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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Last weekend Geoffrey and I picked all of the apples and pears at our little farm orchard. All I could think about was apple dumplings. Some people have visions of sugar plums. I dream of apple dumplings.  Apple dumplings are pastry wrapped baked apples. They are perfect for using up apples that don’t shine up all prim and purty…which was basically nearly all of ours this year.

I suppose it is fairly safe to say that cooking has officially consumed me. I am sure this has come as quite a shock to those who knew me B.F. (before farm)…aka, the incessant diner-outer who was better known for raiding craft services tables on production than crafting her own cider.  I categorically cherished good food; as long as someone else was preparing it. This evolution has been most surprising to me, but as I’ve come to realize, knowing how to cook and bake is absolutely essential to farm living. There is really no other option. We simply do not have the convenience of time or location to eat outside of our kitchen on a regular basis  ever. What we have is the space and potential to grow and prepare most of our own food. And so, this is what we endeavour to do. {However, a dirty dinner at The Spotted Pig wouldn’t go astray}

Still, there can be clashes in the kitchen. For instance, pastry is persnickety. Dough in general. There is a science to it. When you do it right, it can be very rewarding. But, sometimes that reward doesn’t come as often as I’d like. Generally, there are only three ingredients. It should be easy. Though mostly it’s not. The pastry I used for these apple dumplings is the same one my mother-in-law uses for her apple tart. There is egg in it. If the temperature isn’t right, it falls apart and you stand there weeping into it. (alternatively, you can scream and bang the rolling pin onto countertop until dough flies everywhere. Satisfying, but cows will think you are crazy + there’s more mess to clean up)  It is imperative that you turn the disc of pastry round and round while you are rolling it or the edges crack and badda-bing, you’re done. One day, I shall master pastry….like the little blue choo that could….maybe it will be that chicken pot pie or perhaps a daring mille-feuille, but I will get there, promise.

Peggy’s buttery sweet pastry is perfection baked around an apple sprinkled with some autumn spices. It’s well worth the meltdown effort. And, having fresh honey and milk on hand to churn scoops of beautiful burnt honey ice cream doesn’t hurt either…

Irish Apple Dumplings

Peggy’s pastry

Juice from one lemon

6 medium cooking apples (Bramley’s work well)

55g or 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

50g or 1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

Pinch kosher salt

30g or 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll into a large rectangle or square, about 1/8-inch thick.

Cut a piece of parchment paper into a 6-inch square. Using the parchment paper as a guide, cut out 6 total squares from the dough, gathering scraps and re-rolling as needed. Layer the dough on pieces of parchment paper and refrigerate while preparing the apples.

Preheat the oven to 230c/450f°.

Add the lemon juice to a bowl of ice water. Peel and core each apple and place in the lemon water to prevent browning.

To make the filling, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle the bottom of a square of dough with sugar mixture. Place an apple in the center of dough. Put one pat of butter in the core of the apple and sprinkle additional sugar mixture inside. Bring the four corners of dough up around the apple, pinching the edges to seal and folding over excess if necessary. Continue with all of the apples.

Arrange the apple dumplings in a baking dish, leaving about 1-inch of space between each apple. Bake until the crust begins to turn golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Burnt Honey Ice Cream

125ml or ½ cup honey

1 tsp cinnamon

500ml or 2 cups milk

250ml or 1 cup double (heavy) cream

Cook honey and cinnamon in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes or until dark coloured and smoking. Add 2 tbsp cold water and remove from heat immediately.

Heat milk and cream in a separate saucepan and bring almost to the boil. Gradually whisk in burnt honey + cinnamon and stir over low heat until mixture is combined. Do not boil. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and cool (overnight in refrigerator is ideal). Freeze mixture in an ice-cream machine and then place in freezer for 2-3 hours before serving. 

Happy Autumn.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012

 

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