Handmade Gatherings

08 Apr 2014

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Rhubarb. Buttermilk. Bread. Pity it’s already gone. Gone in 60 seconds style. I blame the PMS hungry farmers. But, no worries, this loaf of rhubarb-buttermilk amazingness can be yours too. The recipe is in a most divine new book by cookery and craft writer, Ashley English.

Handmade Gatherings is filled with gorgeous recipes made from honest ingredients, but the best bit is that Ashley encourages everyone to bring something special to the inspirational celebrations she shares with us. Potluck, for me, is just a golden nugget of Americana childhood memories, and a girl who writes a book all about seasonal potluck gatherings is undoubtedly after my own heart.

Ashley says, “Anyone can put a call out that a party is happening. What makes a gathering truly memorable though, is the amount of thought put into its planning.” This is why all the parties in her book were conceived as communal affairs…meaning you share a great deal of the work with you guests. Conviviality in its best light.


I never stopped smiling as I sipped tea from a flask and flipped through four fabulous chapters which chronicle parties for each season, all of which are beautifully photographed by the fiercely talented Jen Altman. I opened the book to the chapter on Ashley’s “Spring to Life” gathering, complete with a Maypole dance and setting seeds together. On the menu: pistachio crusted asparagus with feta vinaigrette, fried chicken, spring onion tart, buttermilk rhubarb bread and many more ambrosial goodies to delight in.


Ashley is signed to the same publishing house as I, the very special ROOST (sidebar: keep your eyes peeled for some great new titles coming out this spring if you are into farming, crafting, nature and DIY) so we are automatically kindred, but as irony would have it, we transatlantically connected when both of our films were screened at the Chicago Food Film Festival last autumn.

My sassy friend and design director for Small Green Fields, Cassie Scroggins, met Ashley at the event and they had a right old natter that evening. Cassie emailed me the very next day to tell me “You should meet Ashley English, I’m pretty sure you would like her.”  I clicked on the link to the film vignette and instantly fell in love with her laid-back, homegrown style.

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Now, 8 months later, I am here to happily share Ashley’s new book with you, and compliments of ROOST, I even have one lucky copy to share.

Just leave a comment below sharing your favorite way to throw a party, and I’ll put your name in the draw to be announced on my next post.

But first, make Ashley’s bread…it tastes just like spring!

Rhubarb Buttermilk Bread
For the Topping
¼ all-purpose flour
2 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
¼ cup chopped hazelnuts
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
For the Batter
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Zest of one lemon
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
¾ cup chopped rhubarb
Preheat oven to 350f.
Generously butter 9×5 inch loaf pan and set aside.
Prepare the topping:
Place all ingredients in a medium bowl. Using clean hands, mix everything together until the ingredients are fully combined and the butter is in pea sized clumps. Set aside while you prepare the bread batter.
Prepare the batter:
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, using either a whisk or a fork. Add the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, lemon zest, and vanilla bean seeds. Whisk together until the ingredients are fully combined.
With a mixing spoon, stir in the chopped rhubarb until it is well blended into the batter.
Assemble the bread:
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Use a spatula to evenly distribute the batter across the surface of the pan. Sprinkle the topping evenly across the batter.
Place the pan in the over. Bake for one hour, or until the top is golden and a knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Slan Abhaile,


Blogpost food + styling by Imen McDonnell. Handmade Gatherings photography by Jen Altman. Handmade Gatherings is available here, here and here and essentially anywhere great books are sold.  




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66 Responses to “Handmade Gatherings”

  1. osmarvado says:

    “As someone who often hosts gatherings, I appreciate Ashley s approach to communal, potluck meals. I particularly value her approach to slowing down, appreciating the process of creating an experience, and noticing the changing of the seasons. Ashley has created a framework for celebrating friends and family, creating a community experience, and enjoying the beauty of the growing seasons and the changing calendar year. ” Natalie Chanin, founder and creative director of Alabama Chanin

  2. Nicole says:

    I made this last weekend and it was SO good. I love Ashley’s casual, but special approach to entertaining. Summer entertaining is my favorite with make-ahead salads, grilling and eating outside!

  3. Nan says:

    I love a good pot-luck – but I’m way to OCD to trust everyone to bring a variety of things so we don’t end up with a dozen plates of brownies so I always make about ten dishes! Call me crazy, or fat and happy, either way the pot-lucks are the best!

  4. Emily says:

    I love to pick one food item (waffles, pie, kimchi) and throw a casual party based around that. Or do a groaning buffet table, lots of candles, and invite everyone I know for an open house!

  5. Aine says:

    Yum yum. Rhubarb everything! Just had a super lunch with good friends and sat outdoors (alexandria, VA, temperature in the high 90s) and had rhubarb cocktails (champagne and aperol), salmon, and then a delish rhubarb/strawberry coulis kind-of-thingy with fresh cookies and creme fraiche. Now home and settling into chapter five of “down the garden path.” Thanks Imen!

    • imen says:

      OMG Rhubarb cocktails made with champagne and Alperol? YOOOOM! I hope you are enjoying Down the Garden Path! xx

  6. emily grace says:

    back porch suppers are my favorites. a quick tablecloth over the patio table, fix your plate in the kitchen and carry it out to your seat just outside the screen door. Spray bottle necessary to discourage the kitties, but they’ll circle in and wait for tasty bits. 🙂

  7. Emily Kate says:

    This book sounds absolutely wonderful! My favorite way to throw a party, is with homemade food, lovely friends, and most of all family.

  8. farmerpam says:

    My favorite way to throw a party is on the back porch, after the hay is in the barn. Bar-b-q, sunset, exhausted and happy.

  9. Krista says:

    What a lovely bread and beautiful book. 🙂 My favorite way to throw a party is outside, especially here in Oz. I love a simple sort of party – a whole pig roasted on a spit, lots of delicious sides, homemade mead to get everyone relaxed and happy. 🙂 Yep, then roasting marshmallows over the embers at night.

  10. JW says:

    I love to invite a few people over when I have a new cookbook or bunch a recipes to try out. Nothing better than many people guinea pigs than just a few. I made your brown bread along with my traditional recipe a friend made for her American friends when she spent a year here in the states. I don’t get to throw as many parties as I would like since we live in a tiny house and we live very near the rainforest so outside is not really an option., but I do love to have my non-cooking friends over when I want to try out new things.

    • imen says:

      What a fab idea. Thanks for making my brown bread, hope you liked it! Where do you live??? Thanks for your comment!

  11. Dulcimer says:

    Love Ashley English!

    Hmm, my favorite way to throw a party? Definitely the potluck/cooking with friends style. And it usually involves kindling a fire in the firepit, too.

  12. Charlotte says:

    Mmmm – rhubarb. Looks lovely. Spring here usually means some rhubarb crumb cake. I’ll give this a go. My new favorite get together with food are evening or afternoon picnics at the beach – everyone brings some food, some games, blankets, something to drink….the kids run around, adults eat and drink and chat and cares fade….picnic season is a coming-can’t wait.

  13. Alice says:

    Imen there’s no end to your beautiful portrayal of country life. I love the look of this loaf and I truly look forward to your beautiful book when it arrives on our shelves. Thanks for making my day a whole lot prettier!

  14. Aine says:

    Recipe for a great party: Casual clothes, comfortable couches, roomy tables, fun music, good wine, and the biggest bowls you can find for fresh pasta and colorful, tasty salad greens. Conversation flows between the kitchen and the dining room and everyone shares in prepping the food. Giant bowls make the service casual and stress-free, good wine cheers the soul, and great conversation brings it all together, reminding us why parties are such a good idea.

  15. Marika says:

    My favourite way to throw a party is outdoors, with good weather, good food, and good company.

  16. We have lots of “parties” usually involving family, food and lots of laughter. They are usually very casual and did I mention there is food. Most often, it’s food we eat until we’re stuffed and still there’s more. That’s the problem with having a large family that has slowly dissipated – we don’t know how to scale back on the food.

  17. Nicole says:

    I love Ashley and her style! This bread sounds amazing and I’m sure her new book is a must-have.

  18. Lori Matthews says:

    I’ve been looking for some new inspiration for our potluck gatherings! Thanks Imen!

    • imen says:

      Hi Lor! Well, you guys are the consummate party throwers! I hope to be at one this summer…been too too long. Thanks for the comment, will throw your name into the “hat”! xx

  19. Marta says:

    You had me at rhubarb :)) The book looks amazing, added to my wish list 🙂

  20. Any party with food is my type of party! I regularly invite friends for planned food, phone around or invite the neighbors when I’ve cooked too much, take in any one who would have to spend Christmas alone, and often take food to friends houses and cook there – we call it meals on wheels ;D
    This book looks perfect for all opportunities!
    P.S. would that be 3/4 cup of rhurbarb?
    Greetings from Frankfurt!

    • imen says:

      Hi Karin, thanks for pointing that out to me…just changed it, yep! 3/4 cup chopped rhubarb. I love your food ethos…grew with parents who were the same, share and share and share, it’s what life is about right? Lovely to hear from a Frankfurt reader! xx

      • Thanks for updating Imen – on my way home from work to make this.
        And yes same at my childhood home too. As my son has said since he could speak: Sharing is caring, Mom!

  21. Ashley’s book looks amazing – something I would really enjoy. My favourite way to throw a party is a summer barbecue in the garden with a birch wood fire for the meat, tons of crunchy salads, fresh breads, cheeses and maybe even a glass of wine or beer as the sun starts to go down.

  22. David Smith says:

    My favorite way to throw a party? That’s easy! Invite a gaggle of friends of all sorts, but do it the morning of (you gotta call them and say something breathless like, “Get your butt over here tonight. We’re having a party dangit! And bring a six-pack of something craft or a bottle of something lyrical!”) Then you rush to the store, grab a couple bags of hardwood charcoal, heavy duty paper plates, a bunch of fresh grill-worthy veg, and some slab protein (like slabs of tuna steak or slabs of beef steak, or, if you’re a hunter, pull some venison steaks from the freezer). Also, make a pitcher of something sweet and spirity, like long island iced tea, because even if everyone does bring beer or wine to share, it’s always good to have a pitcher of a sweet cocktail handy (or two or three pitchers).

    When you get home, you have minimal prep. Your only grilling meat and veg, but you’re grilling big…a few spices and maybe a light marinade for the veg. Make sure the firewood is cut and the backyard campfire is ready to light. Get some good tunes going on the sound system. Start grilling when people get there. And put ’em to work! “Bob, light the campfire, will ya? June, would you be a dear and make sure everyone’s got a glass? Marv, be a good man and fill the ice bucket would you old chap?”

    Badaboom badabing!

    • imen says:

      Where’s my invitation David? GAWD, that sounds SO amazing! I’ll come and make sure everyone has a glass of Irish craft cider or brew =)

  23. I absolutely love rhubarb and am always looking for new recipes.
    It always seems like casual parties are often the most fun. The parties where everyone brings a little something and hangs out on the patio while kids run around are the best.

  24. Rebecca says:

    Rhubarb is my favorite! This sounds delightful 🙂 My favorite party was held for me, in a greenhouse, with lots of homegrown produce, and bread baked in terra cotta pots. Every August, I think about recreating the magic!

  25. Kate says:

    This cookbook looks amazing! My favorite way to throw a party is a picnic by the river. The kids can run wild, everyone just brings what they have, there always turns out to more than enough, and we all feel better with the fresh air and enjoying the sunset…

  26. Kate says:

    This cookbook looks amazing! My favorite way to throw a party is a picnic in the park or by the river. The kids can run wild and everyone just brings what they have, there always turns out be more than enough, and we all enjoy the fresh air and setting sun…

  27. michelle says:

    wow – this looks amazing – for a rhubarb loving carb fiend – could this book be a gateway drug…when will YOUR book be out (SOON PLEASE!!) thanks for another great post – will be heading into Mullingar tomorrow to hunt for some (more) rhubarb…..

    • imen says:

      Hi Michelle, it is a total gateway drug! My book is out autumn 2015…still writing manuscript and testing, testing, testing. Let me know how you get on with the bread =) xx

  28. An Cailin says:

    Dear Imen,

    The book looks delicious. If I am not the lucky winner I shall probably have to purchase it myself.

    I think my favourite parties have been the gatherings we have after orchestra rehearsals now and then. We all drive over to the house of one of the violinists, because they have a firepit. Everyone brings something, and we sit around the fire and have dinner. And talk. Lots of talk.

    Also, I linked to your brown bread post last month. It seemed the polite thing to tell you, but I forgot until now.

    Slán leat,

    • imen says:

      Hi Giselle,
      Thank you SO much for the lovely link…I am delighted that you baked this bread and went to the trouble of converting measurements and happy to hear it all worked out! In my forthcoming book, all recipes will be in US measurements (for the American release) and EURO or Ireland/UK. Hope that is helpful. Love the idea of going to a party full of violinists! Thanks for your comment xx

  29. As soon as my rhubarb is up, I will make this lovely bread.

    My favorite way to throw a party is in the summer in the backyard. Twinkly lights, crisp flowery table linens, sparkly wine and lots of fresh finger food. Throw out the lounge chairs, picnic blankets and throw pillows on the grass. Start a fire in the fire pit and invite the block. Stay up late.

  30. Lauren says:

    I love rhubarb! I will definitely be making this bread. My favorite way to throw a party is to make some sangria, get everyone cooking together & play some catchphrase!

  31. Lisa says:

    While I love the planning around a big party, like our semi-annual halloween/anniversary party, I also love those spontaneous summer night parties. With free flowing wine, a bonfire and aome good eats. This rhubarb bread looks and sounds amazing!

    • imen says:

      Lisa, summer spontaneous parties…the best! One of these year’s R and I will just show up for one of those again =)) The bread is really lovely! x

  32. CAra O'Sullivan says:

    I really must make this, and I”ll tell you why. We’d grow rhubarb in the big family garden in Iowa when I was growing up. Grandma would make rhubarb jam and pies with it. Oh the memories! Then I married a man from County Cork–we make soda bread often. For us, it’s comfort food. This recipe sounds like a wonderful blend of two childhood memories. I really enjoy your blog and look forward to YOUR cookbook! — Cara O’Sullivan, Provo, Utah

    • imen says:

      Cara, I didn’t realise that you live in Utah, I assumed you were in Ireland! My grandmother always grew rhubarb too…fond memories. This recipe is really lovely..not too sweet, not overly buttermilk-y. The book is divine! Thanks for your comment xx

  33. Karen OCallaghan says:

    Rhubarb & Bread…in unison!…and just when I was trying to lay off the bread…
    A wine & cheese party for two or a kitchen disco with a gang of friends to dance off a great meal…My favorite ones are always the unexpected and unplanned.

  34. Elizabeth B says:

    This bread looks great. I’ve Been looking forward to this book! I love Jen altman’s photography and gatherings! My favorite part is a toss-up between the food and the decor but my favorite way is definitely with friends and family not to impress but to enjoy time together.

    • imen says:

      Great mantra Elizabeth, I’m with you on the not trying to impress but to just have fun…..I love the idea of potlucks! Thanks for your comment xx

  35. Asha says:

    Beautiful post Imen and love the moody photographs! speaks of the book in many ways 🙂

  36. Looks amazing. -love your photography on these images as well hope you are well!!

  37. Sarah says:

    “What makes a gathering truly memorable though, is the amount of thought put into its planning.”
    Oh, a girl after my own heart! This book looks lovely. The weather finally warming up after a long Midwest winter has put me in the mood for just such a gathering.

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