The past few weeks have been tough on a whole variety of ways – each family has its own set of challenges.
On the food scene, it has been little short of astonishing to see the ingenuity and resourcefulness of farmers and local food producers who have come up with a myriad of solutions to get their perishable products to their local customers. Many foods are already in short supply. People are in desperation for flour.
Millers like Donal Creedon at Macroom Mills (026 41800) have been milling virtually around the clock.
Farmers continue to care for their animals, milk cows and sow and plant to ensure future harvests.
They are setting up farm gate sales contactless delivery and payment via Revolut.
Neighbourfood hubs (www.neighbourfood.ie) are springing up around the country much to the appreciation of both food producers and local community. Just look at how creative we can be, what individuals and communities can organise when they are allowed to get on with it. Up to 60 years ago, towns and villages were virtually self-sufficient – we could so easily work towards that again, in energy, waste disposal and food production services.
We are having quite the wake-up call – food for thought – time to think outside the box and give thanks for so many blessings even in these terrifying times. Let’s concentrate on finding the silver lining that we are told is behind every dark cloud.
Easter is the time of resurrection, take hope this too will pass but meanwhile, let’s have a little celebration tomorrow, Easter Sunday. Go along to your valiant local butchers who are still supplying us with meat. Buy a leg or shoulder of lamb, pop it in the oven with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, let it roast it slowly to delicious succulence.
While you are it, don’t forget to buy some fresh lamb liver, loaded with Vitamin A combined with Vitamin D that we need to boost our immune systems to help us resist disease and virus. While you are there, ask for a big bag of bones to make a fine pot of broth. Another brilliant food to keep us well, it also freezes brilliantly.
Cod liver oil was the only thing I bulk bought. A bottle for each of my children’s houses and several bottles to spoon into my hard working teachers, who are working flat out to make nourishing wholesome food for the Farm Shop and the heroic team on the farm and gardens who are also crazy busy, sowing, planting to ensure future harvests – reminds me of when I was a child, everyone took cod liver oil in Winter to protect them from colds and flu – it tasted disgusting then…..tastes better and quite appealing now but get an unrefined or fermented one if you can.
A great big roasting tin of Winter vegetables would be delicious with the lamb and of course lots of roast potatoes.
Tender fresh mint leaves are just leaping out of the ground in my herb patch – such joy…I’m making some apple and mint jelly and don’t forget Myrtle’s delicious simple mint sauce to accompany the Easter Sunday Lamb.
I also have something else wonderful, not many of you will know. It’s a perennial kale with several names Cut and Come, Hungry Gap and Cottiers Kale. All those names give you a clue as to its attributes, a tender kale with the texture of spinach and the flavour of kale. The more you pluck it, the more it grows and it fills the hungry gap between the end of the Winter crops and the beginning of the Summer bounty. It’s propagated by root cutting rather than seeds so look out for plants – it really merits a space in your plot. Watch out for it at Neighbourfood for the next few weeks and we’ll also have some at the Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop in Shanagarry.
And then for pudding, our favourite rhubarb tart – I’ve given this recipe in my column several times but here we are again – it’s made with a ‘break all the rules’ pastry, that anyone can make. Chill it well. It’ll become your favourite pie pasty for all fruit tarts…gooseberry and elderflower, plums, stone fruit.
Stay resilient and continue to dig deep to find the inner strength you didn’t even know you had – look out for each other and continue the little acts of kindness.
Happy Easter to you and all your family.
Easter Lamb with Myrtle Allen’s Mint Sauce
Young Spring Lamb is sweet and succulent and needs absolutely no embellishment apart from a dusting of salt and pepper and a little fresh Mint Sauce – made from the first tender sprigs of mint from the cold frame in the Kitchen garden.
For me this is the quintessential taste of Easter.
1 leg of spring lamb
salt and freshly ground pepper
600ml (1 pint) lamb or chicken stock
a little roux (see recipe)
salt and freshly ground pepper
Sprigs of fresh mint and parsley
Mint Sauce (see recipe)
If possible ask your butcher to remove the aitch bone from the top of the leg of lamb so that it will be easier to carve later, then trim the knuckle end of the leg. Season the skin with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put into a roasting tin.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.
Roast for 1-1 1/4 hours approx. for rare, 1 1/4 -1 1/2 hours for medium and 1 1/2-1 3/4 hours for well done, depending on size. When the lamb is cooked to your taste, remove the joint to a carving dish. Rest the lamb for 10 minutes before carving.
Meanwhile make the gravy. Degrease the juices in the roasting tin, add stock. Bring to the boil and whisk in a little roux to thicken slightly. Taste and allow to bubble up until the flavour is concentrated enough. Correct the seasoning and serve hot with the lamb, roast spring onions and lots of crusty roast potatoes.
Myrtle Allen’s Mint Sauce
Traditional Mint Sauce made with tender young shoots of fresh mint takes only minutes to make. It’s the perfect accompaniment to Spring lamb but for those who are expecting a bright green jelly, the slightly dull colour and watery texture comes as a surprise. That’s how it ought to be, try it.
Makes 175ml approx.
25g finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons sugar
110ml boiling water
25ml white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
Put the sugar and freshly-chopped mint into a sauce boat. Add the boiling water and vinegar or lemon juice. Allow to infuse for 5-10 minutes before serving.
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
Lamb Stock for Gravy or Broth
You could make more if you have a large enough pot, strain – it will freeze perfectly.
3kg lamb bones (or less or more)
2 large carrots
2 large onions
2 stalks of celery
A bouquet garni made up of a sprig of thyme, parsley stalks, a small bay leaf
Preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 8.
Put the bones into a roasting tin and roast for 20-30 minutes or until the bones are well browned. Add the onions, carrots and celery and return to the oven until the vegetables are also browned. Transfer the bones and vegetables to the stock pot with a metal spoon. Add the bouquet garni and peppercorns. De-grease the roasting pan and deglaze with some water, bring to the boil and pour over the bones and vegetables. Add the rest of the water and bring slowly to the boil. Top up the liquid from time to time with water. Skim the stock and simmer gently, uncovered for 4-5 hours. Strain the stock, allow it to get cold, and skim off all the fat before use. This stock will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. If you want to keep it for longer, boil it for 10 minutes, and then chill again. It can also be frozen.
liquid with water to the pot and cook uncovered to reduce by quarter or half to
concentrate the flavour.
Cottier’s Kale, Cut and Come or Hungry Gap
1.3kg cottier’s kale
3 teaspoons salt
salt and freshly ground pepper
Remove the stalks from the sprigs of kale. Wash and drain greens. Cook with the lid off for about 5 minutes until tender. Drain off all the water. Chop well, add a big lump of butter, and plenty of freshly ground pepper and salt.
Note: Cut and Come kale, like spinach, reduces a lot during cooking, so you need to start off with a large potful.
Oven-Roasted Root Vegetables
Keep the pieces nice and chunky.
About equal volumes of:
swede turnips, peeled
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper, whole
a few whole cloves of garlic, optional
2-3 tablespoons herbs (thyme, rosemary, chives and parsley), freshly chopped
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.
Peel the vegetables and cut into similar sized pieces – 2cm cubes are a good size. Put all the vegetables into a large bowl. Drizzle generously with olive oil and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread them in a single layer on one or several roasting tins. Roast, uncovered, stirring occasionally until they are fully cooked and just beginning to caramelize. Be careful, a little colour makes them sweeter, but there is a narrow line between caramelizing and burning. If they become too dark they will be bitter.
Serve sprinkled with freshly chopped herbs, e.g. thyme, rosemary, chives and parsley.
Some freshly roasted and ground cumin or coriander is also a delicious addition just before the end of cooking.
Cullohill Rhubarb Pie
This is a gem of a recipe – a real keeper. The pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.
225g soft butter
50g castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
350g white flour, preferably unbleached
900g sliced red rhubarb (about 1cm thick)
egg wash-made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk
castor sugar for sprinkling
softly whipped cream
tin, 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm deep
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.
First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour slowly. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle.
To make the tart
Roll out the pastry 3mm thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Place the sliced rhubarb into the tart, sprinkle with sugar. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the apples are tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.