The focus of this weekend’s Examiner supplement is Sustainability – What could be more timely? But for many of us the word sustainability is confusing and has many interpretations. A loose definition of Sustainable Agriculture might be – farming in sustainable ways which meet societies present food requirements without damaging the environment or compromising the ability for current or future generations to meet their needs.
The past few weeks have amongst many other things, given us a badly needed opportunity to press the Pause Button in our busy lives. I suppose it must be my imagination that Spring and early Summer 2020 was the most beautiful ever. The birds are singing their little hearts out to cheer us up….everything on the farm and in the gardens is green, vibrant and blossoming. Mother Nature seems to be compensating for our misery and despair and reminding us that, given half a chance, she will provide abundance for us. Even in this short time, changes in human behaviour have benefitted the planet – Quieter skies, clearer water, cleaner air, healthier nature, bird and insect populations increasing….
We can’t stay in ‘lockdown’ forever but we now know that we can make massive, rapid changes when we adapt the ways we work and live. When this terrible pandemic is over, we have a chance to change our behavior to offer a secure future, and survivable temperatures to our children and grandchildren, and we MUST. For years now we have heard and largely ignored the scientists and climatologists predictions. We could scarcely comprehend the scale of the threat to the planet and future generations….even if we could absorb the seriousness of the situation, many felt helpless – It was virtually impossible to believe that Governments and vested interests would ‘step up to the plate’ to implement the changes that needed to be made. Nothing but the Covid 19 enforced change could have achieved so much in such a short time. The pandemic should not have come as such a surprise, something of this magnitude was predicted over and over again, not least by Nostradamus, in Aboriginal Lore and by scientists, yet many Governments failed to listen and prepare.
As the planet became more and more polluted, causing almost irreversible climate change, extreme weather conditions – floods, tornados, cyclones, hurricanes…. We were too distracted and growth obsessed at any price to notice. Food became increasingly less nourishing, compromising our health and immune systems so we are less and less able to survive the increasing number of viruses that are challenging our systems.
I know I’m like a broken record but surely it must now be beyond obvious that there is an urgent need to re-imbed practical cooking and other life skills, including growing food into the national and secondary school curriculum. No Irish child, boy or girl, must ever again be awarded a Leaving Certificate without being able to prove they can cook for themselves. Otherwise, we are undeniably, failing in our duty of care to our young people, as many helpless 20, 30 and 40 year olds have realised to their cost in the past couple of months.
So how do we practice sustainability in our everyday lives? Once we start to think that way there are a myriad of opportunities. We can make a huge contribution in the way we choose to spend our food euro. Think about each and every item we put into our shopping baskets – really focus on supporting local producers and small businesses as much as possible. Let’s ask ourselves a few basic questions – Is it in season, does it’s production damage the environment, is it properly nourishing, are the producers being paid a fair price, how about animal welfare, packaging….After all that am I buying more than I need? Let’s work towards zero waste in every aspect of our lives?
Start to grow some of our own food, even if it’s just a few salad leaves on a windowsill – you can’t imagine the joy and satisfaction…Realize that it’s worth paying a little more for chemical free food – after all it’s surely better to be proactive and invest in our food as medicine rather than paying for meds and food supplements – let’s be proactive. Make your own bread, few things, give more satisfaction. Here’s another super simple recipe that you and your family will enjoy making and eating together.
Basic Shanagarry Brown Soda Bread
This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin. This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.
Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves (see below for tin sizes)
400g (14ozs) stone ground wholemeal flour
75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)
1 egg, preferably free range
1 tablespoon sunflower oil, unscented
1 teaspoon honey or treacle
425ml (15fl ozs) buttermilk or sourmilk approx.
sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)
Loaf tin 23×12.5x5cm (9x5x2in) OR 3 small loaf tins 5.75 inches (14.6cm) x 3 inches (7.62cm)
Preheat oven to 200ºC / 400ºF / Gas Mark 6.
Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins – using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
The quantity of buttermilk can vary depending on thickness. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cream to low-fat buttermilk (optional).
Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry
We love Sri Lankan vegetable curries and their clever use of spices and delicious flavours. Serve as an accompaniment as part of a curry feast or as a dish alone with a salad.
2–3 tablespoons sunflower oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
50g (2oz) red onion, chopped
5 curry leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
8cm (3 1/4 inch) piece of cinnamon stick
500g (18oz) beetroot, peeled and cut into 4cm
10 fenugreek seeds
5 green chillies
225ml (8fl oz) coconut milk, whisked
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in a deep frying pan over a medium heat, add the garlic, onion, curry leaves, curry powder and cinnamon to the pan, stir and cook for 2 minutes. Then add the beetroot, stir and add the fenugreek seeds, chillies and some salt. Bring to the boil, add the coconut milk and continue to cook for about 20 minutes until the beetroot is tender. Season to taste.
Little New Potatoes with Lovage Mayonnaise
Loveage is a perennial herb with a distinct celery flavor, look out for it in the garden centers when they open it’s a really good thing to have in your garden. We use it in lots of different ways but its particularly delicious added to potato soup or as a flavouring for mayo.
Serves 4-8 depending on whether to be served as a snack, canapé or starter
20 freshly dug tiny new potatoes or larger ones, halved
Flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
Makes 300ml (1⁄2 pint)
2 organic egg yolks
pinch of English mustard or 1⁄4 teaspoon French mustard
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
225ml (8fl oz) oil (sunflower or olive oil or a mixture) – we use 175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil
1 dessertspoon chopped lovage
Flaky sea salt
First make the lovage mayonnaise. Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, salt and white wine vinegar. Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop, whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain rate. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary. Stir in the finely chopped lovage, taste and add more if necessary.
If the mayonnaise curdles, it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1–2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl and whisking in the curdled mayonnaise, a half-teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.
Next scrub the potatoes well. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender, about 10 minutes depending on size. Drain.
Serve warm with a little dollop of mayonnaise on top of each or of each half. Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt.
Elderflower Cake with Green Gooseberry Compote
When I’m driving through country lanes in late May or early June, suddenly I spy the elderflower coming into bloom. Then I know its time to go and search on gooseberry bushes for the hard, green fruit, far too under-ripe at that stage to eat raw, but wonderful cooked in tarts or fools or in this delicious Compote.
Elderflowers have an extraordinary affinity with green gooseberries and by a happy arrangement of nature they are both in season at the same time.
350g (12 oz) soft butter
350g (12oz) caster sugar
4 eggs, preferably free range
350g (12oz) self-raising flour
2 heads of elderflower
50g (2oz) caster sugar
150ml (5fl oz) water
zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon
We used a round tin with slightly sloping sides – 4cm (1 1/2 inch) deep, bottom diameter 21.5cm (8 1/2 inch), 24cm (9 1/2 inch) across top, well greased, but a regular 23cm (9 inch) round cake tin will be fine.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.
Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well buttered tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour approx. or until golden brown and well risen.
Meanwhile make the syrup. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, add the elderflowers, bring to the boil for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and add the lemon zest and juice. Leave aside to cool. Strain.
As soon as the cake is cooked, pour all the syrup over the top, leave to cool. (see note at end of recipe)
Remove the cake from the tin and serve with Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote and softly whipped cream for dessert.
A slice of the cake on its own with a cup of tea is also delicious.
Note: If you are serving the cake on its own, only pour half the syrup over it.
Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote
900g (2lb) green gooseberries
2 or 3 elderflower heads
600ml (1 pint) cold water
450g (1lb) sugar
First top and tail the gooseberries. Tie 2 or 3 elderflower heads in a little square of muslin, put in a stainless steel or enamelled saucepan, add the sugar and cover with cold water. Bring slowly to the boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Add the gooseberries and simmer just until the fruit bursts. Allow to get cold. Serve in a pretty bowl and decorate with fresh elderflowers.
Wild and Free
Elderflower – Sambucus nigra – perennial
Joy of joys – elderflowers are back in season. Those of us who live in the Countryside often have elder trees in abundance but this plant grows everywhere and anywhere, in towns, villages, parks, and even a little twig stuck in the ground will root with relative ease. From late Spring to early Summer it produces white fluffy blossoms which turn into elder berries in the Autumn. The leaves, stalks and roots are toxic but although the elder flowers have a musty sort of scent their flavour is magically transformed during cooking to a haunting muscat flavour. We use them in a myriad of different ways in the kitchen. Ederflowers have a particular affinity with green gooseberries which are in season at the same time.
Good for you – Elder flower is a diuretic, laxative, antiseptic and also has antiviral properties. The flowers are known for their high antioxidant content and vitamin C – important for boosting your immune system.