheese makers as just one example so let’s make a conscious effort to buy a piece or better still several pieces of Irish farmhouse cheese this weekend.  I’m fantastically proud of the range of handmade farmhouse cheeses we have here in Ireland.  Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and buffalo milk.   Toonsbridge and Macroom Mozzarella make tender milky cheese to rival the very best Italian Mozzarella. No wonder it’s so good, it’s made from the rich milk of the buffalos that range freely in the lovely mixed pastures of West Cork. 

Toby Simmonds and his team of Italian and Irish cheesemakers also make straw smoked scarmoza Caciocavallo,  Ricotta, Halloumi and Cultured Butter easily available from local Farmers Markets or online (www.toonsbridgedairy.com).  He’s recently opened a shop on South Great Georges Street in Dublin – how gutsy and deserving of support is that in the midst of Covid-19…

For many of the cheesemakers who were also supplying the service industry, the closure of the restaurants, hotels and cafés business meant the loss of over 75% of their business overnight, yet the cows kept milking and the cheese kept aging, needing to turned and matured to bring them to the peak of perfection, but how or where could they sell their produce.  They too had the heartbreak of laying off many of their skilled cheesemakers who were often neighbours from their own parish.

The reopening of the local Farmers Markets has been a significant help to some producers.  Local customers are flocking back while observing social distancing.  Look out for Jane Murphy’s Ardsallagh goat’s cheese in Midleton and Mahon Point.  You’ll find the beautiful Ballinrostig Gouda type cheese there too and a whole display of cheese to choose from at Christian and Fiona Burke’s stall.

A trip to the English Market in Cork will make your heart sing – bring an empty basket and fill it up. 

Over 60 beautiful farmhouse cheeses are made around the country and on the islands, a high proportion are made in Cork county.  We have soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard cheese to rival anything anywhere and I’m not saying that just because I’m an adopted Cork woman….

Siobhán Ni Ghairbhith makes the legendary St. Tola goat’s cheese from raw milk but she also makes pasteurised milk cheese for the multiples.  She employs 7 people on her farm on the edge of the Burren in Co. Clare. 

When lockdown was introduced overnight, every cheesemaker in the country scrambled to cope with the gallons and gallons of milk in peak season.  Siobhán set up an online artisan cheese box which also includes some other artisan products as did Gubbeen, Cashel Blue, Cooleeney and several others.  Siobhán is a multi-skilled cheesemaker so she decided to make less soft cheese which has a shorter shelf-life and more hard cheese which will continue to improve with age – look out for it later in the year.

Can you imagine how lovely it would be to get a hamper like that by courier or to send a present to a friend or care worker or as a comforting gift to absent family members.  There’s a list of Irish farmhouse cheesemakers on the Cáis site (www.irishcheese.ie). 

The reason why Irish cheeses are so good is the quality of the milk.  Here in Ireland we can grow grass like virtually nowhere else in the world so cows that are out on grass particularly in Summer produce beautiful milk that makes gorgeous cheese.  Irish farmhouse cheese have been awarded prizes in the World Cheese Awards many times.  As a sector, the artisans are incredibly resilient and resourceful.

These feisty cheesemakers up and down the country has led the food revolution and helped in no small way to change the image of Irish food both at home and abroad.  In 1984 when milk quotas has just been introduced, the late Veronica Steele, started to experiment in her kitchen on the Beara Penninsula.  She couldn’t bear to waste a drop of milk of her favourite – one horned cow named Brisket.  The end result was Milleens, the beautiful washed rind cheese that inspired several generations, mostly women, to make cheese.  Such a joy to see her son Quinlan continue to make superb cheese.  The second generation continues to build on their parents legacy at Durrus, Gubbeen, Cashel Blue…how fortunate are we to have access to many exceptional delicious cheeses, now more than ever is the time is to show our appreciation with our support.

RECIPES

Salad Caprese

This salad is only worth doing if you have access to tender buffalo mozzarella and gorgeous ripe tomatoes, fresh summer basil and super extra virgin olive oil.  The first Irish tomatoes are now in season.

Serves 4

2 balls buffalo mozzarella (we’ve two options in Ireland – Toonsbridge Dairy Buffalo Mozzarella (www.toonsbridgedairy.com)

and Macroom Buffalo Mozzarella (www.macroombuffalocheese.com)

4 very ripe ‘beef’ tomatoes or large tomatoes

fresh basil leaves

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Slice the buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes into rounds (or tear apart).  Arrange in overlapping slices on a white plate.  Tuck some basil leaves in between the slices.  Drizzle with really good extra virgin olive oil (I use Capezzana, Fontodi or Selvapiana).  Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season – a simple feast when the ingredients are at the peak of perfection.

Irish Cheddar Cheese Croquettes

So many traditional Irish Cheddars to choose from, Hegarty’s, ˈ15 Fieldsˈ, Imokilly Cheddar, Coolattin Cheddar, Derg….

Everyone loves these cheese croquettes, crunchy on the outside, soft and melting in the centre.

Makes 25 – 30, depending on size

450ml (15fl oz) milk

few slices of carrot and onion

1 small bay leaf

sprig of thyme

4 parsley stalks

200g (7oz) Roux (see recipe)

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

225g (8oz) grated mature Irish Cheddar cheese

a pinch of cayenne

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached

beaten egg

fine dried white breadcrumbs

Accompaniment

Ballymaloe Country Relish

Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion and herbs, bring slowly to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to infuse for about 10 minutes if you have enough time.  Strain the flavourings, rinse them and add to a stock if you have one on the go.  Bring the milk back to the boil, whisk in the roux bit by bit; it will get very thick but persevere.  (The roux always seems like a lot too much but you need it all so don’t decide to use less).

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cook for 1-2 minutes on a gentle heat, then remove from the heat, stir in the egg yolks, cheese, pinch of cayenne, mustard and optional chives.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Spread out on a wide plate to cool.

When the mixture is cold or at least cool enough to handle, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball or 25g (1oz) approx.  Roll first in seasoned flour, then in beaten

egg and then in fine breadcrumbs.  Chill until firm but bring back to room temperature before cooking otherwise they may burst.  Just before serving, heat a deep fryer to 170°C/325°F and cook the Cheese Croquettes until crisp and golden.  Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot with a green salad and perhaps some Ballymaloe Country Relish.

Roux

110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Use as required.  Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.  It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Note: Cooked Cheese Croquettes can be kept warm in an oven for up to 30 minutes. They can also be frozen and reheated in an oven.

Durrus, Potato and Rosemary Focaccia

Serves 10-12

1 x White Yeast Bread Dough (see recipe)

2 tablespoons chopped rosemary (or thyme leaves), optional

waxy potatoes, boiled until almost cooked, peeled and thinly sliced

175-225g (6-8oz) Durrus cheese

rosemary sprigs

extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

28 x 40cm (11 x 16 inch) baking tray

Make the dough, knead well and allow to rise until well doubled in size.  “Knock back” and allow to rest for 4 or 5 minutes. 

Sprinkle the base of the rectangle baking tray with chopped rosemary or thyme.

Roll the dough into a rectangle.  Lay the dough on top of the baking tray.

Dimple with your fingertips.  Brush with extra virgin olive oil. 

Cover with thin slices of Durrus cheese.

Season the slices of potato well with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Arrange in overlapping slices over the dough and cheese. Sprinkle with rosemary and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. 

Bake in a preheated oven 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8 for 20-25 minutes or until the base is crusty and the potatoes are beginning to crisp. 

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and eat warm.

Ballymaloe Cookery School White Yeast Bread

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 (3/4oz) yeast

20g (3/4oz) organic sugar

400g (14oz) warm water

700g (1 1/2lb) strong organic white flour

25g (1oz) butter

16g (1/2oz) 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 400g (14oz) 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 5-10 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. 

Steak Sandwich with Piperonata, Cashel Blue Butter

Serves 4

4 x 50g (2oz) minute steak

salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil

4 x French bread (small baguette)

Lettuce

1/2 quantity Piperonata (see recipe)

Cashel or Crozier Blue Cheese butter (see recipe)

Accompaniment

Green salad and cherry tomatoes and rocket leaves or flat parsley 

Heat a pan grill until very hot.  Season the steak with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Slap onto the hot grill pan, cook for 1-2 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile split the loaf along one side but keep attached on the other side.  Char grill the crumb side.  Spread the bottom with a little Cashel Blue butter.  Top with a few salad leaves, and the steak.  Add a few spoons of piperonata and finally a few slices of Cashel Blue butter.  Press down the top.  Pop onto a plate and serve immediately with some good green salad.  Repeat with the other baguettes.

Cashel or Crozier Blue Cheese Butter

Serves 8 – 10

110g (4oz) unsalted butter

50g (2oz) Cashel Blue cheese

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley, optional

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl or better still, whizz in a food processor.  Form into a roll in tin foil or pure cling film, tighten the ends.  Chill or freeze until needed.

Piperonata

This is one of the indispensable trio of vegetable stews that we always reckon to have to hand. We use it not only as a vegetable but also as a topping for pizzas, as a sauce for pasta, grilled fish or meat and as a filling for omelettes and pancakes.

Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, sliced

a clove of garlic, crushed

2 red peppers

2 green peppers

6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe) (use tinned if fresh are out of season)

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

a few leaves of fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the onion and garlic, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then cut the pepper flesh into 2-2 1/2cm (3/4 – 1 inch) squares.  Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.

Meanwhile peel the tomatoes (scald in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and peel immediately). Slice the tomatoes and add to the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx.

Medjool Dates with Crozier Blue Cheese  

Makes 20

We were served this delicious little morsel with a Swedish Blue cheese at Wardshuset Ulla Winbladh beside Skansen in Stockholm.  It’s become a favourite little nibble with a drink.

Medjool dates

Ripe Crozier Blue Cheese or Dolcelatte

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

Wild and Free

Sea Purslane (Atriplex portulacoides)

Sea Purslane is at the peak of perfection along out coasts at present. It is a sprawling, clumpy perennial undershrub which spreads its way across the dry, upper reaches of salt-marshes mainly along East, West and South coasts. The leaves of sea purslane are a delicious, slightly salty nibble, with a crunchy texture; however they need to be washed in several changes of water to remove the sand completely. They bloom from July to October and it is rich in vitamin A, omega 3 fatty acids and is an antioxidant. Add to salads or make into a pesto, also delicious pickled.

World Microbiome Day

Today we celebrate World Microbiome Day, sounds a bit esoteric you might think but this is a subject that concerns each and every one of us uniquely. 

Microbes are frequently misunderstood by those of us in the non-scientific community.  Just like the word bacteria, it has nasty connotations and conjures up negative images.  Yet only a tiny percentage of bacteria and microbes are pathogenic, typically they do much more good than harm. 

Microbes are single celled organisms found everywhere…. They include bacteria, archaea, protozoa, fungi and viruses, Humans have co evolved with microbes on our planet for billions of years. The diversity of microbes within the gut are critically important to both our physical and mental health. 

One of the hottest areas of research in recent years has been on the gut biome.  The pioneering work of Professors Cryan and Dinan and their team at UCC has been globally recognised. Consequently the link between the health of our microbiota and our physical and mental health is well established.

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the trillions of microbes in our gut weigh between one to two kilos, equivalent to the weight of an adult brain. The biochemical complexity of the microbes in the human gut is greater than that of the brain and there are about 100 times more genes in our gut microbiota than in our genes…. Yet up to relatively recently, the bacteria in the human intestine was thought to have little relevance in the medical world and scientists in this field tell me there is still much to learn and discover. 

But for us lay people, all we need to know is that it is super important for our physical and mental wellbeing to nourish our gut biome. 

So how do we do this?  We need to eat as wide a variety of fresh food.  The more biodiverse our diet, the healthier and more resilient we will be.  So we need to seek out real food that wakes up as many microbes in our intestines as possible. Each of the nutrients in food activate a different microbe….

So what foods apart from those already mentioned nourish our gut – fermented foods and drinks, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, kefir…. raw milk, preferably organic milk from a small herd of pasture fed cows, raw milk cheese too, particularly blue cheese….  Try to incorporate some wild and foraged foods into your diet for further diversity.  These foods still have the full complement of vitamins, minerals and trace elements unlike many processed foods which have been altered to produce the maximum yield for a minimum cost.

All fruit and vegetables contain much needed fibre which provide essential prebiotics and promote the growth of good gut bacteria.   Bananas too are high in fibre.  As ever do your best to buy organic, chemical-free food and avoid ultra-processed food.  Natural yoghurt (sugar-free) and milk kefir are packed with good bacteria,   Miso made from fermented soya beans plus barley and rice contains a wide range of essential bacteria and enzymes.  Natural fermented sourdough bread is another gut friendly food but source carefully.  Now that sourdough has become fashionable there’s lots of ‘faux sourdough’ around.  Almonds too are high in fibre, fatty acids and polyphenols – a treat for gut bacteria.  Extra virgin olive oil is my oil of choice, peas also get the thumbs up, look out for seasonal fresh peas in the Farmers Markets at present.  Blue Cheese is teeming with good bacteria and I also love those artisan farmhouse cheeses – don’t be afraid to eat the rind but not plastic coating……!

A growing body of research is also showing a clear link between the growing anxiety problems amongst teenagers and college students who often have a limited budget, limited cooking facilities and limited cooking skills which combined can result in a nutritionally deficient diet…

I’m clearly not a scientist but over the past 37 years since I co-founded the school with my brother Rory, I’ve observed the change in students health as they eat different foods every day over a 3-month period.  I’m not a doctor but the biodiverse diet of mostly organic food unquestionably impacts on their health and immune system.  This observation has now been confirmed by a study done in conjunction by UCC (Recipe for a Healthy Gut: Intake of Unpasteurised Milk Is Associated with Increased Lactobacillus Abundance in the Human Gut Microbiome)

For those of you who would like to learn more about this fundamentally important subject Professor Ted Dinan, John Cryan in UCC, Tim Spector (Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London) and Glen Gibson (Professor of Food Microbiology, Head of Food Microbial Sciences at University of Reading) in UK, Emeran Mayer (Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Physiology and Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine in UCLA) in US and many others. Check out their research and their talks on YouTube.  Meanwhile, here are some recipes for foods to feed your gut and boost your immune system

Recommended reading…..

The Psychobiotic Revolution, Mood, food and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection by John F. Cryan and Ted Dinan.

World Microbiome Day, 27thJune 2020

Yoghurt with Honey and Toasted Hazelnuts

So simple and so good. Delicious for either dessert or breakfast. A favourite for years on Isaac’s Restaurant menu in Cork city.

best-quality thick, natural yogurt

strongly flavoured local honey

toasted hazelnuts, sliced

Serve a portion of chilled natural yogurt per person. Just before serving, drizzle generously with honey and sprinkle with hazelnuts.

Medjool Dates with Crozier Blue Cheese  

Makes 20

We were served this delicious little morsel with a Swedish Blue cheese at Wardshuset Ulla Winbladh beside Skansen in Stockholm.  It’s become a favourite little nibble with a drink.

Medjool dates

Ripe Crozier Blue Cheese or Dolcelatte

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.

A Salad of Crozier Blue Cheese with Chargrilled Pears and Spiced Candied Nuts

Crozier Blue is a ewes milk cheese made in Co. Tipperary but other mild blue cheese may also be used – Gorgonzola…..

Serves 8

A selection of salad leaves.  If possible it should include curly endive, dandelion and watercress. Bitter leaves are brilliant for the gut microbiome… 

Spice Candied Nuts

75g (3oz) sugar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground coriander

a pinch of freshly ground star anise

100g (3 1/2oz) walnut halves

Dressing

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, we use Mani or extra virgin organic olive oil from Greece

salt and freshly ground pepper

3-4 ripe pears depending on size (Bartlet or Anjou)

ripe Crozier Blue or Cashel Blue Cheese

Garnish

chervil sprigs

Gently wash and carefully dry the lettuce.  Put into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. 

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

Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast them for 4 or 5 minutes just until they smell rich and nutty. Meanwhile, mix the sugar with the spices.  Spread over the base of a frying pan in an even layer.  Scatter the walnut halves on top.  Cook over a medium heat until the sugar melts and stars to colour.  Carefully rotate the pan until the walnuts are completely coated with the amber coloured spicy caramel.  Turn out onto a silpat mat or silicone paper or an oil baking tray.  Allow to cool and harden.  (Store in an airtight container until later if necessary). 

Whisk all the ingredients together for the dressing, pour into a jam jar, cover and store until needed.

Heat a grill-pan on a high flame.  Peel, quarter and core the pears.  Toss in a little sunflower oil, grill on both sides and then on the rounded side.  

To Serve

Cut the cheese into cubes or small wedges.  Sprinkle the salad leaves with the dressing and toss gently until the leaves glisten.  Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. 

Divide the salad between the plates making a little mound in the centre.  Slice each chargrilled pear in half lengthwise and tuck 3 pieces in between the leaves.  Scatter with a few cubes of Crozier Blue and some spice candied walnuts.  Sprinkle with a few sprigs of chervil and serve. Bellingham Blue, Stilton or Gorgonzola cheese would also be delicious.

Pan-grilled Mackerel with Miso 

Serves 2

4 fillets of fresh mackerel

2 tablespoons white miso

1/2 tablespoon of runny honey

1 teaspoon of Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Accompaniment

salad of organic leaves

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together.  Coat each mackerel fillet and allow to absorb the flavour for 15-20 minutes. 

Heat a grill-pan over a medium heat.  Wipe excess marinade from the fish.  Drizzle with olive oil, cook skin side down for 2 minutes approximately, then flip over to cook the flesh side, continue to cook for a further 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  Serve immediately with a salad of organic leaves.

Note: Alternatively just roast on a baking tray in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 5-6 minutes.

Salade Nicoise

In Provence there are many versions of this colourful salad, which makes a wonderful Summer lunch. Some include crisp red and green pepper and some omit the potato for a less substantial salad.

Serves 8 approx.

French dressing

50ml (2fl oz) wine vinegar

175ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, mashed

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon Parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon Basil or Annual Marjoram

Salad

8 medium sized new potatoes, (e.g. Pink Fir Apple) cooked but still warm

3-4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and quartered

110g (4oz) cooked French beans, topped and tailed and cut into 5cm (2 inch) lengths approx., blanched and refreshed

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

1 dessertspoon Chives

1 dessertspoon Parsley, chopped

1 dessertspoon Annual Marjoram or Thyme

1 crisp lettuce

3 hardboiled eggs, shelled and quartered

12 black olives

1 teaspoon capers, (optional)

1 tin anchovies and/or 1 tin tuna fish

8 tiny spring onions

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together – it must be very well seasoned otherwise the salad will be bland.

Slice the new potatoes into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices and toss in some dressing while still warm. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss the tomatoes and beans in some more dressing, season with salt, pepper and sugar and sprinkle with some chopped herbs. 

Line a shallow bowl with lettuce leaves. Arrange the rest of the ingredients appetisingly on top of the potatoes, finishing off with olives, capers and chunks of tuna and/or the anchovies. Drizzle some more dressing over the top.  Sprinkle over the remainder of the herbs and the spring onions and serve.

Salad Nicoise with Pan-grilled or Barbequed Mackerel

Dry each fillet with kitchen paper.  Dip in well-seasoned flour.  Spread a little soft butter on the flesh side of each fillet as though you were meanly buttering a slice of bread.  Preheat a pan-grill or barbeque.  Cook the mackerel flesh side down for 2 or 3 minutes then turn over and cook on the other side until the skin is crispy and golden.  Serve one or two fillets of mackerel criss-crossed on top of each portion of salad nicoise.

Rachel’s Banana Bread

This is our newest banana bread, a really delicious version – thank you Rachel.

Makes 1 large loaf

450g (1lb) very ripe bananas (weighed out of skins)

175g (6oz) butter

175g (6oz) caster sugar

3 small eggs

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

75g (3oz) sultanas

40g (1 1/2oz) cherries, cut into quarters

25g (1oz) currants

20g (3/4oz) pecans, chopped

Loaf Tin 24 x 13.5 x 5cm (9 1/2 x 5 1/2 x 2 inch) loaf tin

OR 3 small tins – 14.6 x 7.5cm (5.75 x 3 inches) lined with greaseproof paper.

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

Peel the bananas then crush with a fork. Cream the butter until soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, then add the eggs alternately with the flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Fold in the crushed banana, dried fruit and chopped pecans.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tins. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly then turn on to a wire tray.

Wild & Free

Sorrel (Rumex perennial)

Sorrel may not be one of your must have plants initially, but once you’ve got your essentials underway, I urge you to consider this hardy herbaceous perennial. It will become a dependable, trouble-free plant to add a distinctive, zingy lemon flavour to salads, sauces and juices. It is widely used in French cuisine and takes its name from surelle, derived

from sur, meaning ‘sour’ in French. Its delightfully acid flavour was also enjoyed by the Romans, who used it to

impart a sharpness to food. Sorrel’s clean flavour flits across the tongue, a perfect antidote to hearty winter flavours.

Common sorrel looks like spinach but the ends of the leaves are always pointed. There are several types of wild sorrel, buckler leaf sorrel, and lambs tongue sorrel which grows like a weed all over West Cork and is really delicious…

Sorrel is rich in vitamins C, A, B6 and B1, and iron, magnesium, potassium and many beneficial organic compounds.  It also contains a high amount of oxalic acid, which gives it its distinctive, sharp taste. Oxalic acid can be a toxin when consumed in high quantities so don’t overdose on it. Those with certain medical conditions, such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis or kidney disease, are best advised to consume sorrel in small quantities.

Fathers Day…

Oops! Father’s Day has just crept up on us.  The build-up seems far less than to Mother’s Day on 22nd March.  How unfair is that to all the heroic and much loved Dad’s around the country.  Well tomorrow is your day DAD so let’s have an interactive celebration.

Somehow, even the most gastronomically challenged lads seem to have a rush of blood to the head when they spy a barbeque.  Even a gas grill ignites their zeal but cooking over ‘live fire’ really hits the spot and awakes our inner hunter gatherer!

Of course there are exceptions but for many it must be meat, thick succulent beef ribs, chops, a butterflied shoulder of lamb smothered in spices.  Well charred grilled onions are also irresistible and the new season’s onions are now available.  Thick potato slices, threaded on to skewers can be ready to cook.  I love to sprinkle them with garam masala or a favourite curry powder just as they come off the grill.

So my suggestion for a Father’s Day treat is to plan a BBQ, maybe invite just a few of Dad’s pals, in line with Government social distancing regulations.  Plan the menu, do the prep, make the sauces and a couple of salads.  Marinate the meat and fish, order a few bottles of summer wine and some craft beers.  Set the scene for Dad to have fun on Father’s Day – by the ways you’ll need to throw in the Wash Up as part of the treat.

So what to choose?  Order a 5cm (2 inch) thick well hung rib of beef, Hereford or Black Angus or Pol Angus, avoid the continental breeds – you are looking for beef from an animal that was fully grass fed and not finished on grain.  Talk to your local butcher and be prepared to pay more for something really special.  It’ll take some time to cook it, leave it to rest on the edge of the grill for 5-15 minutes.  Then cut the meat off the bone and into 5mm (1/4 inch) slices.   It’s so worth having a few sauces ready to slather over the juicy pink meat – a classic Béarnaise is my favourite (See Examiner Article 4th May 2014) and a great big bowl of salad.

Wire rack fish is the perfect technique for the BBQ.  No need for fancy kit, just lay the fish fillets between 2 wire racks and flip over during cooking. 

A spatchcock chicken with rosemary is another of my favourites – pheasant or guinea fowl can be given the same treatment.   

Spatchcock Chicken

A brilliant way to barbecue a whole chicken.  Split the chicken down the back bone and flatten, slather all over with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with gutsy herbs and a spice. 

Serves 6-8

1 whole free-range organic chicken

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

chopped rosemary or thyme leaves

extra virgin olive oil or butter

a few cloves of garlic

Insert a heavy chopping knife into the cavity of the chicken from the back end to the neck. Press down sharply to cut through the backbone. Alternatively place the chicken, breast side down on the chopping board, using poultry shears cut along the entire length of the backbone as close to the centre as you can manage.

Open the bird out as much as possible.  Slash each chicken leg two or three times with a sharp knife. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper, sprinkle with chopped rosemary or thyme and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.   Allow to marinate for at least an hour.

To Barbecue:

Lay skin side down on the barbecue grid – 7-8 inches from the heat source. Turn over after 8-10 minutes and continue to cook on the other side.

To oven cook:
Transfer to a roasting tin. Turn skin side upwards and tuck the whole garlic cloves underneath. Roast in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 40 minutes approximately. Check the colour of the juices between the thigh and the breast – they should run clean when the chicken is cooked.

Carve on a chopping board and serve hot with a good salad of organic leaves and a herb mayonnaise.

Lamb Chops with Chimichurri Sauce

Taken from Grow, Cook, Nourish by Darina Allen published by Kyle Books

Annual marjoram adds magic to your lamb chops.

Serves 8

8–16 lamb centre loin chops

extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons annual marjoram, chopped

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black

pepper

Chimichurri Sauce (see recipe)

rocket leaves, to serve

First make the Chimichurri sauce (see recipe).

Trim the chops of excess fat, score the back fat. Take a flat dish or dishes large enough to take the chops in a single layer, brush with oil and sprinkle with some of the marjoram. Season the chops on both sides with pepper, then place on top of the marjoram. Sprinkle some more marjoram on top and drizzle with oil. Leave to marinate for 1 hour or more.

Brush off any excess oil, season well with flaky sea salt. Pan-grill or grill on a grid 15cm (6 inch) from the hot coals of a hot barbecue for 10–15 minutes, depending on the thickness and degree of doneness required. Serve the chops with lots of fresh rocket and the chimichurri sauce.

Chimichurri Sauce

Chimichurri is the quintessential Argentinian gaucho sauce, but it may in fact be of Basque origin, because many from that region of Spain settled in Argentina in the nineteenth century. There are many local variations, but the essential ingredients are olive oil, parsley and marjoram or oregano. It’s great with beef or lamb, but also good with goat’s cheese.

Serves 8

Salt Water Brine

150ml (5fl oz) water

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon salt

1 medium sized garlic bulb, cloves separated, peeled and finely chopped

25g (1oz) flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

10g (1/2oz) marjoram leaves, finely chopped

1–2 teaspoons crushed chilli flakes

50ml (2fl oz) red wine vinegar

110ml (4fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

Bring the water to the boil in a small saucepan. Add the salt and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat and leave to cool.  (This is what is called salmuera brine in Argentina)

Put the garlic, parsley and marjoram into a bowl and add the chilli flakes. Whisk in the vinegar and oil. Then whisk in the salmuera brine to taste. Pour into a jar with a tight-fitting lid, cover and store in the fridge.

You can use chimichurri sauce as soon as it’s made, but ideally it should be made at least one day ahead to allow the flavours to develop. It will keep in the fridge for 2–3 weeks and is also great with steak.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Butterflied Leg of Lamb

Ask your local butcher to butterfly the leg of lamb for you – it’ll take a bit of time to make the marinade, a labour of love but so worth it.  Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients, it’s just a question of adding to mix.

Serves 10 – 12

1 leg of lamb, butterflied -3.4 – 4kg (8-9lbs)

1 medium sized onion, coarsely chopped

1 piece of fresh ginger 7.5cm (3 inch) x 2.5cm (1 inch) long, peeled and coarsely chopped

7 cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

175ml (6fl oz) freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garam masala (see recipe)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

225ml (8fl oz) olive oil

2 – 2 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Garnish

spring onion and radishes

Ballymaloe Relish (optional)

Whizz the onion, ginger, garlic and 4 tablespoons of lemon juice in a food processor or liquidise for about a minute.  Put this paste into a bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

Cut off all the fat and tissue from the meat and make lots of holes in it with the point of a knife, rub the paste well into the meat and make sure it goes into the holes.

Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Turn it over several times during that period. Light the barbecue 15 minutes ahead if you are using natural charcoal otherwise 45 minutes or better still an hour before you start to cook. Lift the meat out of the marinade and drain for a few minutes. Sear on both sides first then raise the rack to the uppermost notch and cook for 20 minutes on each side. Brush frequently with the marinade until it’s all used up. The meat needs to cook for about 50 minutes in total and should be very dark on the outside but still pinkish inside.

To Serve

Slice into thin slices with a sharp knife. Serve immediately on a hot serving dish garnished with spring onions, radishes and flat parsley.  Add a bowl of yoghurt and fresh mint or a raita.  Ballymaloe Relish is a particularly delicious accompaniment.

Spicy Lamb Kebabs

Serves 10 – 12

The meat can be cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes and marinated as above. Thread 5 or 6 on a skewer, grill for 8-10 minutes on a rack over hot coals.  Serve with a green salad.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Garam Masala

A brilliant spice, mix to use on lamb, beef, pork, chicken…  Commercial garam masala loses its aromatic flavour very quickly, so it’s far better to make your own kind.  Grind it in small quantities so that it is always fresh and used up quickly.

Makes about 3 tablespoons

1 tablespoon green cardamom seeds

1 x 5cm (2 inch) piece of cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 whole nutmeg

Put all the ingredients into a clean electric coffee grinder and whizz for about 30 seconds or until all the spices are finely ground.  Store in a dark place in a tiny screwtop jar and use up quickly.  Don’t forget to clean out the coffee grinder really well or your coffee will certainly perk you up!  Better still, if you use spices regularly, keep a grinder specially for that purpose.

Wire Rack Salmon with Dill Butter and Roast Tomatoes

Serves 10-20

Fish works brilliantly on the barbecue provided you put it in a ‘fish cage’ for ease of turning. However you can do a perfectly good job with a ‘Heath Robinson’ type solution using 2 wire cake racks.  Mackerel can be substituted for salmon in this recipe.

1 or 2 unskinned sides of wild fresh salmon

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil or melted butter

Dill Butter

110-225g (4-8oz) butter

4-8 tablespoons of freshly chopped dill

10-20 cherry tomatoes on the vine

Sprinkle the salmon generously with sea salt up to an hour before cooking.

Light the grill or barbecue. Just before serving, lay the salmon fillets skin side down on the wire rack. Brush the flesh with oil or melted butter and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper. Put the other wire rack on top. Lay on the grid of the barbecue, 15-20cm (6-8 inch) from the heat, cook for 10-15 minutes on the skin side. Turn the entire cage over and continue to cook for 5-6 minutes or until just cooked through. – Time will depend on the thickness of the fish.

Meanwhile melt the butter in a saucepan on the edge of the grill, stir in the freshly chopped dill, spoon a little dill butter over the salmon and serve with roast cherry tomatoes on the vine.

Roast Cherry Tomatoes

Drizzle the truss of the tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast on the BBQ for 5 or 6 minutes until they are warm through and just beginning to burst.

Mussels in Tin Foil with Homemade Flat Parsley Mayonnaise

Serves 2

900g (2lb) mussels

tin foil

Homemade Parsley Mayonnaise (see Examiner Article 24th October 2019)

Parsley Mayonnaise

Add 2-3 tablespoons of chopped flat parsley to the basic homemade mayonnaise recipe.

Wash the mussels and check that each one is tightly shut.

Take 2 sheets of tin foil large enough to enclose the mussels.  Fold the edges over to make a well-sealed parcel.

Lay on the barbeque for 7-8 minutes or until the mussels pop open. 

Open the parcel but keep the sides upright so as not to lose any juices. 

Serve with lots of crusty bread and homemade parsley mayonnaise.

Cockles in Tin Foil

Substitute cockles for mussels in the recipe and proceed as above.

Chargrilled New Potato Skewers

If potatoes are large. Slice into 3/4inch thick slices and then thread onto the skewer.

Serves 4-6

900g (2lbs) small new potatoes

salt

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, approximately

1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped

sea salt

metal skewer or pre-soaked bamboo skewers

Scrub the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water for 8-10 minutes depending on size (they should be almost cooked). (can be cooked ahead).

Cool, cut in half, toss in olive oil and sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary and sea salt.

Thread the potato halves onto the skewers. Cook potato halves over a barbeque until crisp and slightly charred on both sides. Alternatively roast in a hot oven 230ºC/450ºF/gas mark 8 for 10-15 minutes or until cooked and nicely brown – you may need to turn half way through.

Note: Cut larger potatoes into 2.5cm (1 inch) slices and thread horizontally onto the skewers.

Grilled Onion Rings

large onions

extra virgin olive oil

salt

skewers

Peel the onions, cut into large slices about 2cm (3/4 inch) deep around the ‘equator’. 

Thread a skewer through each slice to keep the rings together.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt.

Cook slowly on the edge of the barbecue until golden brown on the outside and tender within.

Roast Bananas with Chocolate and Roasted Hazelnuts

Serves 6

6 organic Fair Trade ripe bananas

75-110g (3-4oz) top quality dark chocolate, chopped

50g (2oz) roasted hazelnuts or walnuts

crème fraîche or softly whipped cream

Cook the bananas on the barbecue until they are black on all sides.  Put onto a serving plate.  Split the skin on one side.  Sprinkle some chopped chocolate and roasted hazelnuts or walnuts over the top of the hot banana. Serve immediately with a blob of crème fraîche or softly whipped cream.

Other good things to serve with Roast Bananas:

  • Cinnamon sugar (Combine 110g (4oz) castor sugar and 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon).
  • A mixture of semi soaked raisins and chopped walnuts.
  • Toffee sauce and chopped pecans.

Wild & Free

Meadowsweet: Filipendula ulmaria

Sometimes, called mead wort is back in season.  It’s a perennial herb in the Rosaceae family that grows in damp places, meadows and sometimes along the roadside.  It flowers from early summer to early autumn.  We use it to flavour panna cotta, ice-cream and custard.  Traditionally it was infused into wine, beer, vinegars. The flowers can also be added to stewed fruit and jams, giving them a subtle almond flavour. It has many medicinal properties.  The whole plant is a traditional remedy for an acidic stomach.  The fresh root is often used in homeopathic preparations.   The dried flowers are used in potpourri.  Look out for it in your area from now until the middle of October. 

Gooseberry & Elderberry Season

Frothy white elderflower blossoms are the jewels of the hedgerow – they are the quintessential flavour of early summer.  They lend their haunting muscat flavour to many fruits but the combination of green gooseberry and elderflower is a marriage made in heaven.

As soon as I see the first flowers, I make a beeline for the gooseberry bushes in the fruit garden.  They will still be tart and green but as soon as they are the size of a marble, one can start to pick them.  I always have to go myself, because no one will believe me that they are ready to pick – not to enjoy fresh but to pile into pies and crumbles, tarts, compotes….always with a few elderflower blossoms to add that haunting muscat flavour.  We make fritters too and lots of elderflower champagne and cordial which keeps brilliantly to perk up a G&T and enliven cordials and add magic to a custard or simple sponge or Swiss roll.

Even with the Covid-19 travel restrictions, you should be able to find some elderflowers in your neighbourhood, both in urban and country lanes.  They flower prolifically from early May to the end of June – it’s one of our commonest hedgerow trees and the umbelliferous flowers are easy to identify.  They vary in size but can be as big as saucers, are made up of hundreds of tiny white flowers with a slightly musky aroma and unpleasant taste when fresh which disappears to a distinct muscat flavour when they are cooked.

Elderflower and berries have been used in folk medicine for over 4,000 years, it’s often referred to as the ‘medicine chest of country folk’.  Elderflower has several essential Vitamins including Vitamin A, B1, B2 and B3 complex and a little Vitamin C.  It’s also known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial and antioxidant properties.  All very important.  In early autumn the flowers turn into elderberries with a whole different set of nutrients.

But back to the kitchen…we’ve been loving this green gooseberry tart tatin with elderflower cream.  Green gooseberry and elderflower compote makes a super delicious accompaniment to vanilla ice-cream and of course panna cotta.  If you can’t find any gooseberries, there’s still lots of ways to use elderflowers.

Make a batch of elderflower champagne with your children, they’ll love the way it fizzes up within a few days.  It’ll be all the more exciting if you show them how to identify and gather the elderflowers themselves.  They’ll also love fritters and how about strawberry and elderflower ice-pops. 

Elderflower is also delicious with strawberries, try this simple combination with shredded mint, made in minutes and memorably delicious.  Elderflowers also freeze.  Try this elderflower gin or add a dash to a G&T, elderflower champagne.

Get picking, the season only lasts for about another month but the flavour is best early in the season…

Green Gooseberry ‘Tatin’ with Elderflower Cream

Serves 10-12

I’ve used a bit of poetic licence here when I use the word tatin, but everybody loves this upside down tart recipe which works well with all kinds of fruit, plums, peaches, apricots, greengages…  Of course this is best when the green gooseberries and elderflower are in season and fresh, but we’ve also made it very successfully with frozen gooseberries in winter.

Use organic ingredients where possible

175g (6oz) sugar

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water

450g (1lb) fat green gooseberries

150g (5oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar or 110g (4oz) castor sugar and 2 tablespoons elderflower cordial

200g (7oz) self-raising flour

3 eggs, free range and organic

To Serve

600ml (1 pint) softly whipped cream

4 tablespoon elderflower cordial

1 x 25.5cm (10 inch) sauté pan or a cast-iron frying pan.

Preheat oven to 160c/325F/Gas Mark 3

Top and tail the gooseberries.

Put the sugar and water into the sauté pan.   Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then cook without stirring until the sugar caramelizes to a pale golden brown.  Remove from the heat.

Scatter the gooseberries in a single layer over the caramel.

Put the butter, sugar (and elderflower if using) and flour into the bowl of a food processor.  Whizz for a second or two, add the eggs and stop as soon as the mixture comes together.  Spoon over the gooseberries, spread gently in as even a layer as possible.

Bake in the preheated oven for approximately one hour.  The centre should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the pan.  Allow to rest in the pan for 4-5 minutes before turning out.  Serve with softly whipped elderflower cream or crème fraiche.

To make the elderflower cream, fold the elderflower cordial into the softly whipped cream to taste.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote

When I’m driving through country lanes in late May or early June, suddenly I spy the elderflower coming into bloom.  Then I know it’s time to go and search on gooseberry bushes for the hard, green fruit, far too under-ripe at that stage to eat raw, but wonderful cooked in tarts or fools or in this delicious Compote.

Elderflowers have an extraordinary affinity with green gooseberries and by a happy arrangement of nature they are both in season at the same time.

Serves 6-8

900g (2lbs) green gooseberries

2 or 3 elderflower heads

600ml (1 pint) cold water

400g (14oz) sugar

First top and tail the gooseberries.   Tie 2 or 3 elderflower heads in a little square of muslin, put in a stainless steel or enamelled saucepan, add the sugar and cover with cold water.  Bring slowly to the boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes.   Add the gooseberries and simmer just until the fruit bursts.  Allow to get cold.  Serve in a pretty bowl and decorate with fresh elderflowers.  Serve with elderflower cream.

N.B.  The tart green gooseberries must actually burst otherwise the compote of fruit will be too bitter.

Elderflower Cream

Flavour whipped cream to taste with elderflower cordial.

Elderflower Champagne

This magical recipe transforms perfectly ordinary ingredients into a delicious sparkling drink. The children make it religiously every year and then share the bubbly with their friends.

2 heads of elderflowers

560g (1 1/4lb) sugar

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

4.5L (8 pints) water

1 lemon

Remove the peel from the lemon with a swivel top peeler.  Pick the elderflowers in full bloom.  Put into a bowl with the lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and cold water.  Leave for 24 hours, then strain into strong screw top bottles.  Lay them on their sides in a cool place.  After 2 weeks it should be sparkling and ready to drink.  Despite the sparkle this drink is non-alcoholic.

Top Tip

The bottles need to be strong and well sealed, otherwise the Elderflower champagne will pop its cork.

Elderflower Fritters

These are very easy to make, very crispy and once you’ve tasted one, you won’t be able to stop! Serve them with the Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote, below. Serves 4

110g (4oz) plain flour

pinch of salt

1 organic egg

150ml (5fl oz) lukewarm water

8–12 elderflower heads

caster sugar

sunflower oil for frying

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Using a whisk, bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the water at the same time. Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 180°C/350°F. Hold the flowers by the stalks and dip into the batter (add a little more water or milk if the batter is too thick). Fry until golden brown in the hot oil. Drain on kitchen paper, toss in caster sugar and serve immediately with gooseberry and elderflower compote.

Fresh Strawberry and Elderflower Popsicle

Makes (500ml/18fl oz) or 6 x 75ml (3fl oz) popsicles

400g (14oz) fresh strawberries

lemon juice

150ml (5fl oz) stock syrup or 1/2 stock syrup and 1/2 elderflower cordial

Clean and hull the strawberries, put into a liquidiser or food processor and blend. Strain, taste and add lemon juice and stock syrup to taste.

Pour into 75ml (3fl oz) popsicle moulds and freeze for 3 – 4 hours or as long as it takes.  Dip the mould into hot water for 20-30 seconds.  Slide the popsicles out carefully.  Enjoy or wrap in parchment and freeze.

Stock Syrup

Makes 825ml (28fl oz)

350g (12oz) sugar

600ml (1 pint) water

To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil.  Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool.  Store in the fridge until needed.

Strawberries and Elderflower with Mint

One of our favourite ways to eat strawberries and good way to perk up less than perfect berries.

Serves 8-10

900g (2lb) ripe strawberries

2-3 tablespoons elderflower cordial

freshly squeezed lemon juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon

2-3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, torn or shredded

Cut the strawberries into quarters or slice into lengthwise.  Drizzle with elderflower cordial and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Scatter with torn mint leaves, toss gently, taste, adjust with a little more sugar or freshly squeezed lemon juice if necessary.  Serve alone or with softly whipped cream.

National Herb Week

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…..It’s so good to have something to distract us from the Covid 19 Pandemic, so this week prompted by National Herb Week now in its 6th year, which celebrates herbs and herbal medicine I’m going to focus on the culinary attributes of fresh herbs.

Fresh herbs add magic to our dishes and have always been a big part of my cooking. Each and every one has a unique aroma and have been part of the flavor of our food for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until I came to Ballymaloe in 1968 that I really discovered the enormous variety of fresh herbs.

At home in Cullohill, we always had lots of curly parsley in the garden for the Parsley sauce we loved, I seem to remember chives as well and some thyme. In Cathal Brugha Street hotel school in Dublin, I discovered sage and bay. Sage went into a traditional sage and onion stuffing for duck or goose and I seem to remember that bay leaves went into beef stock and could be dried…

However, it wasn’t until I came to Ballymaloe House in 1988 that I really discovered the magic of herbs. Inside the walled garden and in the greenhouse row after row of fresh herbs. At first, I couldn’t even identify many of them but soon I learned not only what they were but how to pick them at peak of perfection and how the flavor and often the shape changed at different stages and enhanced a dish.

French Tarragon perfumes a classic Béarnaise sauce to serve with a steak or a succulent roast beef. Gutsy rosemary to flavour blackcurrant jam, a slow roast shoulder of lamb or a robust stew. When it flowers in May we love to use the purply / blue blossoms as a garnish. Dill to make a sweet mustard mayo to accompany gravlax or smoked mackerel. The dill flowers provide little bursts of aniseed to fish soup and green salads.

In the early 1980’s, on my first trip to Italy for the first time I discovered basil. I didn’t love it at first but Italians seemed to find it indispensable. Famous Italian chef Marcella Hazan showed me how to make pesto and soon, I too was hooked, I brought home a packet of basil seeds and planted them in the greenhouse. Basil is an annual, native to the Mediterranean, it needs and loves the sun and is a heavy feeder. If you buy a plant, transplant it immediately into a big pot.  Keep it in a greenhouse or on your sunniest window sill and pinch off any flowers to encourage more growth. Nowadays, one can get most types of herbs in the supermarket, but they are a poor substitute for a little herb patch close to your kitchen door where you pop out at a moment’s notice and snip a little bunch to add to or scatter over your dishes. If you don’t already have a herb garden, why not start with a few perennials, once planted they will reemerge every year. Some, like sage, rosemary, thyme and bay are hardy and can be used year round. Others like fennel, chives, sweet cicely and lovage die down every winter but pop up again in Spring.

Annual marjoram, possibly my favourite herb of all time is just that, an annual, seeds must be sown every year, dill also plus coriander and chervil. Indispensable parsley will last for two years, it’s what gardeners refer to as a biannual. Each herb has its own medical as well as culinary flavour. Herb flowers too are edible, delicious and look beautiful scattered over salads or as a garnish.

Mint can be a thug, once planted it romps around your gardens but I can never have too much I throw fistfuls of it into all kinds of things, homemade lemonades, fruit salads and apple jelly.

Fresh coriander always provokes a strong reaction, it’s an acquired taste, few people like it initially but then become hooked. It’s an essential flavor in the food of the East, Middle East and South America so if you still feel you dislike it – keep trying otherwise you’ll miss out on all those delicious flavours.

Salad Caprese

This salad is only worth doing if you have access to gorgeous ripe tomatoes, good buffalo mozzarella, fresh summer basil and super extra virgin olive oil.  The first Irish tomatoes are now in season.

Serves 4

2 balls buffalo mozzarella (we’ve two options in Ireland – Toonsbridge Dairy Buffalo Mozzarella (www.toonsbridgedairy.com) and Macroom Buffalo Mozzarella (www.macroombuffalocheese.com)

4 very ripe beef tomatoes or large tomatoes

fresh basil leaves

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Slice the buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes into rounds.  Arrange in overlapping slices on a white plate.  Tuck some basil leaves in between the slices.  Drizzle with really good extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season – a simple feast when the ingredients are at the peak of perfection.

Potato, Onion and Lovage Soup

Taken from Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books

Lucy Madden from Hilton Park in Co. Monaghan, one of Ireland’s most charming country house hotels, made this delicious soup for me from the organically grown vegetables in her garden.

Serves 6

10–25g (1/2–1oz) butter

225g (8oz) onions, very thinly sliced

350g (12oz) potatoes, thinly sliced

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.2 litres (2 pints) good homemade chicken or vegetable stock

a large handful of lovage leaves

Garnish

lovage and parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on a low heat, add the onions and potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sweat until soft but not coloured. Add the stock and boil for 5 minutes. Snip the lovage leaves into thin strips with scissors. Put 3 tablespoons into the soup and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve with a sprinkling of snipped lovage and a little chopped fresh parsley.

Tabouleh

Fresh parsley is an excellent source of vitamin C to boost our immune system. Mint calms the stomach and aids digestion – just what’s needed at present.

This refreshing and highly nutritious Middle Eastern Salad can either be served as a starter or as a main dish. We serve lots of well-seasoned cucumber and tomato dice with the salad. I also love the addition of pomegranate seeds and a touch of chilli. Taste and add a little honey if it needs it.

Serves 6-12 served as a starter or a main course

110g (4oz) bulgar – cracked wheat

25-50g (1-2oz) freshly chopped parsley

25-50g (1-2oz) freshly chopped mint

freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons or more if you need it

75ml (3fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

110 – 175t (4-6oz) spring onion, green and white parts, chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish

6 very ripe firm new seasons Irish tomatoes/ a selection of red and yellow, pear shaped etc., would be great, diced and sprinkled with a little salt, pepper and sugar

1 firm crisp cucumber, cut into 1/4 inch (5mm) dice

small crisp lettuce leaves e.g. cos or iceberg

rocket leaves

black olives – optional

Soak the bulgar in cold water for about 30 minutes, drain and squeeze well to remove any excess water liquid. Stir in the olive oil and some of the freshly squeezed lemon juice, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, leave it aside to absorb the dressing while you chop the parsley, mint and spring onions.  Just before serving, mix the herbs with the bulgar, taste and add more lemon juice if necessary. It should taste fresh and lively.

To Serve

Arrange on a serving plate surrounded by rocket and salad leaves and little mounds of well-seasoned tomato and cucumber dice. Garnish with sprigs of flat parsley, a few black olives wouldn’t go a miss either if you enjoy them.

Baked Brill with Herb Butter and New Seasons Zucchini

This is a very simple ‘master recipe’ which can be used for any flat fish plaice, sole, brill, turbot, dabs, flounder and lemon sole or a noble turbot.   Depending on the size of the fish, it can a starter or a main course.  Because it is cooked with the skin on, it retains maximum flavour. Peel the skin off carefully before serving and anoint the fish with the fresh herb butter – simple but succulent.

Serves 4

1 – 2 Brill

Herb Butter

110g (4oz) butter

4 teaspoons mixed finely-chopped fresh parsley, chives, fennel, chervil and thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground pepper

Melted courgettes (see recipe)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.

Turn the fish on its side and remove the head.  Wash the fish and clean the slit close to the head very thoroughly.  With a sharp knife, cut through the skin right round the fish, just where the ‘fringe’ meets the flesh.  Be careful to cut neatly and to cross the side cuts at the tail or it will be difficult to remove the skin later on.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and freshly-ground pepper and lay them in 1cm (1/2 inch) of water in a shallow baking tin.   Bake in a moderately hot oven for 20-30 minutes according to the size of the fish.  The water should have just evaporated as the fish is cooked.  Check to see whether the fish is cooked by lifting the flesh from the bone at the head; it should lift off the bone easily and be quite white with no trace of pink.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the freshly-chopped herbs.  Just before serving catch the skin down near the tail and pull it off gently (the skin will tear badly if not properly cut).  Lift the fish onto hot plates and spoon the herb butter over them.  Serve immediately with melted courgettes.

Melted Courgettes

Serves 4

1 lb (450g) courgettes, no larger than 5 inches (12.5cm)  in length

1 oz (30g) butter

A dash of olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Freshly chopped parsley, basil or marjoram

Top and tail the courgettes and cut them into 3 inch (5mm) slices. Melt the butter and add a dash of oil, toss in the courgettes and coat in the butter and oil. Cook until tender, 4-5 minutes approx. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Turn into a hot serving dish, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Baked Cod, Haddock, Hake or Pollock with Cream and Bay Leaves

This recipe transforms even the dullest white fish into a feast. Be generous with the bay leaves, their perfume should distinctly permeate the sauce. Pollock is a good alternative fish. The fishing community need our support – make sure you are buying fresh Irish fish.

Serves 4–6 as a starter or main course

25g (1oz) butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

6 thick pieces of fresh round fish (allow approx. 110–175g (4–6oz) filleted fish per person)

salt and freshly ground pepper

4–5 fresh bay leaves

light cream (enough to cover the fish)

15g (1/2oz) roux approx.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan, just wide enough to take the fish in a single layer. Fry the onion gently for a few minutes until soft but not coloured. Put the fish in the pan and cook on both sides for 1 minute. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add bay leaves. Cover with light cream and simmer with the lid on for 3–5 minutes, until the fish is cooked. Remove the fish to a serving dish. Bring the cooking liquid to the boil and lightly thicken with roux. Taste and correct the seasoning. Coat the fish with sauce and serve immediately. For a whole meal in one dish, pipe a ruff of fluffy mashed potato around the edge.

Note: This dish can be prepared ahead and reheated, and it also freezes well. Reheat in a moderate oven, 180ºC / 350ºF / Gas Mark 4, for anything from 10–30 minutes, depending on the size of the container.

Chocolate and Rosemary Mousse

Taken from Grow, Cook, Nourish by Darina Allen published by Kyle Books

Lovely Jane Grigson, the legendary British country writer, gave me this recipe, and from memory I think she got it from Franco Taruschio at the Walnut Tree restaurant in South Wales.  It sounds odd, but it is strangely addictive. 

Serves 8

225g (8oz) castor sugar

225ml (8fl oz) dry white wine

freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon

600ml (1 pint) double cream

1 long branch of fresh rosemary, plus extra sprigs, to garnish

175g (6oz) dark chocolate (we use Valrhona or Lindt – 52% cocoa solids is fine), chopped

pouring cream, to serve

Mix the sugar, wine and lemon juice in a stainless steel saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Add the cream, bring to the boil – the mixture will thicken somewhat.  Add the rosemary and chocolate.  Stir, return to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer very gently for 20 minutes.  It should be the consistency of thick cream.  Leave to cool, tasting occasionally to see if the rosemary flavour is intense enough. 

Pour through a sieve into eight ramekins or little shot glasses.  Cool, cover and chill until needed.

We serve it with Jersey pouring cream and a sprig of flowering rosemary.

WILD FOOD OF THE WEEK

Rose Petals (taken from Grow Cook Nourish p 616)

All roses are edible, but the ones I like to use best are the deliciously perfumed old roses and china roses. As with all edible flowers, avoid blossoms that have been sprayed. The flavour and fragrance depends on the variety, colour and soil conditions. The fragrance seems to be more pronounced in the darker varieties. Pure rosewater is the distilled essence of roses so it is not easy to make at home. Apart from providing aesthetic appeal, rose petals contribute to our overall wellbeing. Rose petals have been used in Chinese medicine since as far back as 3,000 BC. Adding some raw petals to your salad can help fight heart disease and cancer, and boiling them in water makes an effective remedy for sore throats. 

Camilla’s Strawberry and Rose Petal Jam

When my friend Camilla Plum comes to stay she wanders through the farm and gardens and greenhouse, picking and collecting fresh ingredients and cooks non-stop. Last summer, she filled her apron with rose petals from the old scented roses – she tossed them into a saucepan with some fresh strawberries and made this exquisite jam. We also made rose petal syrup and crystallised the petals to decorate desserts and cake. Use organic ingredients where possible

Makes 2–3 x 370G jars

450g (1lb) granulated sugar

1kg (2 1/4lb) strawberries

1 litre rose petals

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 110°C/225°F/Gas Mark 1/4.

Scatter the sugar over a baking tray and warm in the oven.

Put the strawberries in a wide stainless-steel saucepan and cook over a brisk heat

until the juices run and the fruit breaks down. Add the rose petals and hot sugar.

Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring back to the boil and continue to cook for 5–8 minutes until it reaches a set. Test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate, leaving it for a few minutes in a cool place. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. When at setting point, add the lemon juice and remove from the heat immediately. Pour into sterilised jars and store in a cool place for 3–4 months but enjoy sooner rather than later.

Foods to sustain us…

Covid-19 has galvanised our minds in so many areas.  Being forced to press the ‘Pause Button’ gave many of us the opportunity to re-evaluate our ‘Grab, Gobble and Go’ lifestyle. Comforting food and sitting down together around the kitchen table has taken on a whole new importance… 

The ‘penny’ seems to have really dropped about the value of investing time and energy in sourcing and cooking yummy nourishing meals to boost our immune systems.  During ‘lockdown’, meal times at home are eagerly looked forward to, punctuating the day with delicious comforting food to cheer us up and lift our spirits.

I’m loving the explosion of activity and interest in cooking and baking.  So many parents have not only discovered the joy of cooking a meal themselves but also the excitement and entertainment value of cooking with the kids – boys and girls of virtually every age are making and baking and growing and sowing….

There are many delicious stories of people dropping little gift packages of soups, stews, crusty loaves and all kinds of sweet treats to the gates of neighbours and friends to cheer them up and to the homeless and the front line workers.  Nothing like a ‘care package’ to remind someone that they are remembered and loved and don’t you too feel the joy of sharing?.

We’ve been getting endless recipe requests and lots of queries about foods to boost the immune system during these challenging times.  There’s no quick fix, genetics, age and exercise also play their part as does our interaction with our environment, other people and animals.  Social distancing, although essential in a crisis, to create a more sterile environment can weaken our immune system, a growing concern for many microbiologists at present.

So what foods? 

Invest your money in chemical free organic food and focus on sourcing real food not ‘edible food like substances’.  Garlic has remarkably good antibacterial properties. Vitamin C rich foods like red peppers, you may be surprised to hear have three times more Vitamin C than citrus as well as being a brilliant source of beta carotene (11 times more than green peppers).

Leafy green vegetables have been in short supply over the past few weeks but the new season’s spinach is just ready to pick.  Thanks to Popeye, we all know about iron but spinach is also rich in Vitamin C and E plus flavonoids and carotenoids and is believed to not only boost the immune system but fight cancers too.

Kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut are powerhouses of goodness.  Here’s a delicious quick spring onion kimchi, I’ve been loving making it with the new seasons spring onions from the greenhouses. 

In my article a couple of weeks ago, I was telling you about the many good things about young beets, a three in one vegetable but I want to tell you something else, I’ve just learned that the fresh juicy beet leaves are even more nutritious than the beets themselves so don’t waste a scrap.  Here’s a beet leaf salad we’ve been enjoying. 

I also wanted to share a couple of my favourite recipes.  Risotto is a perennial standby in my kitchen, made with organic chicken stock and a vehicle for all kinds of delicious seasonal additions.  Wild garlic is almost over now but young nettle or spinach leaves and sorrel all add extra oomph.  It would be difficult to think of a more comforting versatile and universally loved recipe – definitely one for your repertoire of favourite standbys. 

This recipes for Country  Rhubarb Cake ranks high among my favourite recipes for this time of the year.  This recipe is exactly the one taught to me by my mother more years ago than I like to remember, I haven’t changed any details and every time I make them, I’m transported back to our kitchen in the little village of Cullohill in Co. Laois and I can see Mum in one of her handmade flowery aprons taking the cake out of the oven to delight us when we rushed in from school wondering what would be todays treat – once again a special recipe triggering happy memories. 

And a final thought.  Twelve weeks ago, concerns about food security seemed a million miles away, something that just, might happen in other countries but not in the least relevant to us.  However, for those who queued and trawled the supermarket shelves for flour, fresh yeast, bread soda and baking powder in recent weeks, it now feels like a very relevant issue…

Being ‘locked down’ for several months has given us new insights and more empathy and compassion for others.  We’ve got a taste of how it must feel to be a refugee or asylum seeker, confined and restricted, not being able to work and often not being able to cook or properly socialise with their families.

Issues like climate change, ‘zero waste’ and single-use plastic have become more urgent.  We had become a heedless just ‘Chuck It’ society.  When I was little, not long after the end of the war, one of the biggest crimes one could commit was to waste food. It’s still deep in my DNA, I often get teased because I’m so reluctant to throw away any food.  I’m a ‘lover of leftovers’ and am surprised when people who love food don’t see any problem throwing out tasty morsels that can be the base of another delicious meal.  The Covid-19 experience has forced a rethink in many areas of our lives and it’s no bad thing.  Lockdown has been difficult for everyone and tragic for many, so let’s look for crumbs of comfort and cook together and count our blessings.   

David Tanis’s Quick Scallion Kimchee

Serves 2-4

We’ve got lots and lots of beautiful spring onions at present so I’ve been loving this recipe.  ‘’Although the classic long-fermented cabbage-based kimchee is fairly easy to make, it does take time. This version with scallions is ridiculously simple and ready in a day or two. I learned how to make it from my friend Russell, a Los Angeles–born cook whose Korean mother made it throughout his childhood. Russell serves it to accompany perfectly steamed rice and simple grilled fish, a lovely combination. I like it chopped and stirred into a bowl of brothy ramen-style noodles, or tucked into a ham sandwich’’. 

4 bunches scallions

2 teaspoons salt

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3/4 tablespoon raw sugar or dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon grated ginger

23g Korean red pepper flakes

3/4 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

3/4 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

3/4 tablespoon fish sauce

3/4 tablespoon rice vinegar

Trim the scallions and cut into 7.5cm (3 inch) lengths. Put them in a glass or ceramic bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and let stand for 10 minutes.

Mix together the garlic, sugar, ginger, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, sesame seeds, fish sauce, and rice vinegar. Add to the scallions and toss well to coat.

Lay a plate over the bowl and leave in a warm place (at least 21°C/70°F) for 24 hours. Or, for a stronger-tasting kimchee, let ripen for up to 72 hours. It will keep for a month, refrigerated.

Beet Green Salad with Carrot, Apple and Candied Walnuts

If you don’t have beet greens, this salad is also delicious with the new seasons spinach.

Serves 6

225g (8oz) fresh young beet greens

225g (8oz) coarsely grated carrot

300g (10oz) coarsely grated dessert apple, e.g. Cox’s Orange Pippin if available

flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

18 walnuts halves

Caramel

200g (7oz) sugar

110ml (4fl oz) water

Dressing

2 good teaspoons pure Irish honey

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Garnish

Marigold petals and chive flowers if you have some

First candy the walnuts.

Put the sugar and water into a heavy saucepan.  Stir to dissolve the sugar then cook uncovered without stirring until the syrup caramelised to a chestnut colour.  If sugar crystals form during cooking, brush down the sides of the pan with a wet brush, but do not stir.   Coat the walnuts in hot caramel.  Allow to harden on an oiled Swiss roll tin, in a dry place.  Careful they don’t stick together.

Dissolve the honey in the wine vinegar.  Slice the beet greens and put into a wide bowl.  Add the coarsely grated carrot and apple, mix together and toss in the sweet and sour dressing.  Taste and add a bit more honey or vinegar as required, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

Divide the salad between six plates or bowls, scatter with candied walnuts.  I’ve been sprinkling the salad with a few Marigold petals and chive flowers if available.

Nettle and Sorrel Risotto inspired by a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe.

Sorrel is a wonderfully sharp, lemony leaf that complements the earthiness of nettles beautifully. You can buy it in some greengrocers, but it’s very easy to grow, and of course you can forage for it. We have both field sorrel and Butler Leaf Sorrel here on our farm in East Cork but Lamb’s Tongue Sorrel grows abundantly in West Cork.  There’s no need to be too precise about the amount, use what you can get.

Serves 2

25 young nettle tops
900ml (1 1/2 pints) vegetable (or chicken) stock, well-flavoured
30g butter, plus extra to dot on top
175g (6oz) onion, peeled and finely chopped
175g (6oz) risotto rice, such as Arborio, Carnaroli, Vilano Nano
sorrel leaves – up to half the quantity of nettles – finely shredded
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
50g (2oz) finely Parmesan or Coolea or other strong hard cheese, plus extra to serve

Rinse the nettles in the cold water, discard the tough stalks. Bring a large pan of well-salted water to a boil. Blanch and refresh for a couple of minutes, then drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the nettles to extract as much water as possible and chop finely.

Bring the stock to the boil and keep warm over a low heat. Melt the butter over a medium heat in a heavy saucepan.  Add the chopped onion and sweat for 6 to 8 minutes, until soft and translucent but not coloured. Add the rice, stir to coat all the grains, add a third of the hot stock and bring to a gentle simmer stirring all the time until the stock has been absorbed.  Then add the chopped nettles, keep adding stock a ladleful at a time.  Continue to cook and stir until the rice is al dente (you may not need all the stock) – about 20 minutes in all.  It should be a creamy texture. Stir in the sorrel, and season to taste. Add a little butter to the risotto and sprinkle on the cheese.  Serve straight away, with more grated cheese on the table.

Country Rhubarb Cake 

This traditional rhubarb cake, based on an enriched bread dough, was made all over Ireland and is a treasured memory from my childhood. It would have originally been baked in the bastible or ‘baker’ over the open fire. My mother, who taught me this recipe, varied the filling with the seasons – first rhubarb, then gooseberries, later in the autumn, apples and plums.

Serves 8

350g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

50g (2oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

75g (3oz) butter

1 organic, free-range egg, if possible

165ml (5 1/2fl oz) milk, buttermilk or sour milk

680g (1 1/2lb) rhubarb, finely chopped

170–225g (6–8oz) granulated sugar

beaten organic, free-range egg, to glaze

softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4

25cm (10 inch) enamel or Pyrex pie plate

Sieve the flour, salt, bread soda and caster sugar into a bowl and rub in the butter. Whisk the egg and mix with the milk, buttermilk or sour milk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour in most of the liquid and mix to a soft dough, add the remaining liquid if necessary.

Sprinkle a little flour on the work surface. Turn out the soft dough and pat gently into a round. Divide into two pieces: one should be slightly larger than the other; keep the larger one for the lid.

Dip your fingers in flour. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry to fit the enamel or Pyrex pie plate. Scatter the rhubarb all over the base and sprinkle with the granulated sugar. Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the other piece of dough until it is exactly the size to cover the plate, lift it on and press the edges gently to seal them. Don’t worry if you have to patch the soft dough.  Make a hole in the centre for the steam to escape. Brush again with beaten egg and sprinkle with a very small amount of caster sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour or until the rhubarb is soft and the crust is golden. Leave it to sit for 15–20 minutes before serving so that the juice can soak into the crust. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Serve still warm, with a bowl of softly whipped cream and some moist, brown sugar.

Wild Food of the Week

Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

When to pick: flowers in profusion in early Summer but you’ll find some blooms almost all year round. As the old saying goes ‘When the gorse is out of bloom, kissing’s out of fashion!’ The ubiquity of gorse – or furze as it is called in Ireland – around the Irish landscape, meant that is was once widely used as fuel, as fodder, hurleys and walking sticks, for harrowing, for cleaning chimneys, to fuel bakers’ ovens and limekilns. We love a few blossoms added to salad, steeped in boiling water for tea or dropped into a whiskey glass for a fragrant tipple. Look for the spiky bushes growing near the sea, with yellow flowers that stay in bloom nearly all year. Wear gloves to harvest the flowers, as the thorns can be very sharp.

Roger Philip’s Gorse Wine

We love this recipe – it makes a fragrant, slightly effervescent, very refreshing summer drink. It comes from Roger Philip’s Wild Food – a book no serious forager should be without.  

Makes about 4.8 litres (8 pints)

2 litres (3 ½ pints) gorse flowers

About 1 teaspoon general purpose non-GM yeast

1 kg (2.2lbs) granulated sugar

Juice and zest of 2 organic lemons

Juice and zest of 2 organic oranges

Pick nice fresh flowers that have come out fully. Activate the yeast by stirring into a little tepid water. Simmer the flowers in 4.5 litres (1 gallon) water for 15 minutes then dissolve the sugar, pour into a bucket and add citrus juice and zest. Allow to cool to blood heat, add the yeast and let it stand with a cloth over it. After 3 days, strain off the solids and pour into a fermentation jar, fit an airlock and allow it to ferment until it is finished. Rack off into a clean jar, making it up to the full amount with cold boiled water. Leave for a month and then filter, or leave until completely clear then bottle in sterlised bottles.

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