2 weeks and 2 awards for The Strawberry Tree restaurant. Best Leinster Hotel Restaurant from the Restaurants Association of Ireland, and Best Organic Restaurant in Ireland from the Good Eating Guide (and a second Graham Knuttel plate for our wall!)
Archive for the ‘Organic & Wild Foods’ Category
The Wild Foods Pantry… The Strawberry Tree restaurant has been using wild foods in its recipes for more than 20 years, and our pantry in Reception shows a selection of the goodies that nature provides for us. Our Chefs need these for cooking on a daily basis, so unfortunately they’re only for browsing not buying.
Denis Healy is the Patriarch of organic vegetables in Ireland. A Founder stallholder at The Temple Bar Market and at The Macreddin Market, Denis has being providing superb chemical free vegetables since 1847 Indeed The Strawberry Tree could not survive without him. Denis is infectious and contagious and if you haven’t met him, you have to!
Jenny Young runs 170 organic acres at CastleFarm over the hills in Kildare with her partner Peter. They produce, well, just about everything organically…and produce it well. Not content with working 168 hours a week, they still find time to set up stall at Macreddin Market…they understand their innate need to trade and barter and banter and we understand them.
Eugene Giblin is our Backstage Man. Eugene’s team makes sure that the Hotel runs smoothly when it comes to all things maintenance related. And come every Market Day, our Backstage Man and his team provide the tabling, umbrellas, electricity connections and all the help that The Macreddin Market stallholders require…and much, much more
Its something that we really don’t notice as we drive through our towns and villages…its just there! It has to be the most commonplace name in Ireland and it’s so familiar, that we take it for granted. There isn’t a town or perhaps a village in Ireland that doesn’t have an area titled, Market Street, Market Square or The Fair Green. Irish Fairs date right back to our Pagan Gods, specifically Lugh (or more so his mum who died of exhaustion after clearing the hills and vales of Ireland for agriculture) and it seems they have been doing a pretty good job in providing us with harvest for our Markets ever since. Indeed The Lughnasadh and The Auld Lammas Fairs were always the biggest Harvest Markets offering the opportunity to barter or exchange an individual’s harvest for the staple and occasionally the exotic.
And so from the Middle Ages to the present day, fairs and markets have brought together people and played an important part in shaping local society. Town met country, farmer met trader and the influences of the wider world were introduced into the local culture. The unmistakably Irish buzz and banter of the traditional fair has passed down through generations, leading to the modern farmers’ markets we see today.
Way back in our black and white days, when The Strawberry Tree was based in Killarney, we committed our energies to promoting ‘the fresh’, ‘the local’’, and ‘the seasonal’ – and what better way to showcase this than a traditional marketplace? Today we’re happily settled amongst the rolling Wicklow hills, and our Macreddin Market (now, one of Irelands longest running) is held on the first Sunday of every month. It celebrates our Irish ‘Growing Season’ and so begins in April, building gradually towards our own Harvest Festival, where we celebrate the finest autumn fare before we wind down in October. We’re still the only market in Ireland with ‘no charge’ to stallholders, and every single stall attending is wholly devoted to food and nothing else.
We like our Market Days! Because these are ‘Sunday’ Markets, so they’re more tasting, grazing and indulging, than mere shopping. We also like the ‘laid back’ afternoon jazz, the lazy beers in the apple orchard, and the goodly amount of sunshine that we seem to get, and that never goes unnoticed…no doubt provided by Lugh or his mum.
So if you find yourself liking this too, well then, we’ll see you on the first Sunday!
We’ve been foraging for Wild Foods for years now, so we set out to find a dedicated “Wild Foods Forager” to keep our Pantry stocked. Say hello to Mary Bulfin, who not only brings 15 years of culinary skills, but most importantly an infectious and knowledgeable background of Wild Foods. Suffice to say, that Mary arrived for the interview with a dozen wild ‘Black Morel’ mushrooms, picked in Macreddin Woods!
Paul Pritchard runs The Organic Herb Company with Michael Martin; they produce a range of organic blended herbs and spices, and uniquely flavoured seed, spice and herb oils for The Strawberry Tree kitchens, The StoreRooms and other outlets.
Sri Pandalla arrived to The Lodge from Catering College in Switzerland in 2004. Sri, just about gets to every part of Macreddin during his working day and if you haven’t bumped into him, it means you’ve probably gone to bed too early!
Anna Gethings, well I’ve written about Anna on previous occasions, she totally controls the pastry section of the kitchen (truth be known, she controls much more!) Anna’s hand is so fine for Summer Desserts, but I’ve always felt that her Winter Puds and Festive Desserts are her forte.
Long, long time ago, every year, well before we even yielded our harvest here on this Island…exotic foods like ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cumin had already set off to Ireland from India and slow-travelled, swapped and traded through The Ottoman region picking up sultanas, raisins, coriander, cloves and more. This perfect way of preserving foods then slowed boated it’s way through the Mediterranean to Portugal, where the traders moved through Iberia and France swapping, trading and picking up, port, oranges, claret wines and Normandy cider, before arriving here in time to trade these exotic goods at our harvest markets.
It wasn’t by coincidence that these foods arrived here during the major autumn markets that once took place all around Ireland at harvest time. Harvest provided a bounty to us and gave us the means to trade for these treasures. These provided much needed winter foods during those dark months, and indeed luxuries for the wealthier homesteads…spices and exotics like Seville oranges and maybe claret. In return we traded dried beef, Limerick hams, salted fish, crop harvest and livestock. This trade then moved on down through Europe back to Turkey to start the annual food circle once more…this was the way we traded in the world as we knew it, remaining this way for so many generations that it became tradition.
And tradition is what it has become; we’ve put our own twist on ginger, in our cakes and our famous ginger biscuits. We’ve put our own uses to these dried grapes in our Barm Brack, Plum Pudding and Christmas Cake. All these we think as being typically Irish, and of course time has made them this. But now think about cloves in our hot whiskey, think about nutmeg on our late night warm milk, we took Seville oranges and now it’s ‘our traditional Irish marmalade’, we brought in Port and served it hot with sugar. We mulled our Bordeaux red wine with cinnamon and other spices.
We’ve given these once exotic foods an Irish twist…show me an Indian that would understand ground nutmeg on warm milk, or an Iberian that would tolerate their port being heated, or indeed a Turk that could comprehend that we boil their dried fruits into what we call Plum Pudding. Nonetheless that’s what we did, we applied our take and our cooking methods and now we have integrated these foods into our traditional cooking. These perfectly preserved foods arrived to us in Ireland for hundreds of years, every year by slow-road and slow-boat…this undoubtedly was the original SlowFood, as we know it today.
And today Paul carries on this tradition and imports these, now, quintessentially ‘Irish’ Spices for the kitchens of Macreddin and The StoreRooms. Sri, of course has an inherent skill when it comes to understanding the spices that are needed to go into making the perfect ‘wine mull’ for you. And as for Anna, well when you were recovering from the Festives last January she was busy making your Plum Puddings for this Christmas, just like her mum and all our mums and grandmothers did… of course it’s still Organic (like it always was) and it’s on The Strawberry Tree menu and in The StoreRooms during December
James Kavanagh is a long-time-long-field enthusiast. There is a certain innate satisfaction that is gleaned from gathering wild foods. In spring, its wild greens and more, in summer, its wild berries and more and in autumn, its wild mushrooms, nuts and, yes more. It is these wild foods that make up and add to, what is the uniqueness of The Strawberry Tree Kitchen for him and for us
Marcin Gruszka came to us in April 2005 from Dobra Limanowej in Poland. His contribution to The Strawberry Tree kitchen is unquestioned, but also is his European upbringing and his appreciation of nature’s wealth when it comes to harvesting wild foods. Just watching him gather something as simple as wild gorse flowers, for service, in his whites…has always given me a buzz.
Noelle Ward is studying a Degree in Health Promotion at W.I.T. and is with us during breaks from college. Noelle works with our second team back-house, they’re the life-blood of our kitchens, they get deep, down and dirty keeping your dishes clean and turning around pots and pans for the kitchen brigade, we simply could not operate without them. Noelle, though, constantly steps outside this box to help the chefs, tend to the Herb Garden and prep the wild foods that we gather.
We’ve all grown up with The Long-Field…City Folk see it as green ditches with no footpaths as soon as they have escaped the Urban, cattle and sheep view it as manna from heaven when they escape out on to it from their closures and Rural Folk are always delighted to inform fellow farmers that their stock has escaped onto The Long-Field and not their own. We’re beginning to suspect though that, now and again, an alliance of some particularly wily sheep, or a shifty mob of bovine malcontents; hold clandestine moonlit gatherings to scheme and stage a jailbreak. Unfortunately for them, forward planning is not a talent common to either sheep or cattle, and come sunrise the glorious rebels are inevitably spotted ambling aimlessly along the nearby country roads, out on the Long-Field, and are duly rounded up.
The Long-Field is the 327,258 km of common Irish grass verges and hedgerows. Our lush damp climate produces a stunning array of wild foods, from fresh spring herbs to September mushrooms. Right now, it’s berry season, and bright scarlet Rowans and fat juicy Blackberries, the perennial favourite, are closely pursuing the Blueberries of a few weeks ago. Elderberries and Sloeberries will soon burst on to the hedges in perfect time for game season. At Macreddin, we are always excited about any opportunity to gather our own wild produce, and at this time of year the Long-Field foods are plentiful.
As always, we’re keen to use our imaginations when crafting menu options from Wicklow’s wildness. Blackberry jam may be delicious in all its sticky glory, but we want more from our long field loot. This year, we’ve already made a Blueberry and wild Elderflower wine jelly, a Rowanberry stuffing in time for the first September grouse. Our elderberry jus will be a happy match for deep, gamey venison, and later we’ll make a potent sloe gin, deepening to a perfect pink by Christmastime. Nevertheless, we still can’t resist making pots of our hedgerow jams. This year, sugary elderberries will make a fantastic contrast to the bitter tang of rowanberries, bonded by the crab apples’ gluey pectin.
And so, as summer draws to a close, we’re out wandering through the Long-Field, gathering the county’s finest for our guests and, let’s be honest, for the sheer pleasure of it. Cattle and sheep might not make for the very best of successful fugitives, but they know where to find the good stuff.
Alan Pierce and Mark Winterbotham run Gold River Farm, just a few miles down the road. Gold River is a certified organic farm, supplying to us since 1999, and two acres of its ever-expanding territory are dedicated to producing fresh Irish organic strawberries for us each year. Alan’s magic touch ensures a huge crop every summer, and this time he outdid even himself.
Anna Gethings presides sternly over every dessert made for the Strawberry Tree, Armento, and all the Macreddin weddings. Anna is very bossy, super dedicated and totally in control, and her perfect puds make up for the fact that when Anna talks, we listen. Currently, with a new arrival on the way, Anna is taking a well-earned break. Enter Anna Woldan (yes, it seems all good pastry chefs carry the name of Anna) who has bravely stepped in to fill Anna’s formidable kitchen clogs.
Seamus Mulkern has grown up with Macreddin and Macreddin has grown up with Seamus. He does lots of things for you out front, but also he spends time in the background focusing his creative talents just for you to enjoy. One such is the annual preserving of the glut of strawberries into new roles, such as chilled fresh strawberry and black pepper vodka shots, and a new strawberry twist on the classic Bellini.
We’re a little sentimental here in Macreddin. We remember when Irish strawberries made a brief, but dazzling, annual appearance in mid-summer. It may only have been a cameo, but they stole the show year after year – that first burst of June sweetness was undeniable proof that it was summertime, and the livin’ was easy. Nowadays, we Irish have become too impatient to wait for the first taste of high summer, and our national obsession with importing means that we can buy strawberries all year around.
Not so here in BrookLodge. Our old-school organic strawberries are grown on Gold River Farm, tenderly raised by Alan. Unlike uniform supermarket strawberries bloated with water, these guys are pretty ugly, but ooze flavour, like Irish strawberries should. They live outdoors, like Irish strawberries should, and they have just celebrated their third birthday. Strawberry plants are at their peak at age three, after they’ve really had a chance to push their roots down (but before a string of failed marriages or a stint in rehab, sets in.) This year, it been Oscars all round – not only were our Gold River berries in their delicious prime, but Mother Nature kindly met us halfway and gave them some serious sunshine to bask in this summer. As a result, we had an enormous crop of big, fat, juicy fruits.
And so, for six or seven weeks only, we had strawberries plastered all over our menus. A sharp strawberry vinaigrette danced along our starter plates; a poitín and strawberry sorbet gave a serious kick to the middle course; our summer game, like wild pigeon and rabbit, flirted outrageously with a sweet strawberry coulis; and of course Anna has been serving up a whole host of desserts that would make any sweet-tooth weep with delight.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and the curtain has fallen on strawberry season for another year, or to be more precise 45 weeks. You might think that with a restaurant name like The Strawberry Tree that we should have more permission than others to serve ‘the strawberry’ all year round. Not so, strawberries were always a summer crop in Ireland and we think they should remain that way. The memory of their juicy sweetness will be enough to sustain us, as it always was, till next summer. In the meantime, Seamus (and yes he still has some strawberry and black pepper vodka put aside if you give him the password!) and indeed the rest of us will keep ourselves busy thinking up new ways to let these fabulous Irish fruits shine the next time they burst upon our stage.
Michele Canosa is our Italian connection. He’s married to Deirdre Doyle from Aughrim and they reside now in Michele’s hometown of Armento deep down in southern Italy. Life in Lucania has never been easy; it’s like Connemara, but with sunshine! Michele has been a stalwart supporter of organic artisan food production from his native region and is the founder of Imex Lucania. Michele supplies our Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil to us, along with other traditional artisan products.
Antonio Craca is our organic olive man in Olefici Masturzo, and is heavily involved in both the selection of the olives and the oil production. He is also in continuous contact with the organic certification authority, ensuring that the oils are produced to exacting organic standards. The Masturzo pride in the Lucania region is evident in the sheer quality and unmistakable freshness of this oil.
Greg Goode has been talking the hind legs off us and has been part of our kitchens for as long as any of us can remember. As soon as the village of Armento came into our lives, Greg was down there, not just checking out the produce, but also the people and the place and has indeed returned several times since then in order to truly understand the South Italian flavours that we are now so lucky to enjoy here in Wicklow.
When we began to assemble our organic pantry for The Strawberry Tree, certain products such as olive oils, balsamic vinegar and coffee proved frustratingly elusive, so our friend Michele volunteered to help us find the remaining pieces of our organic jigsaw puzzle. Some time later, while roving through sun-kissed vineyards, olive groves and farms in his native Lucania region in Southern Italy, Michele stumbled across the Masturzo Oil Mills. This family-run company has been striving to produce the world’s finest olive oil since its foundation in 1923, four generations ago.
Michele created an affiliation with Antonio, a young man bursting with enthusiasm, and began supplying Masturzo Organic Olive Oil to us. Masturzo’s DOP Oils are made using time-honoured traditional production methods, fused with a stunningly comprehensive knowledge of modern technology. Only the finest olives from healthy organic green groves are selected for use. These olives are stone-ground to a paste as soon as they are harvested, and this paste is then slowly filtered through cotton, using only gravity to push it through. This process releases a rich, glossy oil of liquid sunshine.
Macreddin Extra Virgin Olive Oil is stored in for us in a special vat and later poured smoothly into the dark green glass bottles that it will be sold in, in our Store Room Shop. The glass is dark because the influence of sunlight can have a damaging effect on that deep, pungent, nutty green taste resident in all good quality olive oils. These litre bottles, lovingly branded with the Macreddin logo, can be found in every kitchen in the Village, including the Lucania kitchen of La Taverna Armento, where our organic oil is used exclusively by Greg. Meanwhile, as Greg keeps bantering on, he and indeed all of us here in Macreddin are extremely proud to have our name on the label of this very special olive oil.
‘ON THE PIGS BACK’
Mark Winterbotham and Alan Pierce own Gold River Farm, just down from us in Aughrim. Their Organic Licence enables them to grow delicious vegetables for us. This year Mark introduced Organic Pigs. The pigs are continually given fresh pastures around The Farm; in return they have a fab life and provide a weather resistant, income for our Organic Crop Farmers. Gold River Farm has just got better!
Ed Hick is a fourth generation pork butcher. His shop, in Dun Laoghaire, has recently attained a full organic licence. His traditional pork products, including the famous Hicks sausages, cured rashers, black and white puddings are now being made for us using the Organic ingredients from Gold River Farm. Breakfast in Macreddin has just got better!
Alex Weigold has been with The Strawberry Tree for yonks. All our chefs’ ingredients are curtailed (more than in any other kitchen in Ireland) to what is organically available. He continues to astound our guests with his finished dishes. But his DNA contribution(!) when it comes to presenting original ideas for Gold River Farm Pork has not gone unnoticed. Dinner in the Strawberry Tree has just got better!
Here in the kitchens of the Strawberry Tree restaurant, we had always found it difficult to source Irish organic pork in sufficient quantities. My good friend Ed, had not yet obtained his organic licence, and couldn’t supply to us because of this. Meanwhile, a few miles down the road on Gold River Farm, Mark and Alan had been growing beautiful natural organic vegetables, fresh fruit and herbs for us since 1999. Gold River has grown massively since then, supplying their produce all over Wicklow and Dublin.
In one of those light bulb moments, we decided to combine our talents, and establish our own private piggy network. The concept was simple, to the point of blindingly obvious. Mark rears the pigs in luxurious free-range digs on the Farm, spoiling them with loads of TLC and organic goodies. Ed uses the resulting top-quality pork meat to produce spicy puddings, fat juicy sausages, and smoky rashers, as well as succulent pork fillets. These artisan foods then come back to Macreddin, for use in our Breakfasts and the Strawberry Tree, putting smiles on our customers’ faces and completing a full circle in organic production and consumption.
Back on the farm, the porkers have heaps of grassy space to amble contentedly around. They are relocated to a different area every couple of weeks. They welcome the move, trotting behind Mark as he leads them to their new quarters across the fields. The pigs are also the proud owners of little piggy houses (no, seriously), variously constructed of straw, wood and brick (okay, I made that part up.)
With each move, they root and dig their noses in, munching up any roots and creepy-crawlies they can snuffle out. This is an age-old method of rotivation. When it’s time for them to move on, they leave behind tilled, aerated soil, rich, and two very happy farmers.
In return, they are fed on the yummy organic veg. At the end of a hard day, they go to bed with full bellies; safe that no one will be huff and puff their houses down. We believe this natural, mutually beneficial relationship is a clear testament to why organic farming is better for everyone: farmers, butchers, chefs, customers, and yes, the piggies too.