Hay Ice Cream

03 Jun 2012

It’s haymaking season here in the Irish countryside, a time when the grassy harlequin fields are being clipped and baled or gathered to make silage. There is even a haymaking festival this month in Trim, County Meath that sounds like a bit of fun.

Any given Irish cow’s diet is made up almost entirely of grass. Whether while grazing in little green fields or munching on hay or silage in the shed during bad weather, grass is a bovine’s first love. Our girls adore it so much that I have often wondered if they would actually ever stop eating it if they didn’t have other milk-related things to carry out each day.

Not surprisingly, the land that we built our home on the farm upon was originally a grazing pasture. In fact, in the first two years of living here, Richard often had a herd of 50+ cattle lingering around in our yard a couple times a month. He would explain with a laugh, “they’re just cutting the lawn for us.”  I would respond by nodding with glazed over eyes, thinking to myself “this too shall pass,” which is ironic because three years on I often find myself thinking it would be nice to have the cows gathered around the house again, if only it wouldn’t create such a mess.

I recall getting to know the girls more intimately during those years. There was always 2-3 heifers who were very curious and would get very close to the house and just gaze into the windows at me. We would literally engage in staring contests with one another as I stood at the kitchen sink eyeing them up and they carefully examined me as if to say, “Hmmm, don’t you look quite odd.” (Ever seen the Twilight Zone episode called “Human Zoo”? Ahem.)

Other times, I’d find myself getting lost in the rhythmic chanting of the pull/chomp/chew…under-the-breath-moo, which was completely audible despite being indoors. Before I knew it, I was hypnotically lulled into observing them for longer periods than I care to admit, and would begin to contemplate things like: how is it possible that little blades of grass could nutritionally sustain such large animals?* And, why don’t humans eat it too?** Do cows think and feel like us?*** One day, I clipped some grass and nibbled on a blade or two. The flavour reminded me of my former stateside fling with a morning shot of wheat grass, which was swiftly followed by a reminder that wheatgrass shots are one thing I really don’t miss about my American life.

Our grass is still not a proper planted “lawn”, but we mow it like it is and my father-in-law often reminds me that we are “wasting good hay for the cows by not letting it grow wild.” My inflexibility on this is just as perplexing to him as having a yard full of 3-foot grass is to me. Let’s just say, we agree to disagree.

When I heard about a restaurant in Washington state (USA) that was making hay ice cream, I was instantly intrigued. I knew the season was just around the bend here, so this week I did some research and tested a couple recipes. Since all of our cut grass is used for silage, I got a handful from a neighbor who has organic hay. I made a custard, and then let the hay steep in the mixture for 30 minutes to infuse the flavour.

The little farmer and I churned the ice cream, and on a whim, decided to put together a picnic and head to the meadow at the thatched farm in the afternoon. I had one of our roast chickens in the fridge so I quickly made up a batch of honey chicken salad. We packed three darling cheese and potato nests leftover from tea the evening before, a loaf of fresh baked brown bread from breakfast, and mixed up a pitcher of elderflower + lavender cordial. Hay ice cream was put on ice in the cooler, ready for indulgence after our little lunch.

Just when it was time to eat the ice cream, the clouds parted and the sun came out. Not sure if it was the warm rays shining down on us or the actual hay ice cream flavour, but each spoonful tasted like sun to me.  Well, sun with a tarty tinge of grass or straw. Have you ever tried Oatscream? To me, it has a similar taste profile. We both liked it, probably not as much as my brown butter ice cream, but when Richard sampled it in the evening, he loved it and ate nearly a pint. You’ll have to try it for yourself, and let me know how you get on.

*it’s jam packed with water, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals

**we’d need three more stomachs and special flora to digest it

*** Yes, just ask Temple Grandin!

Thanks to all who came to my cookery demo at Sheridan’s Irish Food Festival last weekend. If you would like the recipes for honey-chicken salad or Irish potato and cheese nests (tartiflette), I will be posting them to my Facebook page very soon!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012

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