“Before long it becomes hard to imagine doing much of anything for ourselves — anything, that is, except the work we do ‘to make a living.’ For everything else, we feel like we’ve lost the skills, or that there’s someone who can do it better.”
Though Micheal Pollan might, I think, have missed the news about this weekend’s Grandmothers’ Day events at Sandbrook House in Ballon, Co. Carlow, I suspect, reading the extract from his forthcoming book, that he would have approved.
The extract paints a dizzying picture of an economic world, spinning ever faster on an axis of relentless specialisation, a process which, at the same time, binds us in a tourniquet of learned helplessness and leaves us hopelessly disconnected from the origins of our food. He articulates the case for loosening those bonds, “making visible again many of the lines of connection” with our greater food system through the medium of cooking (or equally, one might infer, through practising the many other food skills with which our forebears were familiar).
And it is that reclaiming of lost skills and passing on of inherited wisdom that underlie both yesterday’s Slow Roots symposium and today’s Slow Food Ireland family event at Grandmothers’ Day. It seems appropriate, then, to introduce you to winter buttermilk, one old way with food that I have recently discovered, and one which is, to my mind, well worth remembering.
The thing about winter buttermilk is that it is not, in fact, buttermilk at all.
What’s more is that, despite what its name might lead you to believe, winter buttermilk has a dairy content of precisely zero, containing neither butter nor milk nor moo nor cow, but flour and water and – perhaps somewhat inevitably, given my well-documented obsession – spuds. It also (and this is the important thing) makes for a damn fine loaf of soda bread.
Darina Allen's volume on Irish Traditional Cooking
“Writing it has been a labour of salvage as well as one of love.”
So writes Darina Allen in her introduction to Irish Traditional Cooking. First published nearly 20 years ago, the blurb on the front cover tells you that this newly released edition includes over 100 new recipes, which is all well and good, except for the fact that, when they say new, I really rather think they mean old. For this book is all about old Irish recipes and ways with Irish food that, to a greater or lesser extent, had fallen into neglect in recent decades, as traditional cooking and true home economy had given way, first, to the lure of new-fangled shop-bought bread and later, to the convenience of a growing number of packaged and processed foods. We are learning to appreciate some of these traditional food ways again, however – “even as half the country is living on pre-cooked foods from garage foodcourts, there is a deep craving among growing numbers of people for forgotten flavours and fresh local foods,” says Darina – so a re-publication of this volume is timely.
The food sector is the main driver of growth in the economy.
Simon Coveney quoting Michael Noonan.
It seemed that everyone started scribbling or typing when Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, let us in on what his colleague, Michael Noonan, the Minister for Finance, had said at that morning’s cabinet meeting. For once, it appeared that the importance of our native Irish food industries was being recognised at the highest levels.
The Minister’s address closed out the first Bord Bia Taste Council Food Summer School. The event had been billed as the first national symposium on the current and future contribution of artisan and speciality food producers to the Irish economy and was held in the lovely surroundings of Brooklodge, Co. Wicklow last Tuesday.
The attendees were a veritable who’s-who of movers and shakers in the Irish food scene: from Ballymaloe’s legendary Darina and Myrtle Allen to Bridgestone Guide author John McKenna, from Georgina Campbell of the Ireland Guide to Margaret Jaffares of Good Food Ireland, from Kevin and Seamus Sheridan of Sheridan’s Cheesemongers to Pat Smith, general secretary of the Irish Farmer’s Association (IFA). There were butchers, bakers and fine food makers, and there was, as is only right and proper, plenty of that fine food to eat.
John McKenna poses with a bountiful array of local foods at the Food Summer School