What is the world coming to…

It takes real courage to turn on the news these days – one crisis after another, the war in Ukraine shows little sign of abating, global warming, then there’s the escalating cost of living and energy crisis, biodiversity loss, food security issues, diminishing fertility of the soil resulting in the dramatic drop in nutrient density of foods..

In the midst of all of this, the farming community who feed us are also in turmoil – confusion reigns… 

I’m still reeling from the publication of the recent study conducted by UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science which found that one in every four Irish farmers are considered to be ‘at risk of suicide’ while over 50% experienced ‘moderate to extreme depression.  The key triggers appear to be Government policies to reduce climate change, concern about the economics and future of the farm, constant criticism from outsiders with little understanding of farming and the ever-increasing raft of new regulations and paperwork.

Farmers, having done exactly what they were advised to do for decades, now find themselves being lambasted by the press and they believe ‘unfairly’ blamed for disproportionately contributing to climate change despite the fact that the 2006 Livestock’s Long Shadow report which concluded that methane from cattle is the main problem has now been discredited.  However, it’s too late for many, the ‘genie’ is out of the ‘bottle’…The report was the main inspiration behind movements such as ‘Meatless Monday’.

The Government needs to be very conscious of farmers mental health when framing new legislation.  Despite the perception, the farming community in general is fully aware and anxious to implement measures to sequester carbon and reduce emissions.   They fully realise that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option but they need support and knowledgeable advice to transition to regenerative farming, organic and biodynamic farming practices tick all the boxes.  A very difficult situation for all concerned.

Organic farmers are willing and happy to share their experience, more communication is needed between the sectors.  Resources need to be poured into research on organic farming production methods.  Heretofore, billions have been invested in research into intensive farming methods but little into non-chemical farming.  Costs of inputs for conventional farms – artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides have also skyrocketed adding to the challenge and despair of farmers. 

At the Farming for Nature Seminar and Awards held in Co. Clare recently.  Farmers were  not without their concerns but many with small holdings seemed happy and content with their lot, proud of their contribution to their natural environment, making a decent living producing nourishing wholesome food for their community.  Many were selling at least a portion of their produce direct online via box schemes, Farm Shops or at Farmers’ Markets adding to the viability of the farm.

Every one of our actions has environmental consequences, driving, flying, eating…so spare a thought for the farmers who are producing the food that sustains us.  Shop mindfully, support those who are farming sustainably and those who are in transition to regenerative farming.  It’s not an easy time for anyone but each and every one of us can do our little bit to ease the burden.

Now that the clocks have gone back, time for warming winter stews, casseroles and a big dish of roast Brambly apples. 

Pork and Green Tomato or Tomatillo Stew

Green tomatoes work brilliantly in this stew if you can’t find tomatillos.

It can be cooked ahead, refrigerated overnight and reheated gently. 

Serves 8 approx. 

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

700g (1 1/2lbs) boneless pork shoulder or neck, cut into 3-inch chunks

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 large celery sticks, finely diced

175g (6oz) red onion, finely diced

2 medium sized carrots (175g/6oz), peeled and chopped into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

1 red chilli, seeded and finely diced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons medium hot chilli powder

1 tablespoon roasted and ground cumin

1 tablespoon marjoram, chopped

450ml (16fl oz) homemade chicken stock

450g (1lb) potatoes, peeled and diced

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes

450g (1lb) green tomatoes or tomatillos—husked, rinsed and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) dice

1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo, chopped

chopped coriander, for garnish

corn tortillas, for serving

Heat the olive oil in a medium casserole. Season the pork with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Toss the pork cubes in batches and cook over a high heat until browned all over.  Add the celery, onion and carrot and cook over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the diced chilli, garlic, chilli powder, cumin and marjoram.  Cook stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes or until both meat and potatoes are tender.  Add the chopped green tomatoes or tomatillos and chipotle en adobo. Cover and simmer over low heat until the pork is cooked through, 25 – 30 minutes.

Taste and correct the seasoning.  Ladle the stew into bowls.  Scatter with lots of coriander and serve with tortillas.

Ethiopian Spiced Lamb Stew – Awaze Tibs

Ethiopian food is becoming hugely popular.  We love this favourite Ethiopian home cooked stew.  

Made with tender, boneless shoulder of lamb, this quick-cooking

stew freezes and reheats perfectly.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons red wine

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon berbere spice

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1.6kg (3 1/2lbs) boneless shoulder of lamb, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes

flaky sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

2 onions, halved and thinly sliced

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons, rosemary finely chopped

2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves

1/2 tin tomatoes (200g/7oz), diced

1 yellow pepper, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

Whisk the wine with the lemon juice, berbere, paprika and mustard in a small bowl.

Season the lamb with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the lamb in batches over a medium heat until browned all over. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb to a casserole. Repeat with the remaining lamb.

Add the chopped onions, garlic, rosemary and thyme.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bring to the boil and cook over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened, about 8 minutes.

Add the lamb and any accumulated juices to the casserole along with the wine mixture, diced tomatoes, pepper, and shallot. Cook over a medium heat, stirring, until the pepper and tomatoes have softened and the lamb is just cooked through, about 30-40 minutes.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Serve with Injera or another flatbread, pitta, or naan.  Alternatively, serve with rice or potatoes.

Venison and Parsnip Stew

The flavour of this stew really improves if you cook it the day before and reheat it the next day – as well as improving the flavour, cooking the venison in advance ensures that it is meltingly tender. If ‘needs must’ and you are racing against the clock, just mix all the ingredients in the casserole, bring to the boil and simmer until cooked. Baked potatoes work brilliantly with venison stew, but a layer of potatoes on top provides a wonderfully comforting meal in one pot. Scatter lots of fresh parsley over the potatoes before tucking in.

Serves 8-12

1.3kg (3lbs) shoulder of venison, trimmed and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes

50g (2oz) plain flour, for dusting

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

225g (8oz) piece of fatty salted pork or green streaky bacon, cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes

2 large onions, chopped

1 large carrot, diced

2 large parsnips, diced

1 large garlic clove, crushed

450ml (16fl oz) homemade beef stock

bouquet garni

8–12 medium potatoes, peeled (optional)

a squeeze of organic lemon juice

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


300–350ml (10-12fl oz) gutsy red wine

1 medium onion, sliced

3 tablespoons brandy

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

bouquet garni

Horseradish Sauce (optional)

To Serve

lots of chopped flat-leaf parsley

green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, calabrese or cabbage

First marinate the meat. Season the cubes of venison with salt and pepper. Combine all of the ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl, add the venison and set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour, or better still overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

Drain the meat, reserving the marinade, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Tip the flour onto a plate and season well. Turn the cubes of venison in the seasoned flour to coat on all sides.

Heat the oil in a 25cm (10 inch)/3.2-litre (5 1/2 pints) casserole pan over a low heat, add the salted pork or bacon and cook for 4–5 minutes, stirring, until it starts to release its fat. Increase the heat to medium and fry the salted pork or bacon until golden brown. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the venison to the casserole in batches and fry over a medium heat until nicely coloured on all sides. Avoid the temptation to increase the temperature or the fat will burn. Remove and set the batch aside while you colour the rest.

Toss the vegetables in the casserole, stir in the garlic and then add the pork or bacon and venison.

Pour off any surplus fat from the casserole and remove the meat and veg and set aside. Deglaze the casserole by pouring in the strained marinade. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the crusty bits on the base, add the pork or bacon and vegetables back in.

Pour over enough stock to cover the meat and vegetables and put in the bouquet garni. Bring the casserole to a gentle simmer on the hob, then cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the casserole from the oven and cover the surface of the stew with the peeled whole medium potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the potatoes with a circle of greaseproof paper, and then the lid of saucepan. Return the casserole to the oven and cook for a further 1 hour or until both the venison and potatoes are cooked.

Season to taste. As well as adding salt and pepper, I find it often needs a bit of acidity in the form of lemon juice or crab apple jelly, if available.

Scatter with lots of freshly chopped parsley and serve with a nice big dish of Brussels sprouts, calabrese or cabbage and some homemade horseradish sauce.

Venison and Parsnip Pie

This makes a delicious pie. Fill the cooked stew into one or two pie dishes. Cover with a generous layer of mashed potato or puff pastry.

A Tray of Roast Apples

Don’t forget this simple recipe for a much-loved autumn or winter dessert – a great way to use up any last windfall cooking apples. I love to roast them in an enamel roasting tin. For a special dish, you could vary the fillings and allow your guests to select their favourite. Soft brown sugar and cream is a compulsory accompaniment. Nowadays, baked apples are often stuffed with ‘exciting’ mixtures which may include dried fruit, lemon rind, nuts and spices. This is nice occasionally, but my favourite is still the simple roast apple of my childhood. It’s important to note that the apples will cook much faster in the autumn than they will later on in the year, when they will have most probably come from a cold store.

Serves 9

9 large cooking apples, preferably Crimson Bramley

9 tablespoons granulated sugar

25g (1oz) butter

150ml (5fl oz) water

softly whipped cream and soft dark brown sugar, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.

Core the apples and score the skin of each around the ‘equator’. Arrange the apples in a single layer in an ovenproof dish large enough to take the apples in a single layer, approx. 31 x 25 x 5cm (12.5 x 10 x 2 inch), and for the simplest but nonetheless totally delicious version, fill the centre of each one with 1 generously tablespoon sugar. Put a little dab of butter on top of each.

Pour a little water around the apples and roast in the oven for about 1 hour. They should be fluffy and burst slightly when they are fully cooked, but still be fat and puffy (not totally collapsed). Serve as soon as possible with softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar.


Roast Apples with Cinnamon Sugar

Add 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the granulated sugar.

Roast Apples with Sultanas and Hazelnuts

Add 1 scant teaspoon of sultanas and 1 teaspoon of coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts to the granulated sugar for each apple. Top each apple with a tiny blob of butter.

Marzipan Roast Apples

Fill the apple cavities with 225g (8oz) marzipan mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Roast Apples with Pedro Ximénez Raisins

Soak 110g (4oz) raisins in warm Pedro Ximénez sherry for at least 30 minutes, or better still overnight. Combine the raisins with 4 tablespoons of caster sugar and use to fill the apples. Top with butter and bake as above. Serve with 225ml (8fl oz) softly whipped cream mixed with 3 tablespoons of Pedro Ximénez.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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