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:

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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?

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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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chants

I rumbled into Geoffrey’s room early on Saturday morning spouting a crazy chirpy, “Tally Ho!”

There were still dishes in the sink from last night’s meal shared with kindred visiting friends from America; an epic curry feast of food and fodder that lingered long into the wee hours of the morning.

But, the wash-up could wait. I was captaining a magical mushroom mission five counties away, and time was of the essence.

“Awww mom…Janey! Not so loud,  I’m still sleeping” cried the small farmer from beneath his tractor-patterned bedding.

I gave my co-pilot fifteen minutes notice, cast a blind eye to the pile of turmeric stained plates, and we walked our wellies right on out the door.

hen

I had designs on attending this obscure mushroom festival since last year when I received a friendly email from a person by the name of Lady Sue Kilbracken. A reader of my column in Country Living, she had asked me to help spread the word about her unique event.  My curiosity was piqued, but I had a commitment that weekend so I sadly had to give it a miss for 2012. However, I scribbled it on the calendar for 2013, and wasn’t going to let this year’s festival fade into the past without paying a visit.

I couldn’t convince anyone to join me on this mycological adventure despite the allure of a hike in an enchanted forest brimming with over 300 species of mushrooms. So, once again, Geoffrey was appointed sole co-navigator and song-singing partner for the 3+ hour trip. Whence awake, he was much obliged.

We arrived at Killegar House, Carrigallen, County Leitrim early on a perfect, brisk Saturday afternoon. As we strolled up the lane to the 1813 Georgian estate, Geoffrey immediately spied several species of mushrooms popping out of the moss and leaves along the side of the path. From that point on, we walked to the gleeful beat of,

“look mom! A big one!

look mom! A big one!

look mom! A big one!”

…… until reaching the house where the other guests had been gathering.

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handshroom

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conks

We were graciously led on a fanciful foray through the massive expanse of native Killegar woodland to learn about the mysterious role of fungi in the forest ecological cycle. Living amongst this ancient forest floor covered in russet leaves and rust-tinted conkers, were puffballs, earthballs, honey mushrooms, ceps, and many more species than we could fit into our basket. Another in the group found an amethyst deceiver, which was a stunning shade of blue/violet.

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enchantedforest

shrooms

While most of our finds were inedible, we left with plenty of tasty apricot-scented and frankly, fallopian-tubesque Chanterelles to cherish, which I put to work into a tantalising tart of chanterelle, carmelised onion, fresh caraway, and Toonsbridge Dairy buffalo hard cheese for supper the following evening.

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Wild Chanterelle, Caramelised Onion, Caraway & Buffalo Cheese Galette

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, cut in half and thinly sliced into half moons
450g/16oz chanterelle mushrooms (or any wild mushrooms)
Shortcrust pastry (here is my favourite/easy basic recipe)
Handful of fresh caraway, chopped coarsely (can sub thyme or other fresh herbs that you love)
Salt
Ground black pepper
85g/3oz grated Toonsbridge Dairy Buffalo Hard Cheese or a similar hard cheese.
Milk, for brushing

1. Preheat oven to 230c/450f
2. Add 1 teaspoon of oil to a large saute pan over medium heat.
3. Add onion, salt and pepper, tossing to coat evenly.
4. Cook 20 minutes, stirring often, until onions have softened and turned a lovely shade of golden caramel.
5. Remove onions to a bowl and set aside.
6. Add remaining teaspoon of oil and add mushrooms, caraway, a little more salt and pepper.
7. Toss to coat.
8. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms have turned brown and released most of their liquid.
9. Remove pan from heat and pour mushrooms onto a paper-towel lined plate in order to remove as much moisture as possible from them.
10.On a lightly floured surface, roll out shortcrust and transfer to a parchment-lined large rimmed baking sheet.
11.Leaving a 2 to 3-inch border around the center, spread out 1/2 of the onions on the dough.
12.Layer with mushrooms & caraway mix, evenly distributing, and finish with remaining onions.
13.Sprinkle with a little more pepper.
14. Top with the shredded cheese.
15. Fold in sides of the dough circle roughly, pressing slightly to adhere pieces to one another.
16.Brush edges of dough with milk.
17.Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese is bubbling.
18.Garnish with remaining fresh caraway
19.Remove and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting into slices.

Slan Abhaile,
Imen
As with all of my recipes, I use a convection oven. Please adjust temp/time to your oven guidelines) Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. *Janey or Janey Mac is an Irish expression of surprise and bewilderment that Geoffrey has picked up here. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing. 

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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.

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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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People. You are not going to make this. I just know it. From top to tail, it takes nearly a day.  There is yeast in the pastry. It needs to rise. It’s buttery and fussy.

But, it is so damned good. Divine, actually. Divine in the purest divinity sense of the word. I phoned people to tell them about how good this tart turned out. I prattled on about it to school parents who don’t even know me. I confessed to the priest. Teddy, our Airedale, is sick of hearing about it. Now, it’s time for you.

I prepared the homemade cheese with the morning milk from our dairy. The baked filling tastes like a wonderful childhood memory that includes cheese Kolaches and Danish from Jerry’s Bakery with glasses of cold milk and cartoons on a Saturday morning. I think there was a crumbly cheese coffee cake that my grandmother used to serve as well. It’s that soft crumbly cheese consistency that I crave.

This is a recipe from Martha Stewart Living so, of course, it worked. Still, I was nervous throughout the proving process. The dough is really sticky. The kind that you simply cannot punch down without getting your knuckles stuck in.  I’d never used yeast for pastry before. But, now that I have succeeded, it’s one more notch on my ye old ‘pastry perfection’ stick. {If you are new here, I struggle with pastry and have vowed to win!}

If you come to the farm and visit we can make it together…fresh cheese and all. I need some company, and if takes temptation by tarte au fromage so be it.

Have a look at the recipe and see what you think.

Sweet Farmers Cheese Tart {or, if you’re French or fancy: Tarte au Fromage}

Dough

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon active dry yeast (from two 1/4-ounce envelopes)

1/2 cup warm water

1 large egg yolk

1/4 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for bowl and pan

Filling

1 cup sugar, divided

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) farmer cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup (4 ounces) creme fraiche, room temperature

1 large egg yolk, plus 3 large egg whites, room temperature, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup applesauce

Dough: Mix together flour, sugar, yeast, water, egg yolk, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until a dough is formed, about 3 minutes. Add butter, and mix until incorporated, about 3 minutes (dough will be sticky). Transfer dough to a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until almost doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down dough, cover, and let rise 30 minutes. Refrigerate dough, still in bowl and covered, until firm, about 2 hours.

Punch down dough. Roll out into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Fit dough into a buttered 9 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing dough up to rim of pan. Prick dough all over with a fork, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise 30 minutes.

Filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in lowest position. Whisk together 3/4 cup sugar and the flour. Whisk together farmer cheese, creme fraiche, egg yolk, salt, and vanilla; stir in sugar mixture, then butter, with a wooden spoon.

Beat egg whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Raise speed to medium-high, and gradually sprinkle in remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat until medium glossy peaks form, about 4 minutes. Fold half the egg whites into cheese mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites.

Spread applesauce in crust, and pour filling on top of applesauce. Bake 30 minutes, then check crust; if it is starting to brown significantly, tent edge with foil. Bake until crust is deep golden brown and filling is puffed, golden, and just set (it should barely wobble when very lightly shaken), about 25 minutes. Let cool, undisturbed, on a wire rack 1 hour. Unmold tart, and let cool at least 30 minutes. Tart is best served slightly warm but can also be served at room temperature.

Coming?

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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