I started growing my own vegetables when I was about 11. After a long winter hording my pocket money, poring over seed catalogues and haunting the seed display in our local hardware shop, I bribed my younger brother to help me dig a few beds in the overgrown back garden. An early adopter of raised beds, my growing spaces were enclosed with random pieces of wood that we filched from around the house when our mother’s back was turned.
Last year, on a trip to London, I picked up a spork – a light plastic utensil which features a spoon at one end, fork at the other and serrated knife edge on the fork side – in a kitchenware shop and I’ve rarely been without it since. The last quarter of 2008 was taken up with train trips to Dublin as I worked on the Foodtalk documentary series and, food on the train being what it is – or isn’t – my spork was invaluable.
When we had the Mallow Farmers’ Market taking place outside Urru last summer, I never missed the chance to pick up a pack of Old Millbank Smokehouse hot smoked trout from Geraldine Bass. Saturday mornings in work were always busy so I had to watch for a gap between customers to make a dive out of the shop before all the good stuff was gone. Geraldine would also have her smoked salmon and, for a real treat, some very fine smoked salmon pâté but I always made a beeline for the trout, a much underrated ingredient and one that I’d pick any day over smoked salmon.
I have loved Pancake Tuesday ever since I was a child, standing on a chair so I could reach the cooker to make stacks and stacks of pancakes. It sometimes took a long time before the family was satiated! Since those crêpe-making days, the thinner the better, I’ve become a fan of fluffy American pancakes and I’ve yet to decide which way the pancake batter is going to go this evening. Maybe both – I’ve always loved two course pancake suppers and Ricotta and Spinach Pancake Bake is my default savoury option.
While we were away in France, we were lucky enough to have my Naas Cousin come to house- and chicken-sit for a few days. Not only did she take extraordinarily good care of the place and livestock, she also left us a gift of the cutest pair of dozy bear eggcups. Boiled eggs will simply never be the same again. Thanks Elaine!
With such fantastic air-dried beef, there’s little need to gild the lily.
Craft butcher Jack McCarthy is a passionate man. Make a visit to his shop in the middle of the main street in Kanturk and be prepared to learn all about his wide range of award-winning meat products. On a quick visit to the town to meet up with the Editor earlier today, I called in to pick up some of my favourite North Cork pancetta. We were only in the door two minutes when Jack had us as a willing audience to taste his intensely savoury air-dried beef. Sliced thinly like Italian Bresaola, it melts in the mouth with a silky texture similar to the finest smoked salmon, leaving a lingering flavour of the spices used in the cure. This innovative craft butcher is like a shark, never standing still – for Jack there’s always something to learn or try, a new product to work on, an old one to improve.
Due to a car battery failure, our Valentine’s treat got put on hold until Saturday night but the fondue was definitely worth waiting for. I didn’t make the traditional Gruyere/Emmental fondue but I did put together a variation of Myrtle Allen’s Ballymaloe Cheese Fondue, using local Hegarty’s Farmhouse Cheddar, a few splashes of Fern Bay Sauvignon Blanc, some garlic and parsley. We dipped cubes of sourdough bread, which had been crisped up in a hot oven, pieces of rosemary flatbread from work, dried apricots, some thinly sliced Gubbeen chorizo and salami, cutting the richness with a few cherry tomatoes, gherkins (my latest foodie love!) and a green salad from West Cork. So simple and so good – I’m a fondue convert. The following day we were around at my Clonmel Cousin’s for brunch (yummy muffins!), waxing lyrical about our new fondue set and making her pull an almost forgotten old Christmas present from the back of the cupboard. Don’t forget to use it, Ruth!