Every now and then there’s a moment, a milestone which can indicate the end of an era. For me a recent experience in a West Cork village was just that.
It was just a small thing but I was alwaysreassured by the presence of buttermilk in local shops, an indication that the tradition of baking a loaf of soda bread was alive and well in the parish.
It’s a long time since one could buy an entire sack of flour in a village shop but it’s still possible in the one and only shop on Inis Meáin, which hopefully indicates a rich baking tradition among the islanders.
We certainly enjoyed Ruarí De Blacam’s delicious brown soda bread at Inis Meáin Suites on a recent visit.
The food in the little restaurant there is pure and delicious, home grown vegetables, herbs and flowers from the garden, a taste of the produce of the island and the local coastline.
The Inis Meáin Suites are booked up almost a year ahead but the good news is that the restaurant is now open to non-residents from Wednesday to Saturday.
Some of the standout dishes on the menu during our recent stay were mackerel carpaccio with an Asian dressing, thinly sliced raw mackerel caught a few hours earlier in the crystal clear waters off the coast – utterly sublime.
I can’t understand why we don’t see more fish crudo on our restaurant menus.
The squid with black squid ink mayonnaise was also super delicious, as was the beetroot salad served three ways and a plump tender lobster claw with aioli and rocket leaves.
All simple, elemental cooking made with superb fresh produce — no foams, gels or skid marks on the plate — just beautiful fresh flavours and simple presentations, a breath of fresh air.
Well, back to bread. Many of you already know how to bake but for those of you who don’t, let me tell you how easy it is to make a loaf of soda bread, made in minutes and out of the oven in little more than 30 minutes.
So next time when you need bread, just turn on the oven.
You wouldn’t have found your car keys and be back from the shops by the time it’s baked and cooling on a wire rack, filling your kitchen with the irresistible smell of crusty homemade bread that you can guarantee will nourish your family.
I include treacle bread and white soda bread for you to try.
This is pictured with line-caught baby squid, grilled courgette from the garden, and wild and cultivated island flowers.
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 egg yolks
300ml sunflower oil
50ml extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon
salt to taste
8 x 4g sachets of squid ink
Crush garlic and whisk together with the mustard and egg yolks. Combine the oils in a jug and slowly add to the egg yolk mixture, whisking continuously to create an emulsion. When all of the oil has been added, whisk in the lemon juice and season with salt. Whisk in the squid ink until you get a jet black mayonnaise
We make a large batch of this delicious relish with any beetroot and tomatoes left in the garden at the end of the season and preserve it in jars for the following season.
This is pictured with butter-steamed golden beets and rocket flowers from the garden with pantelleria capers.
20 sprigs of thyme
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1.5kg brown sugar
800ml red wine vinegar
200ml balsamic vinegar
10 red onions, chopped
2 sticks of horseradish, finely grated
Roast the beetroot in a large baking tray at 200 degrees Celsius for approximately 1 hour until soft.
When cold enough to handle, peel and coarsely blend in a magimix, and put into a large pot.
Half the tomatoes and place in a large bowl.
Mix lightly with the thyme leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper and roast on a large baking tray at 200 Celsius for approximately 30 minutes.
Coarsely blend in magimix.
Put all the pickle ingredients except for the horseradish in a large pot and bring to the boil.
Remove from heat and mix in the tomatoes and horseradish.
Gradually add the tomato pickle to the beetroot until you get a
consistency and flavour that you are happy with.
Jar up your beetroot relish and any excess tomato pickle and put away for the winter.
Soda bread only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 30 to 40 minutes to bake.
We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses. It’s also great with olives, sun dried tomatoes or caramelized onions added, so the possibilities are endless for the hitherto humble soda bread.
1 lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon breadsoda
sour milk or buttermilk to mix - 12-14fl oz (350-400ml) approx.
First fully preheat your oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once.
Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.
When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface. Wash and dry for hands.
Tidy it up and flip over gently. Pat the dough into a round about 1½ inches (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this.
Bake in a hot oven, 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.
These flapjacks were thin and crisp and altogether were more delicious
than the version I’ve been making myself for years. Thank you Ruairí for sharing.
Makes 48 flapjacks
650 g butter
2 dessertspoons golden syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
900 g jumbo oatmeal or gluten free oatmeal
450 g caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 180C. Get two trays and a large mixing bowl.
Melt the butter and golden syrup in a pot and add the vanilla extract. Mix the oatmeal and sugar together in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the butter mixture and mix thoroughly. Pour mixture into the tin, spread evenly and use a fish slice to flatten the surface well.
Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, turning the tray after 10 minutes. Check every 2 minutes after 15 minutes as they can burn easily. Cook until golden brown. Remove from the oven; place the tray on a wire rack for 3-4 minutes to cool slightly.
The flapjacks need to be tended to once they come out of the oven. Cut the biscuits in a grid of 6x4 within 5 minutes of coming out of the oven.
After a further 5 minutes once the butter has solidified slightly more but not too much use a fish slice to place flapjacks on a wire rack to cool.
Once set place in a tin lined with a sheet of greaseproof paper to store.
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