Every year we have a thanksgiving feast in the greenhouses towards the end of July – A Long Table dinner for 100 people in the midst of the tomato vines and scarlet runner beans. Virtually all the food comes from the farm and gardens, the floury British Queen potatoes from Willie Scannell’s farm in Ballyandreen and the fish comes from nearby Ballycotton. It’s a magical evening – a celebration of the work of the gardeners and farm lads and an opportunity for the guests to get a glimpse behind the scenes of a 100 acre organic farm and gardens, which grows a wide variety of crops – fruit, veg and fresh herbs. We also have lots of hens, several sows, heritage breeds that snuffle about outdoors all their happy lives. The home-made butter, cheese, yoghurt and buttermilk is made from the milk of our Jersey cows and the beef from the Aberdeen Angus, Kerry and Dexter cattle.
This was the third year . People came from Alabama, Arkasas, Los Angeles, North Carolina, Copenhagen, UK and Ireland, many were return guests who joined us in former years. The event raises money to support the East Cork Slow Food Educational project which links in with nine local schools to teach children how to grow and cook. We deliver a chicken coop to each school with two hens so the children can learn how to look after poultry, you can’t imagine the excitement when the hens lay their first eggs. The chicken manure goes onto the compost heap in the school which helps to enrich the soil so the children can grow more beautiful fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit in the school gardens.
Rory O Connell, my brother and co-founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School devised the menu, planned the event, cooked the meal with Ballymaloe Cookery School team of teachers and full supporting cast who wouldn’t miss the buzz for anything.
This year we had the first fresh figs and grapes from the greenhouse as well as sweet heritage cherry tomatoes and baby cucumbers for our guests to taste.
It’s a big operation which takes several months to plan. After the crop of early potatoes come out of the ground in April, Haulie sows ‘lawn seed’ in one of the bays to provide a green carpet for the long table. The one acre green house is a legacy of an earlier horticultural enterprise originally created by my father-in-law Ivan Allen in the 1940’s. The greenhouse provides us with a one acre protected garden that enables us to grow a myriad of crops from tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers, chillis, beans, sweetcorn, salad leaves, herbs, beetroot, chard, kale, even peaches, nectarines, grapes, kiwi and pomegranates. Lemon grass, lime leaves and epasote grown in a dry corner at the nursery end so we can have fun with Asian and Mexican dishes.
So there’s lots of beautiful produce to choose from. The gardeners plant some tall flowers between the dollies to frame the green lawn and a day or two before the event screens are erected to screen the field kitchen from which all the food emerges.
Guests arrive at the cookery school around four o clock in the afternoon, Sommeliers Colm McCann and Fionn Little are waiting with a bio dynamic fizz and several cordials. This year had lots of fizz of fresh mint, so we also served Syrian lemonade, a recipe I brought back from a visit to Damascus in 2009.
The starters are served family style , guests help themselves and each other, Jack Mc Carthy from Kanturk cured the hams from, our own Saddlepork pigs, Rory served them with Ballyhoura mushrooms which Lucy Creegan herself delivered earlier in the day. Anna Leveque’s beautiful handmade Triscal goat cheese was served with Rory’s plum membrillo and summer purslane. Emer Fitzgerald had foraged earlier on Shanagarry strand for the sea lettuce, marsh samphire, sea rosemary and sea purslane that embellished the starters.
After the guests have enjoyed an aperitif, we walk them through the farm, gardens and dairy past the hens, Saddleback pigs and heritage cattle grazing in the fields. Eventually we pass the herbaceous border and the shell house, and wend our way through the wildflower meadow under Dusto’s butterfly graffiti arch into the field vegetables. Here guests can see Jerusalem and globe artichokes, seakale, asparagus, rhubarb, runner beans, several types of brassicas, beets and potatoes. There’s also a strip of wheat destined for milling into flour for the Autumn 12 week course students to experiment with. Eventually we arrive at the greenhouse which resembles the Garden of Eden at this time of year. The Gardeners are playing music, Rupert Hugh Jones on the tin whistle, Sean Kelleher on guitar & vocals, Eileen Healy on fiddle and Coleman Kelleher on drums.
The Long Table has been covered with a white linen cloth and there’s a marigold peeping out of the top of each starched napkin. It all looks so beautiful in the midst of the vegetables and fruit and the feast begins.
The Gardeners play a tantalising mix of compositions and traditional a totally enchanting event raising money for an incredibly important cause – East Cork Slow Food Educational Project teaching local children how to cook and grow some of their own food.
Chilled Cucumber Soup with Melon and Verbena
1 large cucumber organic if possible
8 fl ozs (225ml) light cream
4 fl ozs (110ml) natural yoghurt
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
1/2 or 1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon finely chopped gherkins, optional
1 tablespoons finely chopped mint
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon very finely chopped verbena
1 Charentais or Ogen melon
Fresh verbena leaves
Grate the cucumber on the coarsest part of the grater. Stir in all the other ingredients. Season well. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve chilled in shot glasses or small bowls garnished with a few balls of ripe Charentais or Ogen melon and fresh verbena leaves.
Salt Hake with Spiced Aubergines and Rocket Leaves
1 x 1-1 1/2lbs (450g – 675g) hake
1 1/2oz – 2oz (40 – 50g) salt
3 fl ozs (75ml) cream
2 fl oz (50ml) olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
500g (1 lb 2 ozs) Slim Jim aubergines
250ml (8 fl ozs/1 cup) approximate extra virgin olive oil
2 inches (5cm) cube of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
12 large cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely crushed
110ml (4 fl ozs/1/2 cup) water
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) cumin seeds
700g (1 1/2lbs) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or 2 x 400g (14ozs) tin tomatoes + 1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoon) freshly ground coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like)
First make the spiced aubergines.
Cut the aubergine into 3/4 inch (2cm) thick slices. Heat 175ml (6 fl ozs/3/4 cup) of oil in a deep 10-12 inch (25-30cm) frying pan. When hot, almost smoking, add a few aubergine slices and cook until golden and tender on both sides. Remove and drain on a wire rack over a baking sheet. Repeat with the remainder of the aubergines, adding more oil if necessary. Alternatively brush generously with extra virgin olive oil and cook on a hot pan-grill.
Put the ginger, garlic and water into a blender. Blend until fairly smooth.
Heat 3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) of oil in the frying pan. When hot, add the fennel and cumin seeds, (careful not to let them burn). Stir for just a few seconds then put in the chopped tomato, the ginger-garlic mixture, coriander, turmeric, cayenne and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally until the spice mixture thickens slightly, 5-6 minutes.
Add the fried aubergine slices and raisins, and coat gently with the spicy sauce. Cover the pan, turn the heat to very low and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Keep aside.
Next, salt the hake.
Nowadays we salt to preserve fish in the short-term or to enhance flavour so there’s no need to use so much salt or salt for so long as years ago.
dairy or sea salt
thick, unskinned cod, hake, haddock or ling fillet
Sprinkle a thin layer of dairy or sea salt over the base of a lasagne dish or plastic box. Put the fish fillet on top. Cover loosely and refrigerate for 2 hours. Cut into pieces, cook in boiling water for 3-4 minutes depending on thickness, lift out carefully and drain.
It is now ready to be cooked. Salt cod can keep for up to a month if heavily salted, but we normally lightly salt it and use it within a couple of days or a week.
Put the fish into simmering water for 4-5 minutes depending on the thickness.
Bring cream, olive oil and garlic to the boil. Drain the fish and remove the skin. Put a portion on a warm plate, spoon a couple of tablespoons of garlic cream over the fish. Top with some warm spiced aubergine and garnish with a few rocket leaves.
Smoked Pollock with Marsh Samphire
Serves 8 as a starter
1-11/2lbs (450g- 700g) warm smoked Pollock
4-5ozs (110g- 160g) marsh samphire
2 red and yellow peppers
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Roast the peppers in a hot oven, 250C/475F/gas mark 9. Put the peppers on a baking tray and bake for 20-30 minutes until the skin blisters and the flesh is soft.
Put a wire rack over a mild gas jet, roast the pepper on all sides. When they are charred, remove. When roasted, put pepper into a bowl, cover tightly with cling film for a few minutes, this will make them much easier to peel. Peel and deseed and cut into strips. Next cook the samphire. Put the samphire into a saucepan of boiling water (not salted), bring back to the boil and simmer for about 3-4 minutes or until tender. Drain off the water (refresh in cold water if serving later).Toss in extra virgin olive – no salt because samphire has a natural salty tang.
Divide the smoked Pollock into nice pieces, arrange on a serving platter with strips of red and yellow pepper and sprigs of samphire on top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground pepper and a few flakes of sea salt.
How to hot smoke fish
You don’t need any special equipment – even a biscuit tin will do.
Lay the fish fillets flesh side up on a tray, sprinkle the unskinned Pollock with salt as though you were seasoning generously.
Leave for at least an hour but not more than 3 hours. Dry the fillets with kitchen paper, place on a wire rack and allow to dry in a cool, airy place for 30 minutes approx.. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sawdust (we use apple wood) on the base of a rectangular biscuit tin or smoking box (www.nesbits.ie) . Put a wire rack into the tin and lay the fish, flesh side up on top. Put the box on a gas jet over a high heat for a minute or so until the sawdust starts to smoulder. Cover the box. Reduce the heat and smoke for 6-7 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to sit unopened for 8-10 minutes.
Remove from the box and serve as you like.
Syrian Laymoun bi-na na – Fresh Lemon Juice with Mint
Freshly squeezed juices were widely available everywhere in Damascus and Aleppo – in restaurants and on street stalls, lots of orange and pomegranate of course, but we particularly enjoyed this refreshing lemon and mint drink.
juice of six lemons
300ml/10fl oz/ (½ pint) stock syrup
300ml/10fl oz/ (½ pint) cold water
2 fistfuls of fresh mint leaves
Squeeze the lemons, pour the juice into a liquidiser, add the syrup, fresh mint leaves and iced water. Whizz until mint is fine and the drink is frothy. Pour into a tall glass, drink through a straw while still fresh, divine.
Summer Bombe with Fresh Strawberry Coulis
J. R. Ryall, pastry chef at Ballymaloe House decorated the Bombe with fresh cherries from Tourin Farm and mint leaves.
Serves 12 – 16
1 x stainless steel or enamel pudding bowl, 4 pints (2.L/10 cups) capacity
Vanilla Ice Cream
4 ozs (110g/1/2 cup) sugar
8 fl ozs (250ml/1 cup) water
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
2 pints (1.1L/5 cups) whipped cream
Blackcurrant Ice Cream
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) sugar
4 fl ozs (120ml/1/2 cup) water
1/2 pint (300ml/1 1/2 cups) blackcurrant, puree
1 pint (600ml/2 1/2 cups) whipped cream
Strawberry Ice Cream
2 lbs (900g) very ripe strawberries
1/2 lb (225g/1 cup) castor sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 orange
1/2 pint (300ml/1 1/4 cups) water
1/4 pint (150ml/generous 1/2 cup) whipped cream
1/2 lb (225g) whole strawberries
whipped cream and fresh mint leaves
First make the vanilla ice cream. Put the egg yolks into a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy (keep the white for meringues). Combine the sugar and water in a small heavy bottomed saucepan, stir over heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the spoon and boil the syrup until it reaches the ‘thread’ stage, 106-113°C (223-226°F). It will look thick and syrupy, when a metal spoon is dipped in, the last drops of syrup will form thin threads. Pour this boiling syrup in a steady stream onto the egg yolks, whisking all the time. Add vanilla essence and continue to whisk until it becomes a thick creamy white mousse. Softly whip the cream – it should just hold the print of the whisk. Measure and make sure you have 2 pints (600ml/2 1/2 cups) of whipped cream. Fold the softly whipped cream into the mousse. Put the pudding bowl into the freezer for about 10 minutes, so that it will be icy cold. Line a bowl with the vanilla ice cream in an even layer, put it into the freezer and after about 1 hour take it out and improve the shape if necessary.
Meanwhile make the blackcurrant and strawberry ice cream.
First make the blackcurrant ice cream. Make as the previous recipe to the mousse stage. Add to it a semi-sweet blackcurrant puree. This fruit can be raw and sweetened with a thick syrup or cooked in a syrup. Taste for sweetness after adding to the mousse adding more syrup if necessary. Fold in the cream. Set to freeze.
Next make the strawberry ice cream.
Dissolve the sugar in the water, boil for 7-10 minutes, leave to cool. Puree the strawberries in a food processor or blender, sieve. Add orange and lemon juice to the cold syrup. Stir into the puree, fold the whipped cream into the puree. Freeze in an ice-cream machine or alternatively freeze in a freezer until slushy. Fill the strawberry ice cream into the middle of the bombe, cover the bowl with a plastic clip on lid or cling film and freeze sold, Leave overnight if possible.
Unmould the bombe and decorate with fresh strawberries, rosettes of whipped cream and fresh mint leaves. Serve with a strawberry coulis.
16 ozs (450g) fresh strawberries
2 1/2 ozs (70g/1/2 cup) icing sugar
Clean and hull the strawberries, add to the blender with sugar and blend. Strain, taste and add lemon juice if necessary. Store in a fridge.
The Wild Atlantic Way
John & Sally Mc Kenna were quick to support the brilliant marketing strategy . The Wild Atlantic Way which highlights the myriad of attractions from Donegal to Kinsale. The new Mc Kenna Guide on where to eat and stay on the Wild Atlantic Way is so full of gems that it was all I could do to resist the temptation to jump into the car and head for Innishowen. I thought I might start at Harry’s restaurant to get a taste of Innishowen and if I made it for Saturday morning I could taste the Slow Food Co breads fresh from the woodfired oven at Harry’s Saturday market – tempted …..