Despite the hardship that many are enduring as the result of the economic meltdown, much good is emerging at grass roots level. Many are rediscovering the joy of thrift and self sufficiency. At a recent Grow-your-own-vegetable lecture organised by Cork Free Choice Consumer Group and given by organic growers Caroline Robinson and Rupert Hugh-Jones, at the Crawford Gallery in Cork, over fifty people had to be turned away. There was standing room only, people were packed in like sardines anxious to learn or relearn how to grow food in their town and country gardens.
In Waterford a very successful food producerâ€™s network has been established by young journalist Michael Kelly and Donal Lehane. This group meets once a month in the Waterford City library to learn and share what used to be known as home making skills; how to grow vegetables and fruit, how to keep a few chickens and even a couple of weanling pigs. They are planning to operate on a meithil system, where members share plants and seeds and the bounty they grow. A recent meeting in the the City Library; was jam packed and the atmosphere warm and neighbourly.
Itâ€™s a similar situation in many places around the country, gardening courses are over subscribed in many places. Once again everyone reports that there seems to be a deep craving for knowledge.
The Irish Beekeeping Association are also holding free Beginners Beekeeping courses all around the country at present check www.irishbeekeeping.ie for details.
Minister for Food Trevor Sergeant is also doing his bit to spread the word, last year much to the amusement of some of his colleagues he organised to send a potato pack to every school in Ireland so 120,000 children could learn the magic of growing potatoes.
The initiative was a resounding success, warmly welcomed not just by pupils but by the teachers and parents many of whom responded to their childrenâ€™s excitement by growing a few drills of potatoes at home.
This year the Minister has extended the scheme, schools will have the opportunity to grow not just the humble spud but cabbage, lettuce, scallion and strawberry crops. Each participating class will create a scrapbook (growing diary) documenting the growth, maintenance and progress of their crops and all additional farming activities the pupils participate in. A national prize-giving ceremony will award over â‚¬10,000 in educational funds to the winning schools. Every school gets a complete kit including a DVD completely free. The aim of this educational challenge is to provide school children with an understanding of the importance of farming, promote the benefits and increase consumption of local Irish produce. Each child will be provided with an â€˜Incredible Ediblesâ€™ recipe and nutritional book and encouraged to prepare meals and snacks with their parents. This aspect of the programme has been developed in conjunction with Paula Mee.
So even if you only have a balcony or a window box and a few pots you can grow some food, a few herbs, some cut and come salad leaves, scallionsâ€¦ Itâ€™s not rocket science, just fork up the soil, run your finger along to make an indentation, drop in the seeds, cover and donâ€™t forget to water.
Friends and neighbours in towns and estates could each agree to grow 3 or 4 packets of vegetable seeds and then share rather than having a huge glut of one crop.
From the cookâ€™s point of view, it is a joy to have truly fresh organic produce to pick and share at a whim. Growing your own vegetables gives one a much greater appreciation of food and the time and energy that goes into producing it. It also engenders a respect for the farmers and growers who look after the crops for months on end to feed and nourish us.
When you and your family grow your own, everyone treats it with respect and we are much less likely to over cook it in the kitchen. Even if itâ€™s only a cabbage or a few spuds, eating it feels like a celebration and it truly is.
From this time of the year to the end of April is called the â€˜hungry gapâ€™ many of the winter vegetables are coming to an end and the summer bounty is still far off or still in a seed packet. Nonetheless thereâ€™s still lots to enjoy.
Warm Salad of Jerusalem Artichokes with Hazelnut Oil Dressing
White turnips or Kohl Rabi are also delicious cooked and served in exactly the same way.
12 ozs (340g) Jerusalem Artichokes, very carefully peeled to a smooth shape
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 oz (15g) hazelnuts, toasted and sliced
a few leaves oakleaf lettuce
sprigs of chervil
Hazelnut Oil Dressing
3 tablesp hazelnut oil or
1 1/2 tablesp hazelnut oil and
1 1/2 tablesp sunflower oil
1 1/2 tablesp white wine vinegar
1 teasp. Dijon mustard
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste
Slice the artichoke about 1/2 inch thick. Bring 4 fl ozs (110ml) water and ï€³ oz butter to the boil in a heavy saucepan and add in the sliced artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put a lid on the saucepan and cook gently until they are almost cooked. Turn off the heat and allow to sit in the covered saucepan until they are almost tender. The maddening thing about artichokes is that they cook unevenly so it will be necessary to test them with a skewer at regular intervals; they usually take at least 15 minutes.
While the artichokes are cooking, prepare the Hazelnut dressing by mixing all the ingredients together. Slice the hazelnuts and reserve for garnish.When the artichokes are cooked carefully remove from the saucepan, making sure not to break them up.
Place on a flat dish in a single layer.Â Spoon over the hazelnut dressing and toss while still warm. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
To assemble the salad.
Divide the sliced artichokes between 4 plates. Put a little circle of lettuce around the vegetables and sprinkle some of the dressing over the lettuce. Garnish with the toasted hazelnuts and chervil sprigs. This salad is best when the artichokes are eaten while still warm.
Carrot Soup with Wild Garlic Cream
Winter carrots are still good and wild garlic is just coming into season, if you can find it why not add some to this soup. Carrot soup is also delicious on itâ€™s own.
Serves 6 approx.
560g (1Â¼ lbs) unwashed organic carrots, scrubbed, peeled and chopped into Â¼ inch (5mm) dice
40g (1Â½ ozs) butter
115g (4ozs) onion, chopped into Â¼ inch (5mm) dice
130g (5ozs) potatoes, chopped into Â¼ inch (5mm) dice
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
1.2L (2 pints) homemade chicken stock
65ml (2Â½ fl ozs) creamy milk, (optional)
a fistful of wild garlic leaves roughly chopped
Wild Garlic Cream
3-4 tablesp softly whipped cream
1 â€“ 2 tablesp wild garlic leaves, chopped
1 tablesp freshly chopped parsley
wild garlic flowers
Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan, when it foams add the chopped vegetables. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Cover with a butter paper and a tight fitting lid. Allow to sweat gently on a low heat for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables have softened slightly. Remove the lid. Add the stock, increase the heat and boil until the vegetables are soft. Pour into a liquidiser, add a fistful of wild garlic leaves and puree until smooth, (you may need to do this in two batches). Taste and adjust seasoning. Add a little creamy milk if necessary. Fold the chopped wild garlic leaves and parsley into the softly whipped cream. Garnish with a blob of wild garlic cream, garnish with a few wild garlic flowers and serve.
Vegetable Stew with Fresh Spices and Banana and Yoghurt Raita
This spicy stew tastes even better the day after you make it.Â Vary the vegetables depending on what you have to hand.
2 large parsnips or white turnips
4 oz (110 g) button mushrooms
4 oz (110 g) cauliflower
2 X 6 inch (15 cm) courgettes, green or golden
2 stalks broccoli
2 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
10 whole cloves
3 inch (7.5 cm) piece of cinnamon bark
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 oz (30 g) fresh ginger root
4 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon sugar
4-5 tablespoons approx. olive oil or clarified butter
2 onions, sliced into rings
3 cups coconut milk
1 teaspoon sea salt
juice of 1 lemon
Flat parsley or coriander leaves
2 1/2 oz (70 g) roasted almonds or cashew nuts
Banana and Yoghurt Raita (see recipe)
First prepare the vegetables.Â Peel or scrape the carrots and cut them into pieces 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) long approx.Â If the pieces are very chunky cut them into quarters.Â Peel and quarter the parsnips, cut out the core and cut into pieces similar to the carrots.Â Quarter the mushrooms.Â Break the cauliflower and broccoli into florets.Â Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes.
Grind all the whole spices in a spice grinder, add the turmeric and cayenne.Â Chop the garlic and ginger and make into a paste either in a pestle and mortar or food processor.
Heat the olive oil or clarified butter in a wide saucepan, add the onion, garlic and ginger, cook over a medium heat until the onion has turned golden brown (6-8 minutes approx.), lower the heat, add the spices and sugar and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.Â Add the carrots, parsnips, coconut milk, lemon juice and sea salt, increase the heat, cover and bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.Â Add the potatoes and cook until tender.
Meanwhile blanch the cauliflower and broccoli in boiling salted water, remove when almost cooked but still crisp, refresh in cold water, drain and keep aside.Â Boil the courgettes for 5-6 minutes.
Fry the mushroom quarters in a hot pan in a little olive oil or clarified butter, season with salt and pepper and keep aside.Â When the potatoes are cooked add the mushrooms, broccoli, thickly sliced courgettes and cauliflower to the stew, cover, allow to bubble up for a minute, taste and correct seasoning.Â It often needs more salt at this point to enhance the flavour.
Garnish with flat parsley or coriander leaves and roasted almonds or cashew nuts.Â Serve immediately with Ballymaloe Tomato Relish and Banana and Yoghurt Raita (see recipe).Â Poppodums are also a nice accompaniment.
Banana and Yogurt Raita (see Fool Proof Food)
Potato and Parsnip Mash
This mash is particularly delicious with game, a haunch of venison or pheasant itâ€™s also good for rack of lamb or with a steak.
Serves 8 approx.
1Â¼kg (2Â½ lbs) parsnips
450g (1 lb) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
300-350ml (10-12 fl ozs) approx. creamy milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
55g (2ozsÂ½ stick) approx. butter
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Scrub the potatoes, put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked, (15 minutes approx. for ‘old’ potatoes), strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put onto a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.
Peel the parsnips, and cut into chunks, cook in boiled salted water until tender. Drain and mash, keep warm.
When the potatoes are just cooked, put on the milk and bring to the boil.Â Pull the peel off the potatoes, mash quickly while they are still warm and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy mash. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then add in the mashed parsnip with the butter. Taste for seasoning.Â Serve immediately or reheat later.Â Potato and parsnip mash will reheat in a moderate oven 180ÂºC/350ÂºF/regulo 4, for 20-25 minutes approx.
Serve in a hot dish with a scattering of parsley on top or if you like piled high with parsnip crisps.
Braised Cavolo Nero
Black Tuscan Kale
This is one of the most robust of the kale family.
Serves 4-6 depending on size
4 heads cavolo nero
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
extra virgin olive oil
bruschetta or polenta
Remove the stems from the cavolo nero leaves.Â Blanch in a large pot of boiling well-salted water for 3-5 minutes.Â Be careful not to overcook.Â Drain well.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the garlic and fry gently.Â When it begins to colour add the well-drained cavolo nero, season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper.Â Cook for about 5 minutes.Â Transfer to a bowl and drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil.
Serve on its own or as a topping for bruschetta or polenta.
Gratin of Leeks and Ham
Serves 6 â€“ 8
6 â€“ 8 leeks
1 oz (25g) butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 â€“ 8 slices cooked ham
1 pint (600ml) bÃ©chamel sauce (see recipe)
4 ozs (110g) grated cheese, eg. Cheddar or a mixture of Gruyere, Parmesan and Cheddar
1 teasp Dijon mustard
Top and tail and wash the leeks. Put an inch of water in a wide pan, add a little butter, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and cook on a gentle heat for 6 â€“ 8 minutes depending on size. The tip of a knife should go through easily. Drain the leeks. Wrap each leek in a slice of cooked ham and arrange in a single layer in an oven proof gratin dish. First make the bÃ©chamel sauce (see recipe), add the grated cheese and the Dijon mustard, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning.
Coat with leeks with bÃ©chamel sauce, sprinkle the top with and ounce of grated cheddar cheese. Pre heat the oven to 230C 450 f Gas 8. Reheat the gratin for 10 to 20 minutes or until hot and bubbling and golden on top.
Â½ pint (300ml) milk
A few slices of carrot
a few slices of onion
a sprig of thyme
a small sprig of parsley
3 black peppercorns
1Â½ ozs (45g) roux (see below)
salt and freshly ground pepper
This is a marvellous quick way of making BÃ©chamel Sauce if you already have roux made. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion, peppercorns, thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, and remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken with roux to a light coating consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
4 ozs (110g) butter
4 ozs (110g) 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.
Fool Proof Food
Banana and Yogurt Raita
Delicious served with either these meatballs or with the mild madras curry, surprisingly it keeps for days in the fridge and we’ve also enjoyed it as a pudding.
2 heaped tablesp. (2 ozs 55g approx.) raisins or sultanas
1 oz (30g) blanched slivered almonds
7 fl ozs (200ml) best quality natural yogurt
3Â½ fl ozs (90ml/) cream or 3Â½ fl ozs (90ml) sour cream
1 tablesp pure Irish honey
3 firm ripe bananas
pinch of salt
4-6 cardamom pods
Pour boiling water over the raisins or sultanas, leave for 10 minutes, toast the almonds. Mix the yogurt with the cream, add the honey, taste and add more if needed. Add the raisins and almonds, remove the seeds from the cardamom pods, crush in a pestle and mortar, slice the banana, season with a pinch of salt and add to the yogurt. Turn into a serving bowl and chill for an hour if possible.
Serve with curries and spicy dishes.
Wild Garlic is coming into season so gather this delicious wild herb from shady places along the banks of streams and in undisturbed mossy woodland. There are two types of wild garlic, Allium ursinum, and Allium triquetrum, the kind of wild garlic known as snowbells, which look like white bluebells and usually grow along the sides of country lanes.
Wild garlic lasts a few days when gathered into a bouquet and placed in water.Â Itâ€™s easily over-used, so be sparse. Wild garlic butter melts deliciously over a steak or a spring lamb chop. The chopped leaves are delicious in broths and pasta sauces.
Transform your lawn into a productive vegetable garden. Learn how to grow your own vegetables on a four week evening course starting Wednesday 1st April 7pm – 9pm. Demonstration and hands on; sowing planting and soil preparation. Barryâ€™s Nurseries, Inch, Killeagh â€“ Tel: +353 86 814 1133
To avoid leftovers, try not to cook too much. Freeze or refrigerate any leftovers to use at a later meal, rather than dumping. Feed meat scraps to pets: compost vegetable scraps in a rodent proof compost system; put suitable leftovers such as bread, crackers etc on the bird table or keep a few hens.