Back to school, a busy and expensive time for so many families around the country and now there’s the challenge of school lunches. This week I’ll concentrate on packed lunches and in future columns I’ll have suggestions for college students. Meanwhile invest in a copy book or folder and gradually compile a collection of your kids favourite comforting recipes so they can leave home armed with a useful ‘survival kit’.
But back to school lunches, the bane of so many parents lives, yet phenomenally important not only to nourish our kids physically but to feed their brains and to help with concentration. Most school lunches seem to be bread based so if we agree with the fundamental fact that our food should be our medicine rather than doing us damage then we need to ditch the squishy sliced pan entirely out of our shopping basket. One of the very best things nowadays that one can do for our families is to make a daily loaf of bread. There are masses of easy ‘stir and pour’ recipes to make a grand little loaf that can be sliced easily and topped with many good things. I know sandwiches are a relatively easy option but try to keep bread to the minimum. I did a quick whizz around my grandchildren to get an idea of what they like to find in their lunch boxes.
A flask of hot soup in chilly weather or a chilled smoothie in warm weather is definitely a favourite. One grandchild, loves to have a gluten free wrap with lots of salad leaves and some scraps of chicken, bacon or smoked fish with a creamy yoghurt dressing and maybe some slices of ripe tomato. Chicken and cranberry sauce is also a favourite. Several of our grandchildren love brown meat so roast drum sticks or chicken wings are easy to munch and are great with a little garlic mayo or Ballymaloe Country relish as a dip. Raw batons of fresh cucumber or carrot (not those little pre-washed packs) with a little tub of hummus also got the thumbs up. Pickled carrot and pickled cucumber have also become favourites. Home-made potato crisps as an occasional treat score high on the ‘yum-yum’ scale.
Water, apple juice or fruit kefirs seem to be the drinks of choice, a piece of quiche or frittata also goes down well and some fruit is obligatory – banana, apple, peach, nectarines, a few cherries ….. whatever is in season. Dried fruit, peaches, figs, dates, prunes, cranberries or even a raisin, nut mixture, that’s if you school isn’t a nut free zone which many now are. A little tub of salad, lentils, cous cous, quinoa, chick peas, pearl barley or freekah, was surprisingly popular with dried cranberries, fresh herbs and maybe some diced cheese added. Understandably variety is important – cheese croquettes or cheddar chunks with whole cherry tomatoes, another favourite combo and half an avocado with a little sea salt to scatter over the top is an easy peasy option full of nourishment that will provide lots of energy.
Our grandchildren love Ballycotton shrimps in the shell with homemade mayo to dip but not having anything that your friends consider weird in your lunch box is also a consideration!
Keep the sweet things to a once or twice a week treat if at all possible. Here’s a recipes for Penny’s Coconut and Chocolate Bars and lots of other simple wholesome suggestions.
A little White Soda Bread Loaf
You can make it in the round traditional way or like this in a loaf tin which is more convenient for slicing or sandwiches
1 lb (450g/4 cups) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon/1/2 American teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon/1/2 American teaspoon breadsoda
sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 15 fl ozs (425 ml) approx
oatmeal, sesame seeds or kibbled wheat (optional)
First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface. Scoop it into the oiled tin, sprinkle with oatmeal and sesame or kibbled wheat seeds if you enjoy them. Place in the hot oven immediately turning down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 45 minutes. Remove from the tin and return the bread to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes or until fully cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.
Raw carrots are of course brilliant but for a change – these carrots are deliciously tangy and crunchy. We also pickle fennel and beets so good – don’t automatically assume your kids won’t like these, remember they learn their eating habits and prejudices from our reaction!
Makes 1 quart
2lbs (900g) baby carrots, well-scrubbed, peeled and trimmed or long batons.
16fl ozs (450ml/2 cup) hot water
8fl ozs (225ml/1 cup) rice vinegar
9 tablespoons (11 American tablespoons) sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons dairy salt
First make the pickling solution. Put all the ingredients into a bowl. Stir until the sugar and salt is dissolved. To pickle vegetables: choose quart size pickling jars, with sealable lids, wash, dry and sterilize. Pack the whole carrots or batons into the jar tightly. Cover with the brine. Refrigerate and mature for 2-3 days before eating. They will keep for about a month.
Homemade Potato Crisps
Making crisps at home is definitely worthwhile – a few potatoes produce
a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making crisps – but mind your fingers! Just in case of any misunderstanding these are very nutritious as well as delicious and can also be used with a dip.
450g (1lb) large, even-sized potatoes
extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying
Wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry well.
In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180ºC/350ºF. Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat until they are all cooked.
Hummus has become a new basic – inexpensive to make and bursting with goodness. If you are pressed for time, it’s best to start with tinned dried chickpeas and cook them yourself. I often cook 2 or 3 times what I need ‘cos they freeze perfectly and can be used for salad or soups as well as a dip.
Serves 4-8 (depending on how it is served)
170g (6oz) chickpeas, cooked, save the cooking liquid or 1 x 14 oz can
freshly squeezed juice of 2-3 lemons, or to taste
2-3 large or small cloves garlic, crushed
150ml (5fl oz/generous 1/2 cup) tahini paste (available from health food shops and delicatessens)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
pitta bread or any crusty white bread
Drain the chickpeas, save the cooking liquid. Whizz up the remainder in a food processor with the freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little cooking water if necessary. Add the crushed garlic, tahini paste, cumin and salt to taste. Blend to a soft creamy paste. Taste and continue to add lemon juice and salt until you are happy with the flavour.Willow’s Cous Cous Salad
Willow, loves to discover little cubes of diced cucumber, tomato and feta as well as freshly chopped herbs in her cous cous salad. The basic cooked cous cous can be kept in a sealed box in the fridge for several days.
12 ozs (340g) couscous
16 fl ozs (450ml/2 cups) homemade chicken stock or water
2 ozs (50g) dried apricots cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice (optional)
2 ozs (50g) pistachio nuts (or toasted almonds) halved, optional
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Put the couscous, apricots and pistachio nuts into a Pyrex bowl. Pour over the boiling water or stock, cover with clingfilm and allow to soak for 15 minutes. Stir with a fork and season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add some olive oil.
Additions & Variations
Instead of apricots and pistachio nuts stir in 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) of freshly chopped fresh herbs just before serving, eg. mint or coriander, parsley and chives, dried cherries, cranberries, raisins….
A little grated orange rind or lemon rind and freshly squeezed juice is also delicious.
Penny’s Coconut and Chocolate Health Bars
Makes 12 – 16 bars
8 ozs (250g) dessicated coconut
1 heaped tablespoon tahini (optional)
5 ozs (150g) dried dates
2 ozs (50g) butter or coconut oil
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
2 rounded tablespoon cocoa powder
2 large free-range eggs
3 tablespoon water
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.
8 inch (20.5cm) square tin, lined with parchment paper
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and whizz until the mixture comes together. Put into the tin and smooth the top. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven. Leave to cool slightly and then cut into bars.
Both the Midleton Food & Drink Festival and the Waterford Harvest Festival are on Saturday 13th September.
In Midleton there will be over 60 stalls this year in the open air food and drink market. Enjoy the carnival atmosphere with street performance artists, craft exhibitions, whiskey and wine tastings and a full programme of food and cookery demonstrations. www.midletonfoodfestival.ie/
Visit the Waterford Harvest Festival at www.waterfordharvestfestival.ie to see the incredible line up of events. Rory O’ Connell and I are both doing a cookery dem on the Saturday at Grow HQ in the Blackfriars Ruins in Waterford City Centre.
Game -the game season will open again in September, Premier Game Limited in Cahir, Co Tipperary have a pretty amazing selection of game from September to February. Tel: 052 67501/086 838 4700.
Wild Food – this is a fantastic year for damsons and sloes, go foraging in the countryside, then have fun making damson or sloe gin, jam, jellies or tarts. Check out Forgotten Skills of Cooking for lots of recipes.
I’m just back from the MAD Food Symposium in Copenhagen, one of the craziest and most influential food events on the planet. It’s held in a circus tent in a wild flower meadow in Refshaleoum close to the centre of Copenhagen.
The audience are a cosmopolitan mix, varying from chefs to scientists, social activists to food writers and journalists, farmers and food producers to foragers, brewers and baristas.The event was founded by Rene Redzepi from Noma and co-curated this year by Alex Atala of D.O.M. in San Poalo in Brazil.
The first MAD was held in 2011, the theme was VEGETATION , in 2012 the theme was APPETITE. In 2013, it was GUTS which could be interpreted in a variety of ways, Guts as intestines, guts as in courage – speakers were invited to approach the subject from every angle, to explore it in all its forms and they did.
2013 was my first MAD experience and I was blown away. This year, we were invited as speakers to tell the story of Myrtle Allen, now in her 90th year, the farmer’s wife who in the early 1960s unwittingly started a food revolution in Ireland by opening a restaurant in her rambling old house deep in the countryside in East Cork. She wrote the menu every day depending on what was fresh and in season on the farm and in the gardens and local area which of course was unheard of then but for many is now the norm.
This year’s theme was another complex question, What’s Cooking? Gosh, how cooking and the perception of cooking have changed in my lifetime from the everyday norm of my Mum cheerfully cooking three meals a day from scratch at home to a fast food, ready meal culture where many of us unwittingly handed the power over our food choices to multi-national food companies who can scarcely be expected to have our best interests at heart.
Restaurant food too has changed and evolved from haute cuisine to nouvelle cuisine to molecular gastronomy and more recently swung back again to a much greater appreciation of vegetables, wild plants and foraged foods.
In many ways it’s a fantastic time to be a cook. The public in general are taking a much greater interest in what was traditionally a blue collar trade. Food festivals, carnivals, conferences are so numerous that one is forced to choose between various options almost every weekend.
Yet ironically, the more attention that’s focused on the industry from tv, film, newspapers, magazines and the internet, the fewer people are cooking and the less obvious it becomes what it means ‘to cook’.
For some people cooking is a path to fame and fortune but the last decade has given rise to a great many innovations that deep down we know cooking is certainly not.
There were a great many inspirational and thought provoking speakers at MAD. The symposium opened to the throbbing music of a Scandinavian rock band, then a dramatic hush as Japanese chef and soba noodle master Tatsuru Rai and his wife Midori took the stage. The owner of Sobatai in Hokkaido silently mixed, kneaded and cooked the buckwheat noodles from scratch. The audience was transfixed for the entire wordless, 15 minute demonstration. Midori served the bowls of prepared noodles to the front row with a gentle little bow. A beautiful humbling experience, a reminder of the artistry, craftsmanship and tradition of good cooking.
Three star Michelin chefs Alain Sendereno and Pierre Koffmann spoke and demonstrated their craft but for me the stand out talk came from guerilla gardener Ron Finley who spoke in punch lines about his experience transforming a food desert into veggie gardens in LA South Central. An area where you could buy any amount of drugs and booze but you couldn’t find a bite of fresh food for love nor money if your life depended on it and guess what, it certainly does!
He decided to take action – he and some of his gangland friends cleared all the old sofas, syringes and junk from a patch of ground outside his house and decided to plant some food. He was slapped with an arrest warrant for his efforts and was threatened with jail. Suddenly it was cool for the young gangsters to grow their own food – it was illegal after all!
So to cut a long and colourful story short, Ron is the hero who got the Land Use Laws changed and now all over America, people are transforming disused lots into vegetable gardens.
According to Ron his inspiration was the phenomenal rise in obesity, diabetes…
“the future is not a revolution, it’s an evolution back to a time when we grew our own food and cooked our own meals, We are what we eat, we don’t need ‘meds’ we need food gardens. This s–t is being done to us by fast food companies, more people are being killed by Drive-ins than Drive- by’s!”
Myrtle Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookbook was first published in 1977 . The revised edition was re published by Gill and Macmillan, a beautiful hard back edition to celebrate Myrtle’s 90th year and 50 years of the restaurant at Ballymaloe House. Here are a few of my favourite recipes for you to recreate at home.
The effect of climate on food fascinates me. It isn’t just whether you have a
gooseberry bush or a banana tree in the back garden: it is the moisture, the
soil, herbs, winds and indigenous bacteria, which affect not only the kind but
also the quality of food in different places.
I loathed yoghurt until I bought a plastic bagful from a nomad in the
mountains north-west of Teheran. This was just something different again.
All the learned men and expensive laboratories of north-west Europe cannot
reproduce this type of yoghurt. No wonder. What it takes is a wild and tough
man, backed by a herd of goats, a tribe of relations, a few earthenware jars
and a vast area of barren mountainside, alternately roasting and freezing.
The Iranians know what they have got. They eat and drink it in every
conceivable way. The best I could do when I got home was to take a Persian
idea and adapt it to Irish materials.
The new concoction is not Persian and certainly not Irish. It is good in its
own right for starting a gentle summer dinner. Use within 24 hours.
225g (8oz) tomatoes,
1 clove garlic,
1 level teaspoon salt,
350ml (12fl oz, 1½ cups) natural yoghurt,
1 teaspoon finely chopped mint.
Scald and peel the tomatoes. Peel the garlic and mash it to a paste with the salt. Purée the tomatoes, garlic and salt together in a blender. Sieve out the pips if you wish. Add the yoghurt. Stir in the mint.
PLAIC E IN HERB BUTTER
ALLOW PER PERSON:
1 fresh plaice,
salt and pepper,
15–30g (½–1oz, 1–2 tablespoons) butter,
1 teaspoon mixed
finely chopped parsley, chives, fennel, thyme leaves
Wash the fish and clean the slit thoroughly. With a very sharp knife, cut through the skin, right round the fish, 1cm (½in) from the edge. Be careful to cut right through and to join the side cuts at the tail or you will be in trouble later on. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and lay it in 5mm (¼in) water in a shallow baking tin. Bake in a moderately hot oven, 200°C/400°F/gas 6, for 20–30 minutes according to the size of the fish. The water should have just evaporated as the fish is cooked. Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the herbs. Just before serving, pull off the skin (it will tear badly if not properly cut) and spoon over the butter.
The traditional salad was and still is standard fare for Sunday evening suppers. It accompanied cold meat, probably left over from the midday joint. No dressing goes better with it than Lydia Strangman’s, sister of my husband’s elderly farming partner, an unmarried Quaker lady of strict principles, who spent her life painting and making a beautiful garden.
Arrange lettuce leaves like a rose in a deep bowl – biggest leaves on the outside, small leaves in the centre. Scatter some or all of the following between the leaves: quartered hard-boiled eggs, quartered tomatoes, slices of cooked beetroot, slices of cucumber, cress, watercress, mustard leaves. Serve with Lydia’s cream dressing (page 33).
LYDIA’S CREAM DRESSING
Oil was not considered as a food in the average Irish household during the first half of the last century. There was always a small glass bottle of rancid olive oil in our house, but it was kept in the medicine cupboard and used for sunburn. Cream dressings were served with salads.
1 tablespoon soft brown sugar,
1 level teaspoon dry mustard,
pinch of salt,
60–120ml (2–4fl oz, ¼–½ cup) cream,
1 tablespoon brown malt vinegar
Hard boil the eggs. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Gently slide in the eggs and boil for 10 minutes (12 if they are very fresh). Strain off the hot water and cover with cold water. Peel when cold.
Cut the eggs in half and sieve the yolks into a bowl. Add the sugar, the mustard and a pinch of salt. Blend the cream and the vinegar. Chop the egg whites and add some to the sauce. Keep the rest to scatter over the salad. Cover the dressing until needed.
POTTED SHRIMPS OR LOBSTER
A fish pâté or potted fish makes a wonderfully easy lunch or supper dish.
Packed into tiny individual pots, a selection of any three makes a stunning
dinner party starter. They are not suitable for picnics unless packed in a chilled
container, as the butter goes soft.
SERVES 4 AS A FIRST COURSE
½ clove garlic,
salt and pepper,
60–85g (2–3oz, 4–6 tablespoons) butter,
1 teaspoon thyme leaves,
110g (4oz) shelled shrimps or diced lobster meat,
1–2 teaspoons lemon juice
Crush the garlic to a paste with a little salt. Bring the butter to the boil with the thyme leaves and garlic. Add the shrimps or lobster and simmer together for 3–5 minutes. Season carefully with salt and pepper and 1 or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Pack into pots and run more melted butter over the top.
2 egg whites, 110g (4oz, ½ cup) caster sugar,
12 chopped walnuts or brazil nuts
For the filling:
250ml (8fl oz, 1 cup) unsweetened whipped cream,
1–2 ripe dessert
pears, peeled and sliced
Make as for the meringue gâteau on page 212, folding in the nuts before dividing the mixture between the two circles. To assemble, pipe a layer of whipped cream onto one meringue disc. Carefully arrange slices of pear on top and cover with the second meringue disc.
BASIC BALLYMALOE MERINGU E
2 egg whites, 110g (4oz, ½ cup) caster sugar
Beat the egg whites until stiff but not yet dry. Fold in half the sugar. Beat again until the mixture will stand in a firm, dry peak. Fold the remaining sugar in carefully. Pipe into the required shapes or spread onto non-stick baking paper or a silicone baking sheet as required. Bake in a very low oven, 100°C/200°F/gas ¼, for 4 hours approx.
Just discovered recently that dahlias are edible flowers, so I’ve been adding them to lots of salads, they are particularly beautiful sprinkled over a potato salad. The Mexicans apparently grew them originally for their tubers rather than flowers.
Collect Fennell Pollen:
Fancy chefs pay a fortune for fennel pollen but you can harvest your own from fennel flowers. Allow to dry upside down on a sheet of parchment paper to collect the pollen. Store in a tiny screw top jar. Use to scatter over pangrilled fish or goat cheese.
Japonica are the hard green fruit of the Chaenomeles shrub, they are part of the quince family and make a delicious Japonica jelly to serve with game, particularly pheasant or guinea. Use 14ozs sugar with each pint of juice, the juice of a lemon and maybe a few mint or verbena leaves.
This month, How to Eat is taking a bite out of a true British culinary icon chips. The variations are endless, but so are the opportunities to get chips totally wrong
Sunday roast, the full English, Christmas dinner, How to Eat has been fearless in tackling the most contentious meals in the British culinary canon. This month, however, the Word of Mouth blog seeking to define the best way to eat our favourite foods is wolfing down arguably (we eat 1.6m tonnes of the things each year), Britains favourite foodstuff: chips.
Whether a chippy tea is a regular feature in your house or you limit yourself to a monthly treat, you love Burger Kings fries or Heston Blumenthals triple-cooked version, the mighty chip is a subject about which everyone has an opinion. But please keep it civil below the line. Frying off the handle or quick-tempered chippiness will make you look like a spud. Salty exchanges are welcome but unnecessarily vinegary insults will not be tolerated.Continue reading...
My partner and I are getting married and we dont eat meat. The first venues we contacted were either evasive, obstructive or downwright rude. Is it really so hard to offer vegan and vegetarian party food?
Most non-meat eaters have at least one disastrous wedding food story, but my partners is worse than most. She once went to a boozy wedding where she was the only vegan, so the caterers provided her with a small portion of couscous mixed with lettuce. By the end of the night she was so drunk she ended up stumbling around central London in a haze, desperately searching for chips.
I want her to finally eat well at a wedding, and now that were having our own, it seemed the opportunity had finally arrived. Unfortunately our friends now think were having relationship problems as its been nine months since the proposal and we still havent announced a date. The reason its taken so long is simple: we couldnt find a single affordable venue willing to offer a vegetarian menu.Continue reading...
Are anchovies essential in whores pasta, do you top it with cheese, and what other store-cupboard standbys do you cook when the fridge is bare?
No piece on puttanesca is complete without a knowing wink to the literal translation of the name: tarts spaghetti, as Delia rather coyly has it, or whores pasta, as it is more commonly known. Usually this is just an excuse for a double entendre about the dishs coarse, fiery flavours. Whatever the truth about its origins and myths, I think the most oft-quoted story, that it was a cheap dish the working girls of Naples could knock up from the cupboard between tricks, is a useful one to bear in mind.Continue reading...
According to figures from Nielsen this week, sales of vodka are set to eclipse those of blended whisky in the next four years, making vodka the UKs favourite spirit for the first time. Blended whisky sales are down 1.7% to 49.7m litres, and vodka is snapping at its heels, up 0.3% to 44.6m litres. (Regardless of its unfairly fusty, pipe-and-slippers image, whisky is a big financial deal, and makes up a quarter of British food and drink exports. Scotch whisky exports are worth £135 a second to the UK economy, and blended makes up around four-fifths of those sales. If vodka really does get the top spot, it will make a lot of people both north and south of the border rather nervous.)
Some analysts think the change is down to younger drinkers preferring the bland flavour of vodka over the complexities of whisky, but that does a disservice to both sides. Cheap and nasty blended whiskies are just as one-note as a tasteless vodka think overwhelming caramel, oak or smoke while plenty of vodkas are full of flavour, such as Koniks Tail, a Polish vodka made with a blend of three grains; Vestals creamy potato vodkas; or Chopin, made with rye, which has a slightly spicy, vanilla taste.Continue reading...
From boiling eggs in the kettle to creating a desk storecupboard, how to craft a delicious lunch with a few handy tricks
Holidays are a distant memory and were firmly into the back-to-work season. This is miserable enough without defaulting to back-to-shop-bought-lunches, the salads and sandwiches that all taste the same and cost far more than they should. I make my own in our office kitchen. Its fresher, cheaper, and gives you a little boost by providing you with something creative to do in the middle of the day. With basic equipment and a few staples (foods, not the kind that attach pages together), you can create a host of delights.
Ive developed a store cupboard around the office: bottles of olive oil, vinegar, and soy sauce sit on my desk, alongside sugar, salt and pepper sachets sourced from restaurants and coffee shops, a plastic bag of miso paste and a jar of mayonnaise. Theres always a bag of couscous in my desk drawer. Capers and parmesan have a permanent place in the office fridge.Continue reading...
One of the most common criticisms of Twitter is that it is really just a bunch of people talking about what they had for lunch. And while this may well be true, its worth considering that what you had for lunch actually says rather a lot about you. In fact, tweeting about lunch rather than breakfast or brunch or dinner reveals something about where youre likely to live, how you probably vote, what you weigh and your chances of getting diabetes.
Over an eight-month period up to May this year, researchers at the University of Arizona analysed more than three million food-related posts (pdf) made by American tweeters, and found that not only did the importance of each daily meal differ across the country (the Midwest goes for breakfast; the West Coast likes dinner), they were also able to identify the most popular food-related words in each state: flan, for instance, in North Dakota, capers in Oregon, potatoes (not wholly surprisingly) in Idaho.Continue reading...
Apples apples everywhere, ripening faster than we can cook or eat them. So beautiful that we can’t bear to waste even the windfalls, so what to do?
After we’ve shared with our neighbours and friends (that’s if they’re not in the same situation as we are!), don’t forget St Vincent de Paul and Penny Dinners – they may also be happy to receive a basket or two of either cookers or eaters.
There’s the dilemma, not everyone knows what variety of apples they have in their garden. The original labels may have got lost or simply got blown away.
If you’re anxious to identify the variety, start with your local garden centre, alternatively, the heroic team at the Irish Seed Savers will identify the variety for a few euros per apple (pop them into the post). Contact www.irishseedsavers.ie.
Finally, order a copy of Heritage Apples of Ireland by Michael Hennerty, which has brilliant illustrations of many Irish apples.
So back to the dilemma of what to do and how to store your harvest.
Apples can last for a surprisingly long time in a cool, preferably north facing garage.
It’s important that they don’t touch each other, if one starts to deteriorate, the rot quickly spreads. The low sided, timber crates that some fruit comes in stack perfectly, so ask your greengrocer or supermarket to keep some for you. We also use the compressed cardboard or moulded polystyrene dividers that come in the boxes of apples.
You’ll need to check regularly and use the ripe eaters as soon as possible. Cookers like Bramley Seedling really do keep brilliantly if stored in a cool shed. We’ve managed to store them until February or March. However, they must be properly mature and blemish free before they’re picked, use the windfalls first.
When I was a child in the midlands, winters were definitely colder. Mummy, asked Pad (our brilliant gardener cum handyman) to make a pit to store the cookers in, I wish I could remember exactly how it was done.
I seem to recall the top soil being dug out from a rectangle in the vegetable garden, then a three or four inch layer of sand which was topped with straw. The apples, carefully sorted, were laid on top in layers. Was there straw in between?
The mount of apples, about 12 inches deep was covered in straw, then a layer of sand, then finally the whole pit was covered in soil.
The edges and top were smoothed off with a shovel and a few bits of old carpet or sacks were laid on top to protect from rain and the occasional shower of snow.
The pit was opened from the narrow end and the apples carefully extracted as needed and then the pit was meticulously closed again.
We seemed to have had apples for most of the winter.
Apples can also be frozen – peel, core, quarter and dip in acidulated water (add lemon juice) until you have a bag full. Drain, seal and pop straight into the freezer. Apple purée freezes brilliantly in tubs, great for apple sauce, crumbles, apple snow, apple charlotte…..
Fresh apple juice can be frozen in recycled litre milk containers – much fresher tasting than the pasteurised apple juice available.
And then of course there’s cider, great fun to make – dash off to a brewing or DIY shop and buy a little bit of kit. You’ll need a few demi johns, air locks, campden tablets, a syphon tube and a sense of adventure. Hygiene is crucial, every batch will be different depending on the mixture of apples, but it should all be drinkable!
There’s also a tonne of information on the internet about cider making. Here I give recipes for some my favourite chutneys, apple and ginger jam, Bramley apple sauce, apple jelly….
Apple and Ginger Jam
Try to find home-grown Bramley Seedling. They have quite a different flavour and texture from commercial varieties that have now been adapted to keep their shape in cooking rather than endearingly dissolving into a fluff as Bramley’s always once did.
Makes 10 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars
1.8kg (4lb) Bramley’s Seedling or other tart cooking apples
2 organic lemons
25g (1oz) fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1.6kg (31⁄2lb) granulated sugar, warmed
Peel the apples and remove their cores. Put the peels and cores into a stainless-steel saucepan with 425ml (3⁄4 pint) of water. Cook over a medium heat until soft.
Meanwhile, chop the apples and put them into a wide, stainless-steel saucepan. Add the finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice from the 2 lemons, plus the ginger and 600ml (1 pint) of water. Bring to the boil and cook until the apples dissolve into a purée.
As soon as the apple peels and cores are soft, strain though a nylon sieve into the other saucepan. Bring the mixture back to the boil, add the hot sugar and stir to dissolve. Boil until the jam reaches a setting point. Pot into sterilised jars and cover while still hot. Store in a cool, dry place.
Bramley Apple Sauce
The secret of really good apple sauce is to use a heavy-based saucepan and very little water. The apples should break down into a fluff during the cooking. Freeze in small tubs to accompany pork or duck, also brilliant for kids.
450g (1lb) Bramley cooking apples
2 teaspoons water
50g (2oz/1/4 cup) sugar, or more depending on tartness of the apples
Peel, quarter and core the apples, then cut the quarters in two and put in a small stainless steel or cast iron saucepan. Add the sugar and water, cover and cook over a low heat. As soon as the apple has broken down, stir so it’s a uniform texture and taste for sweetness. Serve warm.
Bramley Apple and Rose Geranium Sauce
Add 3 or 4 rose geranium leaves to the apples in the saucepan. Cook as above. The sauce will have a delicious haunting flavour.
Crab Apple or Bramley Apple Jelly
Makes 2.7-3kg (6-7 lb)
2.7kg (6 lb) crab apples or wind fall cooking apples
2.7L (4 3/4 pints/11 3/4 cups) water
2 unwaxed lemons
Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 3/4 hour.
Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted – usually overnight. Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 450g (1lb/2 cups) sugar to each 600ml (1pint/2 1/2 cups) of juice. Warm the sugar in a low oven.
Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly uncovered without stirring for about 8-10 minutes. Skim, test and pot immediately.
Flavour with sweet geranium, mint or cloves as required (see below).
Apple and Sweet Geranium Jelly
Add 6-8 large leaves of sweet geranium while the apples are stewing and put a fresh leaf into each jar as you pot the jelly.
Apple and Clove Jelly
Add 3-6 cloves to the apples as they stew and put a clove in each pot. Serve on bread or scones.
Apple and Mint Jelly
Add 4-6 large sprigs of fresh mint to the apples while they are stewing and add 4-8 tablespoons (4-8 American tablespoons + 4-8 teaspoons) of finely chopped fresh mint to the jelly just before it is potted. Serve with lamb.
Apple and Rosemary Jelly
Add 2 sprigs of rosemary to the apples as they stew and put a tiny sprig into each pot. Serve with lamb.
Apple and Elderberry Jelly
Add a fistful or two of elderberries to the apple and continue as above. Up to half the volume of elderberries can be used (1/2 pint of elderberries works very well although it’s not essential to measure – it’s a good starting point). A sprig or two of mint or rose geranium or a cinnamon stick further enhances the flavour.
Apple and Sloe Jelly
Substitute 2-3 cups of sloes for elderberries in the above recipe.
Apple and Marjoram Jelly
Add 4-6 large sprigs of fresh marjoram to the apples while they are stewing and add 3-4 tablespoons (3-4 American tablespoons + 3-4 teaspoons) of finely chopped fresh marjoram to the jelly just before it is potted.
Apple and Chilli Jelly (quantity of chilli may change)
Add 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) of chilli flakes to the apples and proceed as above.
Apple and Cranberry Jelly (quantity of cranberries may change)
Add 450-900g (1-2 lbs) cranberries to the apples and proceed as above.
Crab Apple and Rosehip Jelly
A few leaves of lemon verbena greatly enhance the flavour.
crab or Brambly apples
lemon verbena (optional)
Follow the crab apple jelly recipe and add about 1/3 to 1/2 roughly chopped rose hips in proportion to your crab apples.
Apple and Tomato Chutney
There are a million recipes for tomato chutney. This is definitely one of the best and has the advantage of using up a glut of windfall apples as well.
Makes 12 x 450g (1lb) pots
3.6kg (8lb) ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
450g (1lb) onions, peeled and chopped
450g (1lb) eating apples, peeled and chopped
1.3kg (3lb) sugar
850ml (11⁄2 pints/3 3/4 cups) white malt vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground black pepper
3 teaspoons allspice
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper
350g (12oz) sultanas
Prepare all the ingredients and put into a large, wide stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to the boil. Simmer steadily, uncovered, for about 1 hour, until reduced by one-third and slightly thick. Pot in sterilised jars, cover with non-reactive lids and store in a cool, dry place.
Tip from Noma in Copenhagen:
Snip off the flowers from your parsley plants and scatter over salads or smoked fish, delish.
Congratulations to Avril and the Allshire family of Caherbeg Pork Products and Toby Simmonds and Johnny Lynch of Toonsbridge Mozzarella company, worthy winners of the Belling West Cork Artisan Food Awards, sponsored since 2011 by Sean and Rose O’Driscoll of Glen Dimplex/Belling Ltd, both natives of West Cork.
The awards were presented in Lis Ard Country House followed by a feast of West Cork artisan produce. Elma Nolan of Union Hall smoked salmon was also presented with a Hall of Fame award for her contribution to the artisan food sector .
Date for your diary
Bandon Engage Arts Festival 26 – 28th September
This year’s instalment of” The Art of Living” Series features the Ferguson Family of Gubbeen Farm, Schull, Co. Cork. This friendly & interactive event will include a hosted discussion by food writer Dianne Curtin with Giana & Fingal Ferguson about their life philosophy and how that has shaped their business and lifestyles. Giana will read from her up-coming new book “Gubbeen – The Story of a Working Farm and its Food” (due out on 16 October 2014). Audience participation is encouraged and taster plates of Gubbeen’s produce will be shared out.
There is no advance booking or charge however as space is limited to 30 seats early arrival is recommended.
For more information: Ruth Healy, Urru Culinary Store; 023 8854731 – 086 8372138
Mozzarisella, a rice-based quasi-mozzarella, sounds like the answer to the prayers of vegan pizza-lovers. But is it any good?
Italians have been given something of a bad rap when it comes to understanding the dietary preferences of vegetarians and vegans. After all, whats a little pancetta between friends?
I can certainly vouch from years of living and eating in Italy that there was a time when pasta al pomodoro was the best a hungry vegetarian could hope for. But there are some interesting signs of change: just last week my local supermarket in the province of Treviso was promoting tofu on deep discount and the nearby pizzeria is offering vegan mozzarella on the menu. You read right. A vegan and vegetarian friendly cheese pizza. In Italy. Served at an honest-to-goodness authentic pizzeria heavy on the wooden decor and red-and-white checked tablecloths.Continue reading...
Do you like this US classic sweet and dense or savoury and crumbly? Do you season with bacon fat, and add cheese or chillies? Or do you avoid it altogether in favour of bread made from wheat?
It is always the simplest foods that arouse the strongest emotions. Few people get worked up over the proper preparation of a salmon galantine, or indeed a croquembouche, but just as every Brit has got an opinion on the best way to mash potato, in the US, almost everyone reckons they know what makes good cornbread. After all, its got a much longer history in the country than most modern Americans Native Americans were roasting and grinding corn centuries before anyone else turned up.
It took settlers a while to warm to this new grain according to Betty Fussells The Story of Corn, for wheat eaters, corn was a punishment but warm they did. Although it is known today as a southern speciality, there is a northern version too, which tends to be sweeter and cakier. Heads roll over the distinction as one poster on the food site chowhound observes, My Texas daddy tells me that if you put sugar in cornbread youre liable to get shot.
At last something different, I hoped, as images of Burger Kings new Black Kuro cheeseburger darkened my desktop screen last week. Predictably, I was left disappointed when I realised this was a gimmicky goth burger the usual beef pattie with a bit of Halloween treatment. Its the same old thing all over. Byron, MeatLiquor, Lucky Chip, Patty&Bun, Honest Burger, Five Guys, Shake Shack, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Almost Famous none of them seem to be doing anything new. Its all beefy buzzwords grass-fed, dry-aged, specially reared, authentically British, generally served up in a glazed brioche bun. All promise to take me to a state of beef burger nirvana. So why then am I so completely bored by it all?
The burger still remains our most popular choice when it comes to eating out, according to the latest research from Horizons, with the average restaurant price for one now just under a tenner (£9.36). But wheres the creativity? I love to indulge in a juicy medium-rare cheeseburger, but Id also like to see menus which dont give me such a prominent sense of deja vu and, well, cow. Why arent lamb and pork more regularly seen on burger menus? Or even game and ostrich? Why cant anyone give me something new?Continue reading...
Craft brewers are choosing cans over bottles because they are cheaper, easier to recycle, look good and make the beer taste great. Here are five of the best craft cans have you made the switch yet?
For many, the words canned beer conjure images of fizzy, tasteless lager enjoyed on park benches and at overcrowded music festivals a far cry from the quality ales that pass the lips of any self-respecting beer fan. But all this could be about to change as a new breed of British brewer begins to opt for metal in favour of glass.
As with many of the trends currently steering the British beer scene, this one started in the US. In 2002, Oskar Blues in Colorado became one of the first independent breweries to can their beer. The tipple, called Dales Pale Ale, went on to win numerous industry awards, triggering a wave of canning that continues today. According to Peter Love, the owner of one of the USs most successful canning companies, Cask, sales of craft beer cans in the US are up 89% year on year; bottles, meanwhile, are only up a pithy 9%. In the UK, it is even more dramatic specialist beer distributor James Clay, for instance, has seen sales of canned beer rocket by more than 250% this year.Continue reading...
Today is the national day of Catalonia, traditionally marked with a hearty slice of the official Catalan cake. What would Scotlands national cake look and taste like?
Today is la Diada, the Catalan national day, marking Catalonias defeat 300 years ago at the hands of Philip V of Spain during the siege of Barcelona. After losing this battle, Catalans also lost their constitutions and their nationhood, yet this overwhelming defeat is the day they have chosen to celebrate Catalonia. In the 1990s, independence flag-wielding anarchists would spend the day smashing up the windows of McDonalds but then they would go home to eat cake. Today, there are numerous pro-referendum protests taking place all over the country, with at least half a million people expected to attend. Then they too will go home for some cake.
As befitting one of the most culinary developed regions in the world, there is an official Diada cake for both anarchists and mild-mannered demonstrators to come home to. In 1977, pastry chef Miquel Comas i Figueras developed the official recipe, which was then made by the Catalan Association of Pastry Chefs and presented to the Catalan parliaments president in exile, Josep Tarradellas, in France. While the Diada cake has many different variations, the official one, made from sponge covered in peach jam with creme patissiere and red strips to look like the Catalan flag, is what all the others base their recipes on. Many cake shops are still faithful to the 1977 version.Continue reading...