pumpkinpie

Despite the fact that the famed Jack-O-Lantern has it’s roots in Irish lore, the pumpkin definitely does not get the same celebrity status as it does in the USA. (Case in point, see Sara Cornelius’s extraordinary #virtualpumpkinparty recipe compilation over at Cake Over Steak)

I’ll never forget the time when Richard and I were still dating and I was visiting Ireland during the Thanksgiving holiday. At the last minute, I boldly decided that I would make Thanksgiving dinner for his whole family. I mean you can’t NOT celebrate Thanksgiving just because you are traveling outside of the USA, right? It didn’t matter that I had never attempted to make Thanksgiving dinner for just me, let alone ten guests. I guess I was feeling invincible, in that mad-lovestruck-irrational-trying far too hard to impress way.

I arrived at Shannon airport very early in the morning, looking wrecked after the red-eye, alternating trying to push my eyeglasses up on my face with my right shoulder while hobbling along with a lofty suitcase covertly packed with 2-3 tins of pumpkin filling, bags of ruby red fresh cranberries and my trusty Pyrex measuring cups. When Richard offered to take my suitcase from me, he nearly fell over.

The following day, a turkey was plucked from the farm. (Yes, literally) And, on Thanksgiving morning, I was up bright and early to begin preparing an extravagant 5 course meal that I thought everyone would surely love and appreciate. Well, okay….fall over themselves in utter awe, with heaps of love and appreciation for me.

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The first thing that went wrong was that I was oblivious to the fact that there would be differences in oven temperatures. Here, we use celsius, not fahrenheit, so I had to do some major conversions which, at the time, admittedly drove me mad. Then, the same story with the measurements. Everything is in metric so instead of cups I had to work in mls and grams. The last time I had used grams for anything I cannot discuss here, but let’s just say it was a long time ago, so as you can imagine converting ounces to grams to mls to cups and back again put me into a head spin more than any other grams-related incident in the past.

Still, somehow I sorted it out and a remarkable meal for everyone was served. I even got to use my (future) mother in law’s retro heated hostess trolley. I was feeling like Martha Stewart, Irish farm style.

We sat down in the formal dining room and started to eat. I was happily taking in all the compliments and actually feeling a little chuffed when I was posed with a curious question:

“So, Imen, is Thanksgiving a Jewish holiday?”

(inside voice) Really? I forced myself not to giggle, and decided they were perhaps really asking if I was Jewish. I answered eloquently, explaining the history of Thanksgiving (Charlie Brown style, of course) and that “no, it was not a specific Jewish holiday, but that Jewish people do, in actual fact, observe the holiday with all the other North Americans.” They were fascinated, put their heads down, and ate nearly every last morsel on their plates. Success!

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But, then came dessert. The famous pumpkin pie. I wish I had videotaped the faces on everyone as they took their first bite of this yummy sweet/savory delicacy that we love so dearly in the USA.

Surprise.
Delight.
Terror.
No expression, just fast gobbling to get it over with.
Sheer happiness (me).

And then, out of the blue, a quote uttered by Grandma McDonnell in her best Irish lilt,

“Tis Different.”

A phrase that I learned much later had meant “It tastes rotten.” According to another relative, she actually really thought it tasted rotten (in some obscure way, if you’ve never eaten pureed pumpkin, I can begin to understand this ), but she graciously ate it all, and never, ever, said a bad word about it to me. May she rest in peace.

“Tis Different” Pumpkin Pie
I have always had an affinity for Thanksgiving.  It may possibly be my most favorite American holiday. Growing up, we had the same lovely tradition for so many years of traveling to my grandmother’s house where all of my wonderful extended family would come together on a (usually) pretty snowy day and celebrate with loads of turkey and all the trimmings. The best bit of it all? Pumpkin pie, of course.

Makes One 9 inch pie

2 cups (440g) of pumpkin pulp purée from an eating pumpkin* or from canned pumpkin purée (can also use puréed cooked butternut squash)
1 12 oz.(350ml) can of evaporated milk
1/2 (100g) cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 (66g) cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs plus the yolk of a third egg
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 9” pie crust

*To make pumpkin purée from scratch, cut a medium-small eating pumpkin in half. Scrape out the insides (reserving the pumpkins seeds to toast) and discard. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or kitchen foil. Place the pumpkin halves cut side down on the lined baking sheet and bake at 350°F until a fork can easily pierce them, about one hour. Remove from oven, let cool, scoop out the pulp. Press the pulp through a food mill and then puree in blender.

Preheat oven to 425°F/220°C

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the sugars, salt, and spices. Mix in the pumpkin purée. Stir in the evaporated milk. Whisk together until everything is well mixed.

Pour the filling into an uncooked pie shell.

Bake at 425°F/220°C for 15 minutes. Then after 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 350°F/175°C. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes more, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the pumpkin pie on a wire rack for at least 2 hours.

Scullery Notes: Serve with plain whipped dairy cream. Or, add a tbsp of maple syrup to the whipped cream for maple whipped topping.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell

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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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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.

mustardseedpurple

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.

mustardseedblue

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.

verbenadrink2

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.}

blackcurrantorhard

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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We welcomed a new addition to our family last Friday when my sister-in-law gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. He’s absolutely gorgeous and they are thrilled…as is his big baby sister! I decided to make up a few things for her to keep in the fridge/freezer so she would have less cooking to worry about for the next few weeks. Pies, lasagnes and bakes usually work out well because they can be frozen and reheated if necessary.

Raising free range chickens means that we eat a whole lot of chicken around here and this Rosemary  & Leek Chicken Pot Pie is super simple, yet packed with flavour….a perfect reason to make a few at a time to share or to have on hand.

Hope you like it as much as we do!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo & Styling by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Sonia Mulford Chaverri

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