Anyone who has experienced the chaos in so many airports this Summer, to get to their longed-for holiday destination, may well have questioned whether it’s really worth the effort. Having battled to get there, many were sizzled alive at temperatures from mid-30˚C to 40˚C…
Been there, done that too so from now on, whenever I can snatch a few precious days, I’m determined to explore parts of Ireland hitherto not visited. I haven’t been to the North since before the pandemic so let me tell you about a recent trip to the Mourne Mountain area in Co. Down. It’s such a beautiful area, a hill walkers paradise but I was also on a food trail.
Ireland artisan producer scene has exploded since peace was restored in 1998
and Government funded organisations in different regions have been generous in
their support of those with a spark of entrepreneurial spirit.
Mourne Mountains and Ring of Guillion plus Savour Mourne were also very supportive with information on where to visit in the area. Killeavy Castle Estate has been saved from an advanced state of dereliction and restored by an Australian couple Mick and Robyn Boyle with a connection to the area. It’s set in the midst of a 330-acre farm, woodlands and walled gardens. Young chef, Darragh Dooley is super enthusiastic about local produce and is on a mission to use as much produce as possible from the estate – beef from the longhorn cattle, lamb from the flock of Cheviot sheep, vegetables, fruits, fresh herbs…a work-in-progress but an admirable aspiration… (www.killeavycastle.com).
Darragh and his kitchen team cooked us a delicious lunch where I also met several local producers, Damien Tumulty rears Dexter cattle and sells online from Castlescreen Farm (www.castlescreenfarm.com) , Andrew Boyd makes a range of award-winning ciders at Kilmegan when he’s not teaching rowing (www.kilmegancider.com ). Another local entrepreneur Brendan Carty set up Killowen Distillery in 2019 – he makes whiskey, gin, rum, liqueurs and poitín. There are so many good things to taste and explore in this area – www.killowendistillery.com
Ann Ward, a medic, set up meditation and mindfulness Xhale Experience Yoga and forest bathing – how about that for a fun and restorative experience (www.xhale.biz).
We also tasted several Northern Ireland artisan cheeses – Young Buck – a delicious, feisty blue made by cheese pioneer, Mike Thompson and Ballylisk Tripple Rose made by the Wright family from the milk of their pedigree Holstein herd. The sweet and nutty soda bread was served with local honey and treacle.
A few miles along the road in Castlewellan, another highlight…this time, an artisan brewery tour. The Whitewater Brewing Company was established in 1996 by Bernard and Kerrie Sloan – on a 5th generation family farm. This dynamic, innovative couple are making some of the best artisan beer on the island of Ireland. They have also been super courageous in their business decisions investing with ‘fingers crossed’ in a bottling plant and later a canning plant that has been a huge success and has opened up many more options. Their completely natural beers are gluten-free and vegan friendly and have won top awards here and abroad are now exported not just to France, Italy and Sweden but also to Japan. Their latest venture is an interesting range of Selzers which will be launched in September. Their enthusiasm was irresistible and infectious. Visit them when you are in the area or get 3 or 4 pals together to spend a day learning how to make a ‘wee brew’ together in the Brew School – www.whitewaterbrewery.com
We enjoyed a spectacular dinner cooked by multi award-winning chef Paul Cunningham who cooks at secret locations. He popped up at Carrick Cottage Café in Annalong. Carrick Cottage Café is really worth seeking out on any day (www.carrickcottagecafe.co.uk).
Apart from all of this, the rugged landscape and granite stone walls in the Mournes and the long drive along the coast is truly spectacular – an exciting new discovery for me as was the charming little Hillyard Hotel in Castlewellan (www.hillyard-house.co.uk).
Here are some of the recipes I enjoyed on my trip…
Granny Mary’s Wheaten Bread
Makes 18 x 7cm (2.5 inch) squares
Feel free to use half the recipe and use a smaller tin
1 large rectangular tin with edges 32cm/13 inch (length) x 23cm/9 inch (width) x 5cm/2 inch in depth
1kg (2 1/4lb) wholemeal flour
200g (7oz) porridge oats
25g (1 tablespoon) salt
15-20g (3-4 teaspoons) bread soda
100ml (3 1/2oz) olive oil
75ml (3 tablespoons) treacle
50g (3 tablespoons) caster sugar
110g (6 tablespoons) coarse pinhead oatmeal
1200ml (2 pints) buttermilk
75g (3oz) mixed sunflower and pumpkin seeds
Preheat the oven to 175˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3.
Oil the sides and base of the tin and line with parchment paper.
In a large bowl mix flour, oats, salt, bread soda, sugar and pinhead together and mix by hand until combined. In another bowl whisk the eggs add the treacle and olive oil and buttermilk. Whisk to combine. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients and mix to a soft dough.
Pour the mix into the lined tin. Sprinkle with 75g (3oz) of mixed seeds.
Bake in the preheated oven for 75 minutes.
Remove from oven take out of tin and bake for 10 more minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
Best served warm with some unsalted butter.
Adapted from Killeavy Castle Estate (August 2022)
Darragh tells me ‘our wheaten bread is best eaten between 1 to 3 days after baking but it freezes brilliantly’.
Mourne Food Adventures Nana’s No Bake Fifteens
Makes 1 roll
A twist on the traditional Ulster traybake using local foraged and artisan ingredients. This recipe is handed down from my grandmother who emigrated to Wyoming USA in the 1930s when provisions were scarce.
gorse or whin bush flowers or cornflowers in Summer
40g (generous 1 1/2oz) handpicked rosemary
Homemade Shortbread made with:
125g (4 1/2oz) Aberthney butter
55g (2 1/4oz) caster sugar
180g (6 1/4oz) Morton’s plain flour
80g (3 1/4oz) NeargNogs old fashioned Irish chocolate – NearyNogs chocolate is a small batch crafted on the Mourne Coast
80g (3 1/4oz) hazelnuts, chopped
20ml (3/4fl oz) milk
100-125g (3 1/2 – 4oz) of white chocolate
Crumble the shortbread until it looks like fine crumbs.
Chop the hazelnuts and chocolate into small bites, mix with the shortbread.
Chop rosemary and whin petals (or cornflowers).
Add to shortbread mix.
Grate white chocolate and leave aside.
Stir in milk slowly and mix to soft dough.
Shape into sausage shape and chill.
Lay grated white chocolate onto greaseproof.
Remove the dough from the parchment. Roll in the grated chocolate. Slice into rounds.
Refrigerate until firm
Serve with a hot cup of tea!
A delicious fruity soda bread, traditional to both Scotland and Northern Ireland. It resembles a giant scone. Enjoy it freshly cooked, in thick slices, slathered with butter.
Most recipes I’ve come across include currants but some use raisins or sultanas.
450g (1lb) plain white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 level teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
75g (3oz) currants or raisins or sultanas
1 organic egg
about 350 – 425ml (12-14fl oz) buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.
In a large mixing bowl, sieve in the flour and bicarbonate of soda; then add the salt, sugar and sultanas. Mix well by lifting the flour and fruit up into your hands and then letting them fall back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore more lightness to your finished bread. Now make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Break the egg into the base of a measuring jug and add the buttermilk to the 425ml (14fl oz) line (the egg is part of the liquid measurement). Pour most of this milk and egg mixture into the flour.
Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle drawing in the flour mixture from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky.
The trick with bannock like all soda breads, is not to over mix the dough. Mix it as quickly and gently as possible, thus keeping it light and airy. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured worked surface. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 5cm (2 inches) approx. Transfer to a baking tray lightly dusted with flour. Cut the surface with a deep cross and once again if you would like 8 wedges. Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this inches deep. Put into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Cook for 35-40 minutes. If you are in doubt about the bread being cooked, tap the bottom: if it is cooked it will sound hollow. This bread is cooked at a lower temperature than soda bread because the egg browns faster at a higher heat.
Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and smeared with butter and jam.