currantpie

One of the very first meals I shared with Richard in Ireland occurred at the ridiculously charming Mustard Seed. I’ll never forget driving up the hill that evening to the stately restaurant and inn, which he explained, “was housed in a former 19th century convent.”  I had been prepared to enjoy a romantic dinner for two, but I suddenly began to worry: could my dashing and devout Irish farmer be shipping me off to a nunnery for a bit of parochial polishing up?

Deep breath.

We parked the car and found ourselves being graciously greeted at the grand entrance door by a handsome and attentive maître d’ whom swiftly handed us each a crisp and cordial glass of bubbles.

Exhale. 

After taking our coats we were shown into a wonderfully wabi sabi yet classically drawn sitting room oozing with warmth and tartan and books and pictures and bottles of scotch filled with smoke and history. We lingered on the davenport and sipped our bubbly glasses dry while giddily holding hands in front of a roaring fireplace.

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After just the right amount of time, we were summoned to a beautiful dining room all dressed in blue where we feasted on pan fried Kerry scallops, nasturtium jelly, wild mushrooms, freshly-caught roasted trout, a tender fillet of local beef and puddings galore which we washed down with chalices of wine and spirits and tea and coffee until the early hours of the morning.

Unforgettable.

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That night, there was no way of knowing that years later I would move and marry and become simmered in the spectacular world of Irish food, embracing traditional skills and championing artisan producers as I have done.  Perhaps involuntarily that meal at the Mustard Seed planted this special seed. A nice notion to ponder.

Last month, I paid a visit to the Mustard Seed to collect a gift certificate just as they were expecting a large group of local guests. The ebullient proprietor, Dan Mullane, was in the front of the house preparing glasses of fresh black currant cordial with soda + sprigs of lemon verbena for the impending arrivals. When he handed me an amethyst-coloured glass of the refreshment I more than happily obliged.

The flavour was out of this world.

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I am ashamed to admit that black currant offerings were a bit lost on me when I first came here. I tended to associate black currant with the flavour of bittersweet grapes, as the black currant juices that line supermarket shelves here resembled a certain deep purple grape juice that I never fancied in America.

Ignoramus.

That all changed once I had a taste of my mother-in-law’s homemade, fresh-picked black currant jam. To this day, both Peggy’s homegrown black currant and gooseberry jams are the conserves that I cherish most. They are also two jams that I never had in my life before moving to Ireland {and for the record, two more reasons to make a girl never leave Ireland.}

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Peggy’s black currant jam changed my mind about black currants. And, Dan’s black currant lemon verbena cordial at the Mustard Seed took my love for this little berry one step further. {and yes, I am reading your mind, indeed this clever concoction pairs wonderfully with a finger of gin and a splash of tonic, I know this from obligatory experimentation}

I contemplated: if fresh black currants were so damn good in jams and drinks, wouldn’t they be great in a tart? Because the lemon verbena matched so beautifully in the cordial, I decided experiment with a vanilla bean + lemon verbena glaze over fresh picked black currants. The result was a splendidly tangy (but not tart) velvety vanilla, bursting berry flavour with a cornmeal crust that comfortably cradles its filling.

currantpie

See what you think!

Black Currant Lemon-Vanilla Verbena Glazed Tart with Cornmeal Crust
INGREDIENTS
CRUST
300g/2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
30g/1/4 cup corn (maize)meal (medium ground)
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
113g/1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
55g/1/4 cup nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening frozen, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons (or more) ice water

GLAZE
2 teacups (or handfuls) washed fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 vanilla pod
450g/2 cups sugar
120ml/1/2 cup water

FILLING
750g/5 cups fresh black currants (about 27 ounces)
175ml/3/4 cup lemon verbena glaze
120g/1/2 cup caster sugar
30g/1/4 cup cornstarch
Milk (for brushing)
1 1/2 tablespoon raw sugar

METHOD
FOR CRUST
1. Blend flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in processor.
2. Add butter and shortening; blitz on and off until mixture resembles coarse meal.
3. Add 4 tablespoons ice water and blend just until moist clumps begin to form
4. Gather dough into ball.
5. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into disk.
6. Wrap disks separately in plastic and chill at least 1 hour.

FOR GLAZE
Put all ingredients into saucepan and slowly heat just until sugar dissolves and creates a thick syrup. Remove from heat and let cool and steep for 2 hours (or longer if you can, the longer you steep the more pronounced the flavour) Strain leaves and pod. Reserve syrup for glaze.

FOR FILLING
1. Combine black currants, lemon verbena glaze, sugar, cornstarch in large bowl; toss to blend.
2. Let stand at room temperature until juices begin to form, about 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 200c/400ºF.
4. Place rimmed baking sheet in bottom of oven.
5. Roll out 1 dough disk between 2 sheets of generously floured parchment paper to 12-inch round.
6. Peel off top parchment sheet; invert dough into 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish.
7. Carefully peel off second parchment sheet.
8. Gently press dough into pie dish, pressing any cracks together as needed to seal and leaving dough overhang.
9. Spoon filling into piecrust.
10. Roll out second dough disk between 2 sheets of generously floured parchment paper to 12-inch round.
11. Peel off top parchment sheet. Carefully and evenly invert dough atop filling.
12. Peel off second parchment sheet.
13. Trim overhang of both crusts to 1 inch.
14. Fold overhang under and press to seal.
15. Crimp edges.
16. Cut five 2-inch-long slits in top crust of pie to allow steam to escape during baking.
17. Lightly brush top crust (not edges) with milk. Sprinkle with raw sugar.
18. Bake tart 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 175c/350ºF and continue baking until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling thickly through slits, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
19. Cool pie completely on rack.
20. Serve with scoops of ice cream, custard, or whipped cream.

The lucky recipient of Nessa Robin’s, Apron Strings, randomly picked out of an old milk pail by our little farmer, is ORLA O’BRIEN. Congratulations Orla! Please email your address to me at imenmcdonnell@gmail.com.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. Black currants for the tart were graciously gifted to us by the Mustard Seed, and also picked from our own orchard at the farm. 

 

 

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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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