Grow it Yourself


Did we ever think we would hear a discussion on the RTE airwaves about people choosing to go hungry rather than default on their mortgage for fear of loosing their house – the reality has stunned the Irish nation.

One can just imagine how paralysed with fear many must be by the situation they find themselves in. The problem is further exacerbated when people can’t cook or have few practical life skills.

Many nutritious ingredients are inexpensive but one needs to know how to turn them into a delicious nourishing meal.

For those who have a little land, a front or back garden can produce a prodigious amount of food. Beautiful flower beds and a manicured lawn and are all very well, but a well tended vegetable patch will nourish the family and can also be a thing of beauty. A few edible flowers like nasturtiums and marigolds scattered around add colour and are also very high in antioxidants. Even a few pots on a balcony or in a paved or concrete yard can produce a surprising quantity of salad, fresh herbs, spinach, chard… It’s a bit late this year to plant most things but one can still plant winter lettuces, spring cabbages. Autumn onion sets and winter garlic will be soon available, you can even sow broad beans as late as November.

Everyone should have a few hens! Even though the number of households who now have a chicken coop has increased dramatically, many people are still unaware how easy it is to keep a few hens and the enormous rewards for so little effort, it’s win win all the way.

You need to move the chicken-coop around the lawn every couple of days and four or five hens will provide enough eggs for most families. The leftover household scraps supplemented with a little meal can be fed to the hens on a daily basis. Your reward will be beautiful fresh eggs plus you can save money by not having to pay your local council to dispose of the food waste.

The hen manure activates compost and the well rotted result can be dug into the vegetable patch to make the soil more fertile to produce healthy nourishing vegetables for the family.

GIY (Grow it Yourself) Ireland is a brilliant grass roots organisation where members help and support each other in their efforts to learn how to grow vegetables. There are branches in many Irish towns, villages and urban areas, see

Members meet regularly, swap and share seeds, plants, surplus vegetables and fruit and are often happy to come and get you started if you don’t know where to begin.

Those of you who are desperate to learn how to cook, you are unlikely to learn practical skills from the celebrity chefs, what is needed are simple dishes that fill and nourish the family. Look out for cooking classes in your local vocational school the new term has started already.

Let those of us who are fortunate enough to have learned the skills of gardening, cooking and foraging pass on the skills at every opportunity to our neighbours, friends and the young people around us.

There are loads of blackberries dripping off the bushes all over the country. There’s a terrific apple crop this year, lets share if we have a surplus and look out for a crab apple tree, and they make a fantastic jelly that will delight your family and friends. Here are a few simple recipes.

Carrot and Cumin Soup

Carrots are inexpensive and nutritious and help you to see in the dark so you save on your electricity bill!

Serves 6 approximately


A little freshly toasted and ground cumin adds a Moroccan flavour to carrot soup. If you prefer a plain soup then leave the cumin out.


2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

45g (1 3/4oz) butter

110g (4oz) onion, chopped

140g (5oz) potatoes, chopped

560g (11/4lb) carrots, preferably organic, chopped

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

1.1l (2 pints) homemade chicken or vegetable stock

150ml (1/4 pint) creamy milk, (optional)


a little whipped cream or yoghurt

freshly ground cumin

coriander leaves 

Heat the cumin seed on a frying pan, just for a minute or two until it smells rich and spicy. Grind in a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan, when it foams add the chopped vegetables and cumin seed. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar and toss until coated. 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 boiling stock, increase the heat and boil until the vegetables are soft. Pour into a liquidiser add and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add a little creamy milk if necessary.

Garnish with a blob of whipped cream, natural yoghurt, crème frâiche or sprinkle with a little ground cumin and coriander leaf.

Note : If you would like a more pronounced cumin flavour, increase the amount of cumin seeds to three teaspoons.


A delicious way to use up stale bread.

Croutons can be made several hours or even a day ahead with oil flavoured by sprigs of rosemary, thyme or onion. Cut into cubes or stamp out into various shapes – hearts, stars, clubs, diamonds or whatever else takes your fancy – and sprinkle over salads or serve with soups. Serves 4

2 slices of slightly stale white bread, 5mm (1⁄4in) thick

sunflower or olive oil

First cut the crusts off the bread, then cut into 5mm (1⁄4in) strips and finally exact cubes.

Heat the oil in a frying pan. It should be at least 2cm (3⁄4in) deep and almost smoking. Put a tin sieve over a Pyrex or stainless-steel bowl.

Add the croutons to the hot oil. Stir once or twice; they will colour almost immediately. When the croutons are golden brown in colour, pour the oil and croutons into the sieve and drain on kitchen paper. Reheat the oil to cook another batch or use for another purpose.

Gratin of Potato, Spring Onion and Bacon

Potatoes are filling and inexpensive.

Potato gratins are a tasty, nourishing and economical way to feed lots of hungry people on a chilly evening, this recipe could also include little pieces of bacon or a lamb chop cut into dice, so it can be a sustaining main course or a delicious accompaniment.

Serves 4 as a main course

Serves 6 as an accompaniment

4oz (110g) to 8oz (225g) of streaky bacon

3 lbs (1.5kg) ‘old’ potatoes, eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks

2 bunches of spring onions

1 oz (25g) butter

3-6 ozs (75-175g) Irish mature Cheddar cheese, grated

salt and freshly ground pepper

 (300-450ml) homemade chicken, beef or vegetable stock

Oval ovenproof gratin dish – 12 1/2 inch (31.5cm) long x 2 inch (5cm) high

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/regulo 6.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and cook on medium heat until the fat runs and the bacon is crispy.

Slice the peeled potatoes thinly, blanch and refresh. Trim the spring onions and chop both the green and white parts into approx. 1/4 inch (5mm) slices with a scissors or a knife.

Rub an oven proof dish thickly with half the butter, scatter with some of the spring onions, and half the bacon then a layer of potatoes and then some grated cheese. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Continue to build up the layers finishing with an overlapping layer of potatoes, neatly arranged. Pour in the boiling stock, scatter with the remaining cheese and dot with butter.

Bake in a preheated oven for 1-1 1/4 hours or until the potatoes and bacon are tender and the top is brown and crispy.



It may be necessary to cover the potatoes with a paper lid for the first half of the cooking.

Blackberry, Apple and Sweet Geranium Crumble


Serves 6-8

Crumbles are comfort food; vary the fruit according to the season.

1 1/2 lbs (675g) Bramley Seedling cooking apples

4oz (110g) blackberries

1 1/2-2 ozs (45-50g) sugar

1-2 tablespoons water

2 chopped sweet geranium leaves (pelargonium graveolens)


4 ozs (110g) white flour, preferably unbleached

2 ozs (50g) cold butter

2 ozs (50g) castor sugar

1 oz (25g) chopped almonds or hazelnuts (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)


2 pint (1.1L) capacity pie dish


Peel the apples, cut into quarters, remove the core and cut into large cubes.

Turn into a pie dish, scatter the blackberries and chopped sweet geranium leaves over the top. Sprinkle with sugar.


Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the apple in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar.

Crab Apple or Bramley Apple Jelly

This makes lots and will see you through the winter – also a handy and welcome present.

Makes 2.7-3kg (6-7 lb)

2.7kg (6 lb) crab apples or wind fall cooking apples

2.7L (4 3/4 pints) water

2 unwaxed lemons


Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 3/4 hour.

Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted – usually overnight. Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 450g (1lb/2 cups) sugar to each 600ml (1pint/2 1/2 cups) of juice. Warm the sugar in a low oven.

Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly uncovered without stirring for about 8-10 minutes. Skim, test and pot immediately.


Hot Tips

National Organic Week is on from Monday 12th to Sunday 18th September. for events and try to link into your local organic farmer to buy direct.

For brilliant chemical free vegetables, seek out Caroline Robinson’s stall on the Coal Quay Farmers Market in Cork every Saturday from 9am to 4:30pm.

Learn how to make your own cheese –

on Corleggy Farm in Belturbet, Co Cavan, with Silke Cropp on a one day cheese making course on Sunday 18th September and take home your very own kilo of cows milk cheese. €150.00 for the full day including lunch, to book email

Calling all pub owners!

If you’d like to learn some really great gastropub cooking don’t miss Jonathan Jones who owns the hugely successful Anchor and Hope pub in London. He will teach a practical two and half day course at Ballymaloe Cookery School from Monday 12th to Wednesday 15th September. Book online at or phone 021 4646785.

The School of Restaurant and Kitchen Management

Pub Food Management course is 12 days spread out over September, October and November –giving participants the opportunity to put into practice what they learn as the course progresses – the first day is on Tuesday 13th September visit

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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