You may notice that today, for a change, I am about meat and not potatoes.
I started reading Rachel Laudan’s Cuisine & Empire the other day. It is, as the title might suggest, epic in range, tracking the spread of key cuisines across the globe in what is a broad, sweeping history of cooking.
A book to sink your teeth into:
Rachel Laudan’s Cuisine & Empire
A dense, scholarly tome – think small fonts, few pictures, and reams of references – it’s not what you’d necessarily want to skim through over your morning cornflakes but, to be honest, its solidity and substance make a change from the day-to-day scatter of information delivered and consumed in tweets and sound bites. And despite ranging across countries far and centuries wide, it brought to mind something closer to home – a visit I made in December to Higgin’s Butchers in Sutton.
Wheat-and-Meat on Dublin’s Northside:
Higgins Butchers and Il Valentino Bakery
Be really suspicious of a good looking spud…
I knew, once Paul Rankin had uttered those words, that here was someone I could talk to in spud terms.
Scottish-born and Northern Irish-bred, Paul Rankin made a name for himself in the troubled Belfast of the ’80s and ’90s, scoring Northern Ireland’s first Michelin star in 1991 with Roscoff, the restaurant he ran with his then wife, Jeanne.
Cookery books, TV appearances – most recently in the series Paul and Nick’s Big Food Trip, with friend and fellow chef, Nick Nairn – and other restaurant interests followed over the years and, since 2002 Paul has, in partnership with Irwin’s Bakery, lent his name to the Rankin Selection, a range of Irish breads and other products which retail in Ireland and the U.K. (including potato farls, of which more anon). Last March, however, saw the end of an era, when Paul closed the doors of his only remaining restaurant, Cayenne, citing problems caused by the flags protests in Belfast.
Chef Paul Rankin
(image courtesy of Aiken PR)
Unsurprisingly, Paul has a lot to say about restaurants and Belfast and Irish food, and it was my pleasure, a number of weeks back, to chat with him about all of those things, and about Christmas too, and – inevitably – potatoes. He is, as I discovered, a man who is very particular about same.
Before I get to this week’s spud topic, this is something that I think is worth your attention.
Tuesday was the Irish Government’s Budget Day – delivered to the tune of their austerity anthem – while Wednesday was no less than World Food Day – an initiative of the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organisation, with a theme based around sustainable food systems and food security (or how we ensure that people have ongoing access to food without destroying the planet in the process). On Thursday, however, it was another organisation that brought the intersection of these two events into sharp, local focus when news of an urgent appeal for support by Irish Seed Savers hit social media channels.
Irish Seed Savers is a Co. Clare based non-governmental organisation dedicated to the conservation of Ireland’s plant genetic resources, and they maintain a seed bank with over 600 rare and endangered vegetable varieties, along with native Irish apple and grain collections, as well (of course) as a collection of heirloom varieties of potato. In their appeal, they point out that knowledge of, and access to, this seed base brings with it at least some control over Ireland’s future food security, but with severe cuts in funding from the Dept. of Agriculture in recent years, the survival of Irish Seed Savers – like the survival of the seeds they save – is in very real danger. You can read about the appeal and ways to support the organisation here.
I used to think of Tayto – or, rather, Largo Foods, Ray Coyle’s snack manufacturing business, which makes Tayto, Hunky Dorys, King Crisps and others here in Ireland – as the big fish in crisp terms. And, relative to some of the newer entrants to the Irish crisp market, like Keogh’s and O’Donnells, that, I suppose, is the case. This week, however, has given my big fish notions a bit of Big Food perspective.