gooseberrykettle

This summer has officially been one big rain shower.

But, at least we have gooseberries.

And, memories of sunnier days.

Right?

When the weather gets me down, I try to recall my first BBQ in Ireland for a little comic comfort. I wrote a little ditty about it in Irish Country Magazine last year, and thought it would be apropos to share here today, so here goes:

hen

Early on, I figured out that the Irish summer can be quite different from its American counterpart. Practically no matter where you find yourself in the United States during the months of June, July, and August you are basically guaranteed a daily dose of blue skies and a long stretch of strong, bright sun that will warm both your skin and your soul. At least that’s how I prefer to remember it.

If it rained when I was growing up, the pavement would literally steam. And, if you were like me and my childhood friends you would happily rejoice, splash and stomp about in the streets, getting thunderously drenched by those warm showers and simply enjoying the spectacle of it all. We couldn’t get enough of that summer rain because it occurred so rarely during the season.

Precipitation took on a whole new meaning after moving to Ireland. I first learned about “getting on with the weather” when it came to planning a summer party. Until then, the business of partying in the rain was a foreign concept to me.

During my first Irish summer, I tried my hand at hosting a garden BBQ party at the sweet little bolthole that we inhabited in the nearby village of Adare while our home on the farm was being built. This gathering was meant to be my concerted, heartfelt effort to be social and meet people in my newly adapted surroundings.

Naively, I never considered the weather report for the big day. It was summertime, right?

I had spent the entire week planning and preparing what I consider a proper, traditional, American-style BBQ feast: creating a tangy barbecue sauce and spice rub for both chicken and brisket, digging frantically through unpacked boxes to find my tried-and-true recipe for baked macaroni and cheese, ringing round robin to locate various ingredients that didn’t seem to be available at the corner market (sweet corn, watermelon, big fat marshmallows for toasting over hot coals, all of which I soon found out, was seemingly unheard of in these parts at the time), skimming through old Martha magazines for suggestions on being the hostess with the mostest. I wanted the day to be absolutely magnificent; full of fun, folly, fantastic food, and most of all: new friends!

I woke up that Saturday morning only to hear the rain bucketing down. It was worse than anything I had seen on Universal studio lot production shoots. It was coming down in sheets and looked totally unrealistic to me, it was so heavy. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.

I panicked and rang my one and only acquaintance, Yasmin, a friendly, local female expat from England who had ironically spent her years prior to Ireland working in television and film production like me and had also married an Irish farmer ten years earlier. Yasmin essentially (and very generously) created the guest list by inviting all of her family and friends.

When Yas picked up the phone, I cried out in my typical Yankee twang, “Oh my Gawwwd, what am I going to do? No one will come, it’s raining and I’ve made all this food. We must cancel. I am so, SO disappointed.”

Her response cut right through my sobbing with a calm and clever giggle followed by, “Imen, we get on with it here in Ireland. We just get on with it. Put up a tent or marquis if you feel the need. Everyone will come, you’ll see.”

Honestly, I wasn’t going for it. I thought to myself, why would anyone want to come to an outdoor BBQ party in the rain? Call me a fair weather friend, but I’m pretty sure I would have bailed on that party.

Ultimately, yet oh-so-shockingly to me, she was dead right. Every single guest showed up. And, we all milled around the garden in the cool (okay, cold!) lashing rain, eating smoky, spicy American-style bbq’d chicken, southern-style baked macaroni and cheese, beautiful fruit and salads, while happily sipping cider and shivering under a tent.

My father-in-law suited up in his rain slicker and graciously stepped in as rookie grill master, valiantly manning the bbq cooker, which was strategically placed underneath the awning of the house. My husband organized a game of spoon and egg with the children. I just kept feeding everyone with a big smile and a brolly in hand. “What’s a little rain?” seemed to be the theme of the day.

Nobody flinched. I was literally in awe of this extravaganza. To me, the idea that people would carry on like normal while it poured rain was bold and magnificent, and, well, a bit mad.

That day, that rain, those people, moved me. And, if I’m honest, it just might be the moment I fell a little more in love with Ireland.

hen

Once we moved to the farm, I found out that nothing says Irish summer like gooseberries. Geoffrey and I picked the gooseberries on the ONE sunny afternoon we had last week, and ever since then I have been experimenting with combinations and flavour blends. I hay-smoked and carmelised some of our pickings which made for a lovely compote to accompany sausages and cider gravy; and was also splendid blended into ice cream. Right now I have a pint of gooseberry sherbet on the go in the freezer (fingers crossed it’s lovely!). Still, aren’t the classics just always the best?

gooseberrypicking tartoverhead tart

Grandma’s Gooseberry Tart
The first time I picked gooseberries with my mother in law, we collected a massive basketful. It was a gloriously sunny summer’s day and gooseberries (pronounced “gooze-berry”} were most certainly a novelty for me. We divided our berries into two lots: I took one and she took the other. Peggy made jam and I decided to bake tarts. The next afternoon, I brought the first tart I made to tea, and afterward my father-in-law kindly asked me if I would try making the next tart like his mother would have done, doubled up on gooseberries with a very short crust. I went back to my kitchen with his instructions and an hour later the most beautifully fruity pie popped out of the oven, and was later granted the honor of being “just as good as Grandma’s gooseberry tart.” 

Basic Short Pastry
2.5 cups/320g standard plain flour
1 cup/240g butter
pinch of sea salt
Scant 1/2 cup/100ml cold water
For the Gooseberry Filling
2 cups/300g gooseberries
A slug of elderflower cordial
½ cup/100g caster sugar
Place flour, butter and salt in large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, gently rub ingredients together until they resemble rough breadcrumbs. Do not over mix or the butter will begin to melt from the heat of your fingers.
Add water and mix until a dough is formed. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.
Gently re-work pastry before using, taking care to ensure it remains cold and firm.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry into 2 round sheets about 3mm thick.
Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork before placing a sheet of baking parchment over the top. Add beans, rice or baking weights. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until cooked but still pale.
Remove from the oven and take out the baking parchment and beans.
Put the gooseberries, sugar and elderflower cordial into a saucepan and heat on medium until the gooseberries are just softening, check the flavour and add more cordial if desired.
Spoon the gooseberry compote into the part baked pastry case, cover with pastry top, sprinkle with granulated sugar and return the tart to the oven for a further 40 minutes or until pastry is golden.
Scullery Notes: Serve with a scoop of sweet cream ice cream.

 gooseberryg

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

(excerpted from my column in Irish Country Magazine 2014. Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2015 )

 

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“Hold on, hold on, hold on…let me go and see, I know there is one tree out there with sweet fruit on it.” My father-in-law pulled on his wellies and rushed out the kitchen door to what Geoffrey and I like to privately call the baby orchard.

I had ambled in moments earlier after checking the gooseberries and black currants (sadly, very sparse this year) along with the young apple, pear and plum trees that he and Peggy planted about six years ago only steps from the scullery.

When I explained that I noticed one tree with a gang of green plums and wondered out loud if they were Greengages, Michael scratched his head and told me he couldn’t be sure, “Peggy wrote the names of all those new trees down when we planted them, but I can’t recall where that list might be now.” These are things you don’t think a second about until someone is gone and you can’t ask them anymore.

He just wanted to get to the sweet. Who cared about those sour green plums. We needed to plunge into a sugary candy-like plum, like the ones he and Geoffrey shared the week before. I couldn’t shake the subtle hint of metaphor between sweetness and sorrow.

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Michael came back into the kitchen with one piece of deep purple fruit, opened the cupboard and pulled three more from a brown paper bag. We stood in front of the kitchen sink eating those perfect plums. No words, just the sounds of bite-slurping into the fleshy fruits followed by the telltale mmmm’s and ahhh’s of pure taste ambrosia. When we finished our impromtu picnic, I thanked Michael and he suggested that I head out to the back orchard to check on the older fruit trees.

overheadjam

 

This “old” orchard, which dates back about one hundred years, was heaving with ripe fruit. When I say heaving, this is partially due to the tremendous storm earlier this year that downed several large beech trees and blew over the fruit trees with such a vengeance that they mostly now look more like arched Espaliers than Bramleys; the whole scene suggestive of a fine Dr. Seuss story.

I filled a basket with plums, most of them ripe, and a few with a way to go. And, in the spirit of summer fruits, this sweet surprise was born.

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Orchard Plum + Black Currant Madeira Cake with Mascarpone-Cassis Icing

Madeira Cake did not originate in the Madeira Islands, rather from the Portuguese Madeira wine that would have traditionally been served with this tea cake in Ireland and the UK many years ago. This wildly popular (and, once new-to-me), beautifully buttery, dense cake is normally prepared with just a touch of lemon zest, but I’ve pushed the limits and made it rich with summer fruits, balanced with a creamy mascarpone, cassis-spiked icing. I added black currant jam and a touch of smoked sea salt to the frosting, which is lovely, but definitely optional and not necessary if you prefer a less profound flavour profile. The pretty green plums in the photos were not used in the cake mix; sweet, ripe plums are a must for this recipe. You could cut the recipe in half and leave out the layers + icing altogether for a simple summer fruit Madeira. 

Ingredients
350g/12oz butter, at room temperature
350g/12oz caster sugar
6 free-range eggs
500g/18oz self-raising flour
6 tbsp milk
300g/10 oz peeled, pitted, thinly sliced sweet plums
200g black currant conserve
Method
1. Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease two 18cm/7in round cake tins, line the base with greaseproof paper and grease the paper.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture well between each one and adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture from curdling.
3. Sift the flour and gently fold in, with enough milk to give a mixture that falls slowly from the spoon. Fold in the sliced plums.
4. Spoon the mixture equally into the prepared tins and lightly level the tops. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, turn it out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
6. Level out each cake layer with a serrated cake knife so that they easily lay flat on top of one another.
7. Spread a thick layer of black currant conserve on top of bottom cake layer.

Cassis-Mascarpone Icing
Ingredients
450g/1lb mascarpone cheese, softened
350g/12oz unsalted butter, softened
450g/1lb confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp. oak-smoked sea salt (optional)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp crème de cassis
1 tbsp black currant conserve (optional)
Method
1.In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone and butter with the mixer on medium speed until very smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
2. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, crème de cassis, optional sea salt and black currant conserve and beat on medium high until blended and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
3. Cover the frosting and set aside at room temperature until ready to frost cake.
4. Dab a bit of icing on the cake plate. Carefully set the bottom layer of cake (the piece with black currant conserve spread on top) down on the frosting. Sandwich second layer on top.
5. Using a metal spatula, evenly spread a thin layer (about 1/3 cup) of frosting over the entire cake to seal in any crumbs and fill in any gaps between layers. Refrigerate until the frosting is cold and firm, about 20 minutes. Spread the entire cake with the remaining frosting.
6. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days. This cake is best served slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Recipe, Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

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Yes, yogurt is usually spelled yog-hurt on this side of the pond. Not just in Ireland, but often throughout Europe. I discovered that the word yogurt is derived from the Turkish: yoğurt, and is related to the obsolete verb yoğmak which means to be curdled or coagulated; to thicken. Why the H is added, we will never know, I’m just glad it’s not called yoğmak anymore.

It was imminent….had to be done….I could not bear to go on without my frozen yogurt for one day longer. Long gone are my days of Pinkberry or TCBY. I’m in Ireland, baby. For a brief period, I could find plain frozen yogurt in the supermarket freezer section, but one day not toooo long ago, it suddenly it disappeared without even saying a proper frozen yogurt banana split goodbye. You see, frozen yogurt was one of those lovely, healthy standby treats that I could get the little farmer to eat. He couldn’t tell the difference between frozen yogurt and ice cream especially when it was covered in fresh berry coulis or a dab of marshmallow fluff and pecans…and neither could I. *tissue please*

Once again, I plunged into farmette mode and wondered if I could make my own frozen yogurt using dairy from the farm. I pondered + pondered until this past weekend when I stumbled upon a recipe for gooseberry & elderflower frozen yoghurt which looked positively delicious! As it happened, gooseberry picking was also on the books for the weekend so we kept 500 grams aside for my little frozen yogurt experiment. I had a batch of Elderflower cordial on hand for the occasion, another seasonal + local treat that I had planned on blogging about this week until the greatness of gooseberry frozen yoghurt presented itself. {Stop by these sites for a little Elderflower love: Edible Ireland and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall }

The recipe is very simple and you don’t need an ice cream maker, although it would be far easier as I had to remember and stir the mixture a few times to get just the right consistency. For the maiden voyage, I opted to use Glenisk natural greek style yoghurt which is a staple in our house. I also added the puree of two pears simply because they needed to be used up and while I believe it enhanced the flavour somewhat, they are not necessary. The flavour and texture are both incredible…I had no expectations and I have to say this frozen treat is a real taste sensation!

This certainly won’t be my last attempt at making frozen yogurt; next time I will try my hand at making some farm fresh yogurt and experiment with other flavours.

Pinkberry Shminkberry.

Give it a go!

Green Gooseberry + Elderflower Frozen Yogurt

500 g green gooseberries

2 ripened  and peeled pears

150 caster sugar

4 tbsp undiluted elderflower cordial

500 g full natural greek yogurt

1 tsp vanilla extract

Put the gooseberries and pears into a small saucepan with the sugar and 3 tbsp water. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, then cook gently for a few minutes until all the berries have popped and softened. Whizz to a puree with a blender, then push through a sieve with a ladle to get rid of the pips. Stir in the elderflower cordial and vanilla and allow to cool. When it’s cool, fold in the fruit puree. Either churn in ice cream maker or put into shallow metal container in the freezer for a few hours, until mixture is solid, then break up and blitz in food processor until totally smooth. Return to freeezer for an hour or so. Eat while soft-ish. Scoop up and serve!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell…assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell


 

 

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Irish Farmhouse Salad

11 Aug 2010

I’ll never forget the first time I visited the farm and met my future Irish family. R and I had planned a spectacular trip to the Amalfi Coast and decided it would be perfect to meet everyone before we took off on our holiday. I would fly into Ireland first and we would head to Italy from here.

After the grand introductions and formal-ish conversation in the sitting room, I was politely asked if I would like a bite to eat, and despite the fact that I was completely famished, I eloquently replied, “Sure, just a little something would be nice, thank you”.  We made our way into the kitchen where Peggy presented me with a traditional plate of cold salad like the one pictured above.  While I found this to be a slightly unusual offering, it was very charming and welcoming just the same. Since it was about six o’clock in the evening and therefore their traditional “tea” time, it meant that a cold salad or something similar would be entirely apropos on an Irish farm.

This comforting country plate consists of mashed potato salad, egg mayonnaise, sliced boiled ham, vine ripened tomatoes and perhaps a piece or two of warm brown soda bread *. We nibbled away while swapping sentimental stories and having a good laugh or two. Afterward, we shared a warm cup of tea and then retired for the night…the jet lag had prevailed.

*There are variations to this dish. Many people will add spring onion, cucumber, cole slaw or perhaps a bit of freshly sliced fruit.

Enjoy

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

Mashed Potato Salad

Ingredients:

6 white potatoes

1  cup mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon green onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh chives finely chopped

1 tsp flat leaf parsely, finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Place peeled and sliced potatoes in a large pot and boil for 20 minutes, or until tender. When potatoes are cooked, drain and let sit for 5-10 minutes to cool. Once cooled, add in mayonnaise, sour cream, green onion, chives, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Egg Mayonnaise

For the egg filling:

3 eggs

4 tbsp mayonnaise

1 tsp lemon juice

Freshly milled pepper

cayenne pepper

For the mayonnaise:

2 whole egg yolks

1 tsp Dijon mustard or mustard powder

280 ml ground nut oil or vegetable oil

salt pepper

2 tsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar

Preparation

Method for the mayonnaise 1. In a bowl whisk the egg yolks and mustard

2. Start to gradually pour in the oil a drip at a time very gradually, whisking after each go until it becomes think and emulsifies

3. Check the seasoning and add a spoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar if needed. Method for the egg mayonaise 1. Boil the eggs for 7 minutes in boiling water

2. Remove form the pan refresh allow to cool and peel

3. Lay on a plate and pour over the mayonnaise

4. Finish with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper

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To my greatest delight, I have a mother-in-law who cooks absolutely heavenly things…whether it be a tender roast dinner or a sweet apple tart baked on a plate, she never, ever disappoints.  When I popped in for a chat a few days back, she had a large bowl of freshly picked gooseberries on the table that she was “top and tailing”, i.e. removing the top and bottom stems.  I marvelled over these berries as I’d never experienced this fruit before in America. At first glance they appeared to be larger-than-life green grapes or teeny-tiny watermelons. Let’s just say, I hadn’t a clue about the greatness of gooseberry. (pronounced gooze-berry) up until then.

A few days later, a gorgeous jar of gooseberry jam was offered up and as I excitedly packed it into my bag and trotted back to our house, I contemplated how fast I could bake up a dozen scones and slather one, or perhaps even two, with this delicious new treat. An hour later, I pulled out a piping hot tray and searched for a container of Glenilen clotted cream in the fridge. After a bit of a cooldown, I carefully broke apart one golden scone and began spooning the gooseberry greatness atop followed by a sweep of fluffy clotted cream….what ensued after could only be described as pure bliss.

Gooseberry jam is perfectly tangy and sweet at once. I find most preserves to be either too much of one or the other, but for me, this berry indulgence is above reproach.

Here is Peggy’s tried and true recipe:

Gooseberry Jam

1 lb green gooseberries (topped and tailed)

1 lb Sugar

Simmer gently until the fruit is soft (this may take 30 minutes or longer).

Add the sugar and stir over low heat until dissolved.

Return the jam to the heat, bring to a rattling boil and boil steadily for 10 minutes

To test if the jam is ready, place a spoonful on a plate in the refrigerator and allow it to cool slightly. Drag a spoon across the jam and if it leaves a line the jam is ready.

Put the jam in warm, sterilized jars.

Allow to cool, then cover and place jars into the cupboard.

I hope you will enjoy this special Irish conserve as much as I.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photograph by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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