ArchiveSeptember 19, 2009

Electric Picnic

For years the ‘inner hippy’ in me has longed to go to a rock festival but I’ve always chickened out at the last minute for a variety of reasons – those huge crowds seemed scary and would I not look and feel completely ridiculous in the midst of all those be-bopping young people.

JC Collery the mover and shaker behind the Slow Food Youth Movement is a Ballymaloe Cookery School graduate who also holds a Masters degree in Development Studies from Manchester University. He has a passion for food and last year after Terra Madre in Italy he hatched a plan to build a wood burning oven to cook great pizzas using local ingredients at the Electric Picnic in Stradbally. He was so fired up with enthusiasm about this amazing music festival where the organisers also have a real green mission to look after environmental issues and to provide a variety of good food for the 33,000 punters who flock to the 400 acre estate in Co Laois.

When he mooted the idea to the organisers they were totally up for it so Philip Denhardt, Glenny Cameron and Johan Van der Merwe headed for Stradbally, in Co Laoise. They borrowed an old tractor trailer from a local farmer, Joe Lawlor and built three wood burning ovens on top.
Philip made dough for 1,500 pizzas, buckets of tomato sauce from organic tomatoes and lots of basil from the green houses. They bought 12.5 kgs of Gubeen chorizo from artisan producer Fingal Ferguson. Lots of their friends, including Ted Burner and Ivan Whelan of Wildside Catering set up their spit and roasted a couple of Saddleback pigs from Noreen Conroy’s Woodside Farm. Paddy O’Connell was slicing strawberries and putting dollops of delicious natural yoghurt on his ‘ogranola’ to keep up with the growing queues.

I simply had to go, my daughter stole my wellies, but I found a paid of distressed Uggs and some colourful gear and headed off. The Electric Picnic blew my mind; forget the variety of music from opera and chamber music to soul and jazz, which was amazing. There were a myriad of fun installation art works, made of old pallets, bicycle wheels and a beautiful willow sculpture of a figure playing a huge violin.
There was a Farmers’ market, a Global green space, Body and Spirit area…. every creative vision was catered for. There were hot tubs, hammocks, massages, weaving classes, belly dancing, drumming classes, fairies breakfast, permaculture gardens, chai stalls and a million things for children to do.

But back to food, the organisers Pod Concerts and Aitken Promotions decided in 2007 that the quality of the food should match the rest of the event, so they hired a variety of great food stalls from all over the country and even the UK, to come and feed the hungry hordes of music lovers. This was enough to make John and Sally McKenna of Bridgestone Guides prick up their ears. In 2008 they launched their Bridgestone Guide Electric Picnic awards. This year a total of five awards were presented to the leading food vendors and much to delight of the Slow Food Ireland Youth Movement Pizza Stall they were awarded the ‘On Your Doorstep Award’

“Not only did the Slow Food crew cook superb local foods, they also built a wood fired pizza oven on site, on the back of an agricultural trailer. And the pizzas were to die for!” said John McKenna.
Joining Slow food Ireland in the winner’s enclosure were Natasha’s Living Food, winner of the Healthy Buzz Award.
“Natasha’s raw foods are packed with goodness, as well as deliciousness. This is the beginning of the raw food movement in Ireland”, said the judges.

The award for eco-friendly food sourcing and production went to Donegal’s Rathmullan House. “We were most impressed by Rathmullan’s determination to use only local fish, landed from day boats, because the marine environment is the most stressed of all our food resources. This is real food sustainability.”

Judges John and Sally McKenna and Caroline Byrne, of the Bridgestone Guides, added a special Judges Award this year. The Judges Award went to Helen Finnegan, maker of Knockdrinna Farmhouse cheese and pork in Stoneyford, Co Kilkenny.
“Helen rears the cows, makes cheese from the milk, feeds her pigs on the whey from the cheese and then turns the pork into the most superb artisan meat, and she then takes it to the market and sells it to you. You can’t get closer to regional, local food production than this”, the judges commented.
The fifth award, for the Best Dressed vendors whose stall showed the most creativity and imagination, was awarded to The Mad Hatter’s Tea party who has now made it two awards in a row at Electric Picnic.

“The food at Electric Picnic is as wonderfully diverse and eclectic as every other element of this inspired festival”, said John McKenna, “the fact that the winners were Irish festival vendors shows how the relationship between great festivals and great local food is of pivotal importance’.

Some delicious food…

Irish Country Soup

This is another very substantial soup – it has ‘eating and drinking’ in it and would certainly be a meal in itself particularly if some grated Cheddar cheese was scattered over the top.

Serves 6

6 ozs (175g) un-smoked streaky Irish bacon (in the piece)
olive or sunflower oil
5 ozs (150g) potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch (5mm) dice
2 ozs (50g) onions, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic (optional)
1 lb (450g) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced or 1 x 14 oz (400g) tin of tomatoes and their juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2-1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 pints (750ml) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock
2 ozs (50g) cabbage (Savoy is best), finely chopped

Chopped parsley

Remove the rind from the bacon if necessary. Prepare the vegetables and cut the bacon into 1/4 inch (5mm) dice approx. Blanch the bacon cubes in cold water to remove some of the salt, drain and dry on kitchen paper, sauté in a little olive or sunflower oil until the fat runs and the bacon is crisp and golden. Add potatoes, onions and crushed garlic, sweat for 10 minutes and then add diced tomatoes and any juice. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Cover with stock and cook for 5 minutes. Add the finely chopped cabbage and continue to simmer just until the cabbage is cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning.  Sprinkle with lots of chopped parsley and serve.

Frittata with Roast Tomatoes, Chorizo and Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese

Frittata is great for a picnic or for a rock concert, easy to transport and can be eaten cold in wedges or inside a bap.

Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) ripe or sun-blushed tomatoes, preferably cherry tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 large eggs, preferably free range and organic
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
4 teaspoons thyme leaves
2 tablespoons basil, mint or marjoram
110-175g (4-6oz) chorizo, thickly sliced, cut into four
40g (1 1/2ozs) Parmesan cheese, grated
25g (1oz) butter
110g (4oz) soft goat’s cheese (We use Ardsallagh goat cheese)
Extra virgin olive oil

Non-stick pan 10cm (7 1/2in) bottom, 23cm (9in) top rim

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Cut the tomatoes in half around the equator season with salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Arrange in a single layer in a non-stick roasting tin.  Roast for 10-15 or until almost soft and slightly crinkly.  Remove from the heat and cool. Alternatively use sun-blushed tomatoes.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl; add the salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh herbs, chorizo and grated cheese into the eggs. Add the tomatoes, stir gently.  Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter starts to foam, tip in the eggs.  Turn down the heat, as low as it will go. Divide the cheese into walnut sized pieces and drop gently into the frittata at regular intervals. Leave the eggs to cook gently for 15 minutes on a heat diffuser mat, or until the underneath is set. The top should still be slightly runny.
Preheat a grill. Pop the pan under the grill for 1 minute to set and barely brown the surface.

Slide the frittata onto a warm plate.

Serve cut in wedges with a good green salad and perhaps a few olives.
Alternatively put the pan into a preheated oven 170°C/325°F/gas 3. Alternatively cook mini frittata in muffin tins (for approximately 15 minutes). Serve with a good green salad.

Variation: For a yummy vegetarian alternative omit the chorizo and add 110g (4oz) grated Gruyère cheese to add extra zizz.

Top Tip
The size of the pan is very important; the frittata should be at least 3 cm (1 1/4 inches) thick. It the only pan available is larger, adjust the number of eggs, etc.

Smoked Mackerel Pâte

This would be easy to transport and is great slathered onto crusty bread or baps with a few slices of tomato and cucumber pickle.

4 ozs (110g) un-dyed smoked mackerel or herring, free of skin and bone
2-3 ozs (55-85g) softened butter
1/4 teaspoon finely snipped fennel
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2-1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste
salt and freshly ground pepper
crusty bread

Sprigs of fennel

Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste, add more lemon juice and garlic if necessary, it should be well seasoned. Put into little bowl or individual pots.

Serve with cucumber pickle and crusty bread.

Rum and Raisin Cake

A favourite picnic cake with lots of cutting, keep it in the tin for ease of transporting.

175g (6oz) raisins
6 tablespoons Jamaica rum
275g (10oz) butter
175g (6oz) golden castor sugar
4 eggs, preferably free-range and organic
50ml (2fl oz) milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
275g (10oz) white flour
1 tablespoon) baking powder
50g (2oz) walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans

23cm (9inch) round tin with a pop-up base, buttered and floured

1 1/2 tablespoons soft brown sugar

Soak the raisins in the rum for 30 minutes. Drain and save the rum.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4.

Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Separate the eggs, save the whites, add the egg yolks, one by one. Beat well between each addition, add the rum, milk and vanilla extract.

Mix the flour and baking powder together and fold in to the base mixture bit by bit. Whisk the egg white in a spotlessly clean bowl until stiff and fluffy.

Fold into the cake mixture one-third at a time, add the fruit and chopped nuts with the last addition of egg white.

Pour into the prepared tin, sprinkled with soft brown sugar and cook in the preheated oven for 45 minutes – 1 hour or until the top is golden and the centre set and firm. Allow the cake to cool in the tin, invert, remove from the tin, invert again and cool on a wire rack.

Fool Proof Food

Rosemary Lemonade

Makes 4-6 glasses

Delicious thirst quenching lemonade with a grown up flavour!

Freshly squeezed juice of 3 lemons
225ml (8fl oz) rosemary syrup (see recipe)
670ml (24fl oz) water

Mix the freshly squeezed lemon juice with the rosemary syrup and the water. Taste and add more syrup if necessary.

Rosemary Syrup

Makes 770ml (1 pint 7fl oz)

Use as the basis of lemonades or fruit compotes.

450g (1lb) sugar
600ml (1pint) water
2 sprigs rosemary

Put the sugar and cold water into a saucepan, add the sprigs of rosemary. Bring slowly to the boil, allow to cool, strain and store in a fridge. It will keep for weeks.

Thrifty Tip

Defrost your deep freeze; it’s more economical to run when it’s defrosted, this also gives you the opportunity to use up what is in your deep freeze.

Hot Tips

Apple Day

Irish Seed Savers Association’s annual Apple Day is on Sunday September 27th 2009
12pm to 5pm at Capparoe, Scarriff, Co Clare. Purchase some apple trees and learn how to create an orchard. Demonstrations include, bee keeping, vegetarian cooking and seed saving. Lots of fun kids activities too. For booking Tel 061 921866 or online at

Duck Eggs
For those who are looking out for duck eggs, Glenfin produce free range eggs that are brilliant not only for baking but for frying and poaching Telephone Brian 086 1714240.

Three 2009 Bridgestone Guide Electric Picnic Award winners.

Rathmullan House. Telephone 074 91 58188
Natasha’s Living Food. Telephone 0879743455
Knockdrinna Farmhouse Cheese. Telephone 056 7728446


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