‘THE SPICE TRAIL AND OUR FESTIVE FOODS’

THE PLAYERS

 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.

THE PRODUCE

 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

Evan

Autumn 2010