The Hungry Gap is the expression that is used to describe the six to eight weeks between the end of the winter produce and the beginning of the summer crops.
Brussel sprouts, leeks, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes are all coming to the end of their season, not that you’d know if all your shopping is done in your local supermarket which manages to source fruit and vegetables all year round from one corner of the world or another.
However years ago, these few weeks were very lean ones, hence the importance of a wonderful perennial kale called hungry gap, cottiers kale or cut and come. The latter was so called as the more you cut this tender green the more it grew. As it was propagated from slips, cottiers kale was passed from one cottage garden to another and it filled the ‘hungry gap’ before the summer greens and new potatoes were ready to eat.
All of the above is by way of introduction to the main subject of this column, the Spring Pop Up dinner, organised by the 12-Week Certificate Course students to raise funds for the Slow Food Educational Project. Every term they plot and plan to create a special menu and vibe to celebrate their chosen theme. This year it was ‘Stepping into Spring — eating between the seasons’. The students wanted to highlight the hungry gap between the seasons when fresh produce can be scarce. They foraged around the farm and gardens for the end of the last season’s crops, wild foods and new shoots. They incorporated local lamb and the milk and cream from our small herd of Jersey cows. Students were also keen to encourage the guests to think about what they could grow themselves as the new season begins. Planning started at the end of January.
Phoebe, Shauna and Colm volunteered to be the event planners and together with their fellow students, they formed a creative team and divided themselves into small groups with responsibility for bread, canapes, starters, main course, desserts and petit four and diningroom service.
The creative team planned the décor to enhance the Garden Café at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. They spent several nights making pretty pom pom flowers from tissue paper to hang from the rafters. The menu was decided, Harry did the graphics and then they set out to harvest and forage. Where you and I might see weeds, they imagined a delicious dinner.
Shauna and Phoebe led a team of helpers to sow pea shoots and now five weeks later, they were ready to harvest. Fresh pollock from Ballycotton was cured with salt, sugar and dill while other students dug some fresh horseradish roots to grate into a bowl of rich Jersey cream to accompany the gravlax. The starter was also made from scratch, homemade yoghurt was dripped for labneh then cold smoked.
Beetroot was dug out of the winter clamp and cooked two ways for the roasted and puréed beets to complete the starter plate of roast beetroot and labneh with sourdough bread. For the next course guests were given a shot of flavoursome organic chicken broth sprinkled with foraged with wild garlic flowers.
The lamb from local butcher Frank Murphy was served three ways — crispy lamb cutlet, lamb breast stuffed with pearl barley and a mini lamb pie. Other students were roasting new season rhubarb they has just pulled from the garden. Kate folded chopped stem ginger into the homemade ice cream. Meanwhile, another team was creating a sylvan setting in the Garden Room to hide petit fours so the guests could forage among the twigs and chocolate soil for white chocolate and orange truffles. They also had egg shells and tiny pots for guests to sow a seed to take home.
Stuffed Breast of Lamb with Salsa Verde
Pollock Gravadlax with Horseradish Cream on Croutini
Rory O’Connell’s Caramel and Almond Flats
Stem Ginger Ice-Cream with Roast Rhubarb and Chocolate Soil
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