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,


Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012

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26 Responses to “Hay Ice Cream”

  1. Jenny Depa says:

    Hmmm… well, I’m intrigued! We make/drink ‘green’ smoothies, but, hay ice cream??? I love the smell of fresh mowed hay, so perhaps I’ll give it a try!! ;D

  2. Jenny Depa says:

    Hmmmm… I’m intrigued. Well, we make/drink ‘green’ smoothies and I love the smell of fresh-mowed hay!! ;D

  3. Hi Imen! A friend of mine referred me to this site, and I am so happy that she did. This ice cream sounds intriguing and looks beautiful! I’m really curious to see what it tastes like.
    Your site is just gorgeous!! Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

    Your Newest Follower,
    Tammy <3 & Catherine

  4. Paul says:

    Looks amazing!

    As it happens, I’ve had my first two attempts at making homemade ice-cream just this week. The results have been impressive, though I haven’t been able to solve the crystals problem. I don’t have a machine and I take the cream out of the freezer every twenty minutes or so to churn it, but the icy rascals persist. Any tips?

  5. Lora says:

    So interesting! Love it.

  6. Roxie says:

    Now I want to buy an icecream maker just to try this Icecream out! Such an interesting idea. Does it taste as it smells?

  7. Shu Han says:

    I loved this post. I learnt so much just from it, and I feel like I’ve just been transported away from the grey and congested London to the clean fresh Irish countryside. Using hay in food is new to me., would never have thought of infusing it in ice-cream. Does it give a predominantly grassy flavour, or is it more of a smell thing? Hah I would love to try it for myself and see how I like it, but I really don’t know where to get the hay from. I work at the farmer’s market when I’m not studying/messing about in the kitchen haha, so I might try asking some of the sheep/dairy farmers for some. Fingers x.

  8. Hay Ice Cream?! Very interesting… I am intrigued to say the least. All in the picnic basket looks very appetizing. Tchau, Imen!

  9. Nessa Robins says:

    Imen, that picnic just looks divine. I’m completely intrigued as to what hay ice cream might taste like. I always loved the smell of hay as a child. As ever, your photos are stunning!

  10. I so love this, and I so wish I had my hands on some hay just now.

  11. Mise says:

    I have that very same picnic hamper (but have lost a knife) so am surely honour bound to give the hay ice cream a shot.

    • imen says:

      Thanks Mise, let me know how you like it! Isn’t the picnic basket adorbs? Lovely that you have the same one =) Imen x

  12. Lorna - says:

    I wonder is it a very old or a very new recipe? It is incredible isn’t it how such big animals become full and produce so much milk on just grass.
    Hope your fortnight of filming food producers went well – looking forward to hearing more about it, Lorna x

    • imen says:

      I think it is a new recipe Lorna….haven’t spoken to one person who recalls making hay ice cream…maybe because ice cream came so late as well. Filming went brilliant, still a few more days of shooting before the edit. Thanks for the comment, hope you are keeping well! x

  13. Krista says:

    What a crazy but lovely idea! 🙂 We just got a fresh load of lovely new hay for our goats, so maybe I can pinch some and try this. If only it weren’t so dang cold and wintry! 🙂

  14. I love the sound of this. So unusual yet it seems like a perfectly natural combination to make. I’m going to ask my farmer friends for some hay and try this ASAP.

  15. I live in a cattle ranch with lots of cows around me, I too find myself spending too much time ‘talking’ to them. And I haven wondered the same things you mention here about how can they survive on grass alone. Very interesting post!

  16. Freddi says:

    This is certainly different! I am incredibly envious of your surrounding environment, I would love to see more pictures of your farm!

  17. Barbara says:

    Did you like the taste? I remember the smell of the hay growing up on our farm. I cannot imagine what it tastes like.

    • imen says:

      Barbara, after reading this i added more to the post…thanks for prompting me! The flavour reminds me of oats cream, have you had? It’s grainy without a grain texture…hard to describe….I like it….not love, but my husband ate nearly a pint of it! Hope all is well with you darling xx

  18. Móna Wise says:

    I love the sound of the ice cream. This is what the chefs misses the most from his American life….lovely recipe and photos Imen x

    • imen says:

      Thanks Mona, does the chef miss ice cream the most? or weird stuff like hay ice cream? or picnicking?

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