table

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

Finally. I picked the blackberries. I have no less than ten thorny incisions on my violet-stained fingers to prove it. In Geoffrey’s words, I’ve more than earned a brave brambleberry scout badge.

In a concerted effort to “will” or tame the season….to somehow preserve traditions of y’ore, I patiently lingered until just a day shy of autumn to tackle our humble creepers bursting with ripe fruit.

handbasket

When the day came, I packed up a punnet of necessary things: a flask of strong coffee, some bits to nibble, a special book, gloves and nippers. I set up a workstation by the old cottage at Ballyhahill, and set out to pluck a bucket of deep purple berries from the wall of prickly vines that surround and protect it.

closeupdiary

Despite my efforts to reclaim the bounty of a true fall harvest, to go back to a time when seasons could be held accountable, the swallows have gone and packed up to soar south for their holidays. And, believe it or not, red berries are already beginning to dot our shiny, sharp-leaved holly trees. Hedgerow sloes have been ripe for the picking since mid September…usually not ready until after the first frost. Dare I ask, do these signs point to an early, hard winter? Seasons just seem to come earlier and earlier, but just how far can back can they go….in a nod to a T.S. Eliot poem, could nature somehow arrive back to where it all started?

bucketblackberry

Ten years ago, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a swallow or sparrow and I certainly never knew that sloes were a fruit that grew on a tree; rather, a putrid syrupy “gin” poured as a cheap fizzy cocktail. I, ashamedly, was not at all concerned about climate change or farming or growing my own food. It was far easier to go through life eyes wide shut, worrying about my next new pair of shoes or how many air miles I was stacking up. I had a career that could cunningly give you a false sense of influence; a feeling that honestly never quite sat right with me, but also a feeling for which now I will embarrassingly admit, sure was easy to get used to…

Today, I am forced to reckon with raw nature, and well, it can be daunting. There is no sense of superiority here that’s for certain. We are ruled by nature. It affects everything we do here on the farm. From rearing animals on grass to growing crops for winter fodder. Sowing and cultivating the kitchen garden, and even allowing our new heritage turkeys to frolic in Turkey Hollow, it’s all down to what Mother Nature decides.

gate

So, I picked the blackberries and left some behind, and I will stubbornly, and perhaps ridiculously, wait every year until it’s truly autumn to take them again.

And now, we feast.

infusion

pieoverhead2

Blackberry & Apple Tart with a Hint of Sweet Geranium

I learned straight away that any and all things Blackberry and Apple reign supreme here in Ireland during the autumn harvest season. It is certain that any manner of tarts, crumbles, cakes and puddings will be found on the dining tables of Irish country houses at this time of year. It is a tradition that was uncommon to me initially, but one that makes perfect sense as the two fruits do truly sing together. I experimented with adding a hint of sweet geranium essence to these individual tarts and we really enjoyed the subtle addition. Sweet geranium is unrelated to the flowering garden geranium and has leaves in a variety of scents from rose to lemon and even a mint-y version. Of course, you can leave out the sweet geranium syrup infusion altogether for a classic fruit tart with full-on jammy blackberry/tart apple flavour.

Makes 3 miniature tarts, or one standard pie.

INGREDIENTS
For the shortcrust pastry
Scant 1.5 cups/113g butter, softened
Scant 1 cup/200g caster sugar
1 small egg
4 drops vanilla extract
2.5 cups/300g standard plain flour (all purpose)
For the filling
5 sweet geranium leaves
200 mls water
150g caster sugar
80 g butter, plus extra for greasing
100 g golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
4-5 Bramley apples, cored, peeled and each cut into wedges
200 g blackberries
1 large free-range egg, beaten
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
METHOD
To make the pastry
1. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until a light creamy consistency has been achieved.
2. Add egg, vanilla and mix until combined. Add flour and mix to a paste just until pastes comes clean off bowl. (Be careful not to over mix or pastry will become elastic and doughy.)
3. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or even better, overnight.
To make the sweet geranium syrup
1. Place 5 sweet geranium leaves in a saucepan with the water and sugar.
2. Heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Take off heat and set aside to cool.
For the filling
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
2. When syrup has cooled to room temperature, pour over blackberries and steep for at least one hour.
3. Put the butter and sugar into a saucepan and, when the butter has melted, add the apples.
4. Slowly cook for 15 minutes with a lid on, then add the infused blackberries, stir and cook for 5 more minutes with the lid off.
Assembly
1. Remove your pastry from the fridge.
2. Dust your work surface with flour, cut the pastry in half and, using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the pieces out until it’s just under 1cm thick. (Rolling the dough between two layers of greaseproof paper will also stop it sticking to your rolling pin.)
3. Butter a shallow 26cm pie dish or three mini tart tins and line with the pastry, trimming off any excess round the edges using a sharp knife.
4. Tip the cooled apples and blackberries into a sieve, reserving all the juices, then put the fruit into the lined pie dish so you have a mound in the middle.
5. Dot each mound with a teaspoon of remaining butter
6. Spoon over half the reserved juices. Brush the edge of the pastry with beaten egg. 6. Roll out the second piece of pastry, just as you did the first, and lay it over the top of the pie.
7. Trim the edges as before and crimp them together with your fingers.
8. Brush the top of the pie with the rest of the beaten egg, sprinkle generously with sugar and the cinnamon, and make a couple of slashes in the top of the pastry.
9. Place the pie on a baking tray and then put it directly on the bottom of the preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
10. To serve, slice the pie into portions and serve with a generous dollop of custard.

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014. 

tart

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Juniper Junket

17 Nov 2012

This post was not meant to be junket. I fully intended on a charming Charlotte Russe. But, somehow I got distracted in the “invalid cookery” section of a very old Irish secondary school cookbook and the rest was history.

I know….…sacrilege.

But, don’t go off the boil. Let’s give junket a chance. Maybe you’ve had it, maybe you’ve at least heard of it. Maybe you’re thinking what is she on about now? Up until this morning, I had never journeyed into the world of junket before. Thing is, junket is not new. It’s old enough to be a classic in these parts. Still, the jolly junket was lost on me. Despite being a particularly popular pudding here, junket evolved over the years and began to mean many things to many different countries and many different people. There is even a brand called Junket that features the very sweet “Little Miss Muffet Junket” which has been peddled in various parts of the world, including once upon a time in the USA. When I embarked on my junket research, I was astounded that I had never come across it before. Now, I gotta say, I’m jousting for junket.

Junket is similar to panna cotta, except it is essentially cheese. Could there be a better combination? I would consider it a mildly sweet, silky, soft, cheese pudding. It floats and lingers on your tongue until you can’t resist squishing it up against the roof of your mouth before it slips into swallowville. The texture alone makes it tempting, but the sweet milky flavour is sheer comfort by the spoonful.

Junket is just fine prepared plain with just a sprinkle of nutmeg on top.

But, if you add a drop of booze to the mix, you shall be eternally grateful.

And, if you jazz it up with juniper berries and vanilla bean, I promise you’ll be a lifelong devotee {especially if you fancy the odd G&T’}

The only stone left unturned? Why is junket confined to the “invalid” section of the cookbook?

Because I want to eat it every day.

Have you ever tried junket? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your junket stories!

Jolly Juniper Junket

Makes 6 dessert cups

700 ml full fat milk {I use raw milk from the farm, but have tested with pasteurised and will work if whole (full fat) milk}

1 tbsp sugar

1.5 tsp non GMO vegetarian rennet {readily available at healthfood stores}

3 tbsps fresh or dried juniper berries

Scraped seeds of one vanilla bean

Optional, grated nutmeg or a splash of brandy or rum

Gently warm the milk until the sugar dissolves.  Steep the juniper berries and vanilla bean seeds in the milk for one hour.  Gently reheat the milk until it reaches blood temperature (only takes a couple minutes. if you heat the milk too much the rennet won’t set). Strain berries from milk, gently stir in the rennet, and immediately pour into serving glasses or a large glass dish. If preferred, sprinkle nutmeg over the top. Let rest to set for 1.5 hours to set, and either eat at room temperature or place in the fridge overnight for a chilled treat.

If you are adding booze, add in right before the rennet.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

I will be taking part in The Kitchen Archives: From Spoon to Screen at the stunning National Library of Ireland  this Tuesday, 20 November from 7-8:30pm. Food writer and blogger, Aoife Carrigy, chairs a lively panel discussion on the whys and hows of food blogging along with a detailed prevention on food styling and photography by Donal Skehan.

“Mary’s Junket Party” image sourced from here. Food photographs and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012 with added styling tips [“sprinkle the juniper berries on top, mom”] by our little farmer who just turned 7!

 

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Cider House Rules

14 Oct 2011

For me, autumn has always brought a sense of new beginnings and a giddy anticipation for exciting things to come. A new season, another school year, the excitement of fresh weather holidays….and now on the farm, cutting the maize and baby calves on the horizon. Something in the air changes, the wild Irish wind swiftly begins to kick up the all the newly fallen crimson leaves and proceeds to fiercely scatter them about the garden. Invigorating.

Without fail, at this time of year, I find myself consumed with sentimental expat memories of visiting pumpkin patches and apple orchards on a crisp autumn afternoon. A very popular fall tradition across many parts of America is to venture out of the city to admire the new colour and eventually arrive at an apple farm, pumpkin patch, or combination of the two. These family farms are transformed into literal jubilees of fun from about mid September to November, offering apple picking, pumpkins of every shape and size, freshly-baked apple pies, crisps or cobblers, chargrilled apple sausages, hay rides, wood-fired pizzas, small farm animal feeding, and the absolute best: mugs of warm apple cider with fresh cider donuts on the side.

It was a yearly ritual for myself and family or friends to take at least one trip to a country orchard each October, usually on a Sunday after brunch and the papers.  For me, the best bit was always the cider and donuts. American-style apple cider is something I have not (yet) come across in Ireland. Far different from what we consider cider in Ireland, this cider is not an alcoholic beverage. Pure apple cider is a made by crushing and pressing apples into a dark, cloudy juice and is never homogenized or pasteurized so it is much unlike the pressed apple juices found at markets or shops. I’ve also enjoyed a mug of cider with mulling-style spices, which is delicious. Spiced or plain, warm or cold, the flavor is sensational.

Last weekend, my father-in-law began harvesting apples and pears from the small orchard at the farm. He brought in a good amount to share with us. He also said to help ourselves to more because there is an abundance this year. When I went out the have a look the following day, I was astounded at the amount of fruit on the trees.

My first thought was: let’s make apple cider! This way we can use a good bit of the produce and at the same time, I can share a wonderful American tradition with my family here in Ireland.

We did our research and found a small apple press, which has just arrived! So, hopefully by this time next week we will be sitting by the turf fire, sipping apple cider and nibbling on warm cider donuts.

And then, autumn will be complete.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell

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