ArchiveApril 14, 2007

Clodagh McKenna, and the rise and rise of the Farmers Market

You all know how delighted I am by the rise and rise of the Farmers Market movement, not only in Ireland but all over the world – UK, US, Australia, New Zealand…… Everywhere there seems to be the same craving for fresh local food in season.

Ordinary food retail is static while the demand for artisan and specialist foods continues to escalate. There’s a growing awareness of food miles, animal welfare issues and the impact of our carbon footprint on the environment. There is substantial growth in the demand for organic produce and local is the sexiest word in food, from California to Auckland. 

The Country Market movement has been producing this kind of food for their many devotees for years, safeguarding the old food traditions of our country. In recent years the farmers markets have increased the number of options and added to the long established markets in Galway, Limerick, Dublin, and of course the much-loved English Market in Cork City.

It’s now almost twelve years since I first visited the farmers market in a parking lot in San Francisco. I was so inspired, it seemed the perfect solution for local people desperate to source local food. The farmers and food producers can get the full price for their products which enables them to earn a sustainable living on the land when selling directly to their customers.

Inspired by Sybille Krauss’s San Francisco Market, my mother-in-law Myrtle Allen and Caroline Robinson (now chairman of the Irish Food Markets Traders Association), Frank Hederman of Belvelly Smokehouse, and a few other members of the Cork Free Choice Consumer Group, started Ireland’s first ‘new age’ farmers market on the Coal Quay in Cork in 1996. It was great fun and necessitated an early start, leaving Shanagarry at 6.30am in the morning. Caroline Robinson still trades there and has an ever-increasing band of loyal customers on Saturday morning for her beautiful produce. There are now over 115 farmers markets in Ireland. The Midleton Farmers Market which is celebrating its seventh birthday at the Whit Weekend, has now moved across the road into the Fair Green, a serviced paved area provided by the Town Council. 

Clodagh McKenna, acclaimed cook, presenter and food writer, did a 12 week Certificate Cookery course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in January 2000. She worked alongside Myrtle Allen at Ballymaloe House and became more and more passionate about good food and the Slow Food Movement. Her regular columns on food and her radio programmes, reflect her commitment. Over the past year Clodagh has travelled the length and breadth of the country, visiting farmers markets with David Hare’s ‘Inproduction’ television crew, meeting stallholders, producers and customers and generally recording the buzz and excitement that characterizes the farmers’ market scene. Fresh from the Farmers Market, the 8-part series sponsored by Bord Bia will start on Wednesday 25th April at 7.30pm on RTE 1, The Irish Farmers’ Market Cookbook by Clodagh McKenna, published by Collins to accompany the series, is already in the shops. The series was launched in Dublin recently by Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan who was fulsome in her praise and support for the Farmers Market initiative. 

Speaking at the event, Angela Kennedy, Chairman, Bord Bia, commented “The farmers market system benefits small food producers and farmers, providing unique direct access to consumers for their produce. The farmers market system also has strong potential to benefit a growing number of farmers who choose to sell direct to consumers and to retain profit within the farm gate.”

This new television series will give a great boost to the markets movement and here are some delicious recipes from Clodagh’s book.

Roast Asparagus, Knocklara and Mint Salad

Roasting the asparagus really intensifies and sweetens the flavour as it removes the natural moisture. Knocklara is a beautiful goat’s cheese, similar to feta, made by Wolfgang and Agnes Schliebitz in County Waterford.
Serves 4

850g (30 oz) asparagus spears, washed and trimmed
75g (2½ oz) hazelnuts, chopped
6 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
Juice of 1lemon
Mixed salad leaves, (eg. rocket, cos, frisee or oak’s lettuce)
250g (9 oz) Knocklara (or feta), crumbled

Toss the asparagus and chopped hazelnuts in 2 tbsp olive oil. Salt lightly and place on a baking tray. Cook in a preheated oven at 200C/400F/gas mark 6 for 12-15 minutes. Remove and cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, pepper and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the green leaves together with the cooled asparagus and toss gently together. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle the cheese over the top and serve.

Mini Pavlovas with Sweet Geranium-Infused Rhubarb

Makes 4 small or 1 large
3 egg whites
175g (6oz) caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp vanilla extract
Whipped cream

For the rhubarb:
150g (5oz) rhubarb, cut into 5cm (2in) sections
50g (2oz) caster sugar
2 sweet geranium leaves (see tip)
70ml (2½ fl.oz) water

Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper. Whisk the egg whites in a large, clean bowl until stiff, and then whisk in the sugar gradually until the egg whites have a glossy shine. Fold in the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla extract.

Divide the meringue mixture into 4 heaps on the baking paper and, with a spoon, shape and swirl each one into a circle, leaving a dip in the centre.

(Alternatively, you can make 1 pavlova by spooning the meringue onto the baking paper in one heap.) Cook in a preheated oven at 150C,300F. Gas Mark 2 for 40 minutes until the meringue is pale brown and dry on the outside but soft in the inside.

Meanwhile, stew the rhubarb gently with the sugar, sweet geranium leaves and water in a covered pan, until the rhubarb is cooked but not mushy. Leave to cool.

Arrange the individual pavlovas on 4 serving plates. Place a big dollop of whipped cream in the centre of each one and then arrange the rhubarb on top. Serve with the sweet stewing liquid.

Tip: If you don’t have any sweet geranium leaves you can use lemon balm leaves instead, but it’s well worth hunting them out or growing your own. Use any spare leaves as a decorative garnish.

Courgette and Lemon Salad

Every year there is a glut of courgettes at the market. This is a very simple but really delicious way to use them up. I particularly love eating this salad with roast chicken.
Serves 4

3 medium courgettes
Juice of 1 lemon
50ml (2 fl.oz) extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice the courgettes very thinly, using a mandolin if you have one. Place a saucepan of water over a high heat, and when the water comes to the boil, drop in the courgettes and cook for about 1 minute (just to blanch them). Drain in a colander and wrap them in a clean tea towel to dry them off.

Arrange them on a serving dish, pour over a drizzle of olive oil and the lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Leave to marinate for about 30 minutes before serving.

Cashel Blue, Caramelised Onion and Thyme Pizza

Once you’ve got over the scary thought of making your own pizza base, you’re free to experiment with all different types of toppings, such as classic fresh tomatoes with cheese or spicy chorizo and Parmesan. However, my favourite topping is this combination.
Makes 1 pizza, serves 2

6g (â…“ oz) fresh yeast
200ml (7 fl.oz) tepid water
100g (3½ oz) plain white flour
20g (¾ oz) butter
2 medium onions, peeled, quartered and sliced thinly
50ml (2 fl.oz) olive oil
150g (5oz) Cashel Blue cheese, or other strong blue cheese
2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the fresh yeast into a small bowl and cover with 100ml of the water and leave to dissolve for 5 minutes. Place the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre and pour the dissolved yeast into the centre. Then add a pinch of salt and mix in the flour from the sides. Add approximately 100ml of water and mix into a dough. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough by pushing the dough away from the back of your hand until you reach a light consistency. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and place in a warm place for approximately 3 hours to allow the dough to rise.

While the dough is rising you can get your toppings ready. Place a saucepan over a medium heat and add in the butter, when the butter has melted add in the onions, cover and leave to sweat for about 10 minutes. Then remove the lid, turn up the heat and stir the onions until they become lovely and brown. Tip the onions into a bowl and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. When the dough has risen tip out onto a floured board and roll out to make a circular pizza shape, I like my pizzas thin so I roll it to about 5mm (¼ in) thick. Then brush the pizza base with some olive oil, spread the onions out all over the base, crumble the blue cheese on top, and sprinkle over the finely chopped thyme. Season with salt and pepper, then place in the oven for 20 minutes.

Mairead’s Sticky Toffee Pudding with Hazelnut Toffee Sauce

Clodagh’s sister Mairead gave her this recipe as she thought it would be a great seller at the market, and it was!
Serves 6

350g (12oz) fresh dates, stoned (use dried dates if you can’t find fresh)
300ml (10 fl.oz) boiling water
100g (3½ oz) butter
300g (10oz) dark brown sugar
3 medium eggs
400g (14oz) self-raising flour, sieved
½ tsp. bicarbonate of soda

For the hazelnut toffee sauce:
600ml (1 pint) double cream
250g (9oz) dark brown sugar
100g (3½ oz) butter
30g (1oz) hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Place the dates in a saucepan with the boiling water, and simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes or until the dates are soft. Drain and then whiz the dates in a blender until they have a smooth consistency.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the butter and sugar until creamy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the blended dates, then fold in the flour and bicarbonate of soda and mix well.

Grease a 20cm (8in ) spring form tin and line it with greaseproof paper. Pour in the mixture and bake in a preheated oven at 170C/325F/gas mark 3 for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Pour half of the cream into a saucepan and stir in the brown sugar and butter. Bring to the boil, stirring frequently. When the sauce looks golden, stir in the remaining cream and half of the hazelnuts.

Turn out the cooked sponge onto a serving dish. Pour over the hazelnut toffee sauce and sprinkle the remaining hazelnuts on top. Delicious served with cream or vanilla ice cream.

Roasted Aubergine Dip

Creamy and spicy, this aubergine dip is similar to the Middle Eastern dish baba ghanoush. It is fantastic served with toasted pitta bread.
Makes approx. 150ml (5 fl.oz)

1 large aubergine
50ml (2 fl.oz) olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 garlic clove, peeled
50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 black olives, pitted
Salt and freshly grated black pepper

Place the aubergine in a roasting pan and drizzle some olive oil on top. Use your hands to coat it in the oil. Cook in a preheated oven at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 20 minutes, then remove and set aside to cool. Chop into large chunks.

In a frying pan, dry-roast the cumin for 2 minutes or until you can smell the aroma from the spice. Place the aubergine, garlic, grated Parmesan, olives, cumin seeds and a splash of olive oil in a blender, and blend to a smooth consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Foolproof Food

Chocolate Biscuit Cake

ny market you visit in Ireland will have this for sale. Its really easy to make, keeps well and, most importantly, tastes great with a cuppa.
Makes 9-12 depending on how big you cut your squares

175g (6oz) butter
2 tbsp. golden syrup
250g (9oz) dark chocolate (55-79% cocoa solids), cut into pieces
280g (10oz) rich tea biscuits
85g (3oz) raisins
85g (3oz) chopped roasted hazelnuts

Lightly grease a 23cm (9in) cake tin.

Melt the butter, golden syrup and chocolate in a bowl in the microwave or in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a very low heat, then stir until smooth.

Crush the biscuits with a rolling pin, but leave some slightly larger chunks, and tip into the melted chocolate mixture with the raisins and hazelnuts. Stir well.

Spoon the chocolate mixture into the prepared tin, pressing it down well to get a smooth, even surface. When cool, chill in the fridge, then serve cut into squares.

Hot Tips

For further information on country markets and farmers markets near you visit  

Biodiversity Day at Irish Seedsavers, Scariff, Co Clare on 20th May 12-5
will be a celebration of the work at the ISSA, preserving native varieties of heritage fruit trees, grains and seeds.
Workshops will be running throughout the day on Native fruit varieties, 
vegetable seed processing, rare Irish grains, planting organic garden, 
bee keeping, rare poultry, horse ploughing, cob building, children's 
activities including nature walks, wildlife drawing and a puppet show. 
There will be live music and a full organic cafe and coffee shop open all day. This event will be advertised locally as well as nationally.
Shuttle buses from Scariff to the centre.  


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