ArchiveSeptember 5, 2009

Grow it Yourself

Everywhere I go, every dinner party, every pub, every chance meeting, the topic of conversation is always the same, recessionary chit-chat and endless whinging about the hopeless ineffectual politicians. Yet if one poses the question – “Well what would you do if you were Taoiseach or Minister of Finance?” No one seems to have a coherent answer and let’s face it, there are few amongst us would like to be in their shoes at present.

So while the politicians et al are trying to find a solution, let’s just get on with it and help ourselves. Ordinary people like you and I can make a difference. One of the most exciting recession busting initiatives I’ve heard about is the Grow it Yourself (GIY) movement, a new not-for-profit organisation which was started by young Dublin journalist Michael Kelly, who moved to Waterford with his family five years ago. They dreamed of the good life, growing their own vegetables, having a few hens, maybe even a couple of pigs. Despite their enthusiasm and know-how starting their own vegetable plot proved daunting. It was difficult to find advice, even beginners’ guides to growing-your-own are full of gardening jargon and botanical terms, which confounds the inexperienced gardener – cultivars, hybrids, tilth, chitting, broad casting, pricking out…

Michael was madly keen and for some time he searched around for micro producers or organisations of likeminded people or other to swap ideas and experiences and to improve his skills. To his surprise none seemed to exist, so in his indomitable way, he decided to start something himself.

An exploratory press release to a local newspaper attracted an astonishing response, instead of the 10 maybe 20 people he expected to show up, 100 people arrived for an initial meeting in the room he booked at the local library.

Michael’s plan was to have a monthly meeting where amateurs, enthusiasts and seasoned growers could get together to share ideas, learn from each other, swap seeds and seedlings and chat with people who were keen to do the same thing.

It took off; within a couple of months there were six GIY groups within a 50 mile radius of Waterford. It’s got quite a different profile of members to the gardening clubs, more men than women and lots of cool young people who have been fired with enthusiasm about self sufficiency by Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver. Many are also spurred on by the realisation that the academic skills they have concentrated on to date are woefully inadequate in these changing times when basic life skills like being able to cook, garden and maybe keep a few hens are more beneficial for day to day survival and quality of life.

GIY meetings are free and open to anyone who is interested in growing food at all levels, from those who plant a few herbs on the balcony to complete self sufficiency. Everyone from beginners to old hands are welcome. Michael says there is a terrific spread of ages from a 12 year old who keeps his own hens to a seasoned 83 year old who grows vegetables in his garden in Waterford city.

Expert speakers share their knowledge at the meetings. There are practical demonstrations, garden visits, seed and plant swaps, produce bartering, mentor panels and growers meitheals. The latter draws on the old Irish tradition, where neighbours helped each other out during the hay making and threshing and at other busy times of the year. A group of GIY members now come together in the time honoured way to help someone who may get s overwhelmed by the prospect of tackling a briar or weed infested patch. There is tremendous camaraderie, neighbourliness and community spirit. It is so much more fun and develops social interaction while they dig or construct a raised bed together.

Michael wants to see a GIY branch in every town in Ireland. On Saturday 12th September. The first national GIY conference will be held in the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) from 9am – as part of the Waterford Harvest Festival – and will be opened by the Minister for Food and Horticulture Trevor Sargent. Other speakers include Joy Larkom, Will Sutherland, Clodagh McKenna, Michael Kelly…

Tickets which include a seasonal dinner are available from

Roast Red and Yellow Beetroot Salad with Rocket Leaves


Serves 8


500g (1lb) red beetroots

500g (1lb) golden beetroots

(60g) 2 ½ oz hazelnuts

90ml (3 1/2 fl oz) honey or maple syrup

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 cloves of garlic crushed

75g (3oz) rocket leaves or baby spinach

lots of chervil

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Mark 6 wash the beetroot gently don’t trim the root and leave 1 inch of stalk on top. Put into a roasting tin, cover and roast for 1 – 1 ½ hours or until tender when pierced with a skewer. Meanwhile toast the sunflower seeds for about 8 minutes and the hazelnuts for 10 or more. Rub off the skins and cut in half. Mix all the ingredients for dressing together, when the beets are cooked rub off the peel cut into chunks, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put into a serving bowl, add the leaves, toasted seeds and nuts and scatter with chervil.



Cucumber Neapolitana


This is a super recipe to use up a glut of cucumbers or courgettes and tomatoes. It is a

terrifically versatile vegetable dish which may be made ahead and reheats well. It is also delicious served with rice or pasta. It makes a great stuffing for tomatoes and is particularly good with Roast lamb.


Serves 6 approx.


1 Irish cucumber

½ oz (15g) butter

1 medium onion – 4 oz (110g) approx., sliced

4 very ripe Irish tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2½ fl oz (63ml) cream

1 dessertspoon freshly chopped mint

roux (optional)


Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams add the onion. Cover and sweat for 5 minutes approx. until soft but not coloured.

Meanwhile, peel the cucumber cut into ½ inch (1cm) cubes; add to the onions, toss well and continue to cook while you scald the tomatoes with water for 10 seconds. Peel the tomatoes and slice into the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sugar. Cover the casserole and cook for a few minutes until the cucumbers are tender and the tomatoes have softened, add the cream and bring back to the boil. Add the freshly chopped mint. If the liquid is very thin, thicken it by carefully whisking in a little roux. Cucumber Neapolitana keeps for several days and may be reheated



Every guest cook who comes to the school introduces us to a few treasures which we incorporate into our repertoire. Madhur Jaffrey whose recipe this is has contributed more than most; I would recommend her books to anyone who would like to add a little spice to their lives.

Serves 4

1 lb (450g) fresh green French beans

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon whole black mustard seeds

4 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped

1/2 – 1 hot, dried red chilli, coarsely crushed in a mortar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

freshly ground pepper

Trim the beans and cut them into 1 inch (2.5cm) lengths. Blanch the beans by dropping them into a pot of well-salted boiling water, boil rapidly for 3-4 minutes or until they are just tender. Drain immediately in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, put in the garlic. Stir the garlic pieces around until they turn light brown, (be careful not to burn or it will spoil the flavour). Put in the crushed red chilli and stir for a few seconds, add the green beans, salt and sugar. Stir to mix. Turn the heat to medium-low. Stir and cook the beans for 3-4 minutes or until they have absorbed the flavour of the spices. Season with freshly ground black pepper, mix well and serve.


Almond Tart or Tartlets with Raspberries or Grapes

Serves 12

110 g (4 oz) butter

110 g (4 oz) castor sugar

110 g (4 oz) ground almonds


poached rhubarb or sliced fresh peaches or nectarines

fresh raspberries or loganberries, peeled and pipped grapes or kiwi fruit

1/2 pint (300 ml) whipped cream

Makes 24 tartlets or 2 x 7 inch (5 x 17.5 cm) tarts or 1 tart and 12 tartlets

Cream the butter well and then just stir in the sugar and ground almonds. (Don’t over beat or the oil will come out of the ground almonds as it cooks.) Put a teaspoon of the mixture into 24 small patty tins or divide between 2 x 7 inch sandwich tins. Bake at 1801C/3501F/regulo 4 for 20-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown, 10-12 minutes for tartlets or until golden brown. The tarts or tartlets are too soft to turn out immediately so cool in tins for about 5 minutes before turning out. Do not allow to set hard before removing to a wire rack or the butter will solidify and they will stick to the tins. If this happens pop the tins back into the oven for a few minutes so the butter melts and then they will come out easily. Just before serving, arrange segments of peach or nectarine, or whole raspberries, or peeled and pipped grapes on the base. Glaze with redcurrant jelly (red fruit) or apricot glaze (green or yellow fruit). Decorate with rosettes of cream.

Peach or Nectarine and Sweet Geranium Jam

Makes 4 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars900g (2lb) sliced nectarines or peeled peaches

4 tablespoons water

350g (12oz) sugar, warmed freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon3 sweet geranium leavesPut the fruit and water into a stainless-steel saucepan. Add the lemon juice and the sweet geranium leaves. Simmer over a medium heat. Cook until the fruit is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the warm sugar (see page 000). Bring to the boil, cook for 5 minutes until set. Pour in sterilised jars, cover and store in a cool, dry place. Eat soon but keeps for 4-5 months.


Fool Proof Food


Rose Petal Syrup

Pour a little of this rose petal syrup into a champagne glass and top up with Cava or Prosecco to make a gorgeous perfumed aperitif. Stir and float a rose petal on top. Makes 800ml (1 1/2 pints)

225g (8oz) fragrant rose petals from an old variety of unsprayed roses

500ml (18fl oz) water

700g (11/2lb) white sugar, warmed

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juicePut the petals into a stainless-steel saucepan with the cold water. Bring to the boil over a medium heat and simmer gently for 20–30 minutes. Strain the petals through a sieve, pressing to get out as much of the liquid as possible. Add the warmed sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice, bring back to the boil and simmer, uncovered, until thick and syrupy. Pour into bottles and seal.

Thrifty Tip.

Take advantage of the free blackberry crop in the hedgerows at present, they freeze perfectly; use them for tarts, pies, sorbets…


Apart from the GIY launch at the Waterford Harvest Festival, other events include a Harvest Feast in the city centre on Sunday 13th September. Waterford and the sunny south east are celebrating its local food and artisan producers and are fast presenting a challenge to the Cork food culture.



Ballymaloe Cookery School

is holding the annual East Cork Slow Food Old Fashioned Threshing Event on Sunday 13th September 12pm to 5 pm. Forgotten Skills Demonstrations; How to make Homemade Sausages, How to make Irish Soda bread & Scones and How to keep a few Hens. Tickets are available on the day. For more information contact: 021 4646785 or email Organic Rape Seed Oil Ben and Charlotte Colchester have been farming organically for over 30 years on their farm near Urlingford in Co Kilkenny. Their daughter Kitty has now joined them to produce organic rapeseed oil which is a highly nutritious and versatile with a delicious nutty flavour. It is available in the Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop and at most of the farmers markets, Naas, Wicklow, Cork, Clonmel, Kilkenny… Telephone 056 88 31411 or find them on the Organic Trust website Midleton Food and Drink Festival now in its fifth year is on Saturday 12th September. For more information visit


Past Letters