Darina Allen is inspired by her stay at Coombeshead Farm for this week's recipes

Picture: Charlie McKay

A FEW weeks ago we flew from Cork Airport to Bristol, hired a car and headed for Devon and Cornwall. 

I’d forgotten how beautiful the English countryside can be, the abundance of wildflowers in the hedgerows and so many beautiful mature trees. One can’t but draw comparison to our Irish countryside, so often denuded of hedgerows and with so few mature trees. 

Of course it depends on the area in both countries but I’m becoming ever more alarmed at the wanton disregard for the environment.

We had booked a few nights stay at Coombeshead Farm near Lewannick, a ‘farm to fork’, guest house with just five bedrooms owned by chefs Tom Adams and his partner April Bloomfield. We arrived tired and hungry and felt instantly at home. 

The bedrooms are small by most hotel standards but charmingly decorated with a homemade soap made from the lard of their own pigs, a little decanter of mint vodka to sip and two pieces of homemade toffee to share or argue over. The house is surrounded by organic gardens in a working farm with vegetable and herb gardens and a flock of heritage chickens.

The farmhouse is in the midst of 66 acres of woodlands and meadows grazed by sheep, there are beehives and a wood-burning oven and a fire pit. Curly haired Mangalitsa pigs romp and root around the fields underneath the oak spinney behind the house. 

The bread is made in the ‘state of the art’ bakery in the barn by Ben Glazer, beautiful dark crusty loaves of natural sour dough that also make their way to some of the top restaurants in London.

The food is super delicious, we stayed for three nights and looked forward to each and every meal with eager anticipation.

The atmosphere feels like a house party, comfy sofas, crackling fires — guests tend to congregate in the kitchen around the stove. 

Dark crusty loaves of natural sour dough are baked in the ‘state of the art’ bakery in the barn and served with homemade Guernsey butter. Picture: Charlie McKay
Dark crusty loaves of natural sour dough are baked in the ‘state of the art’ bakery in the barn and served with homemade Guernsey butter. Picture: Charlie McKay

Breakfast each day was a simple feast, dark crusty sourdough bread with homemade Guernsey butter, compote of seasonal fruit — rhubarb, apple, gooseberry with elderflower, raw honey, homemade jams, granola, bircher muesli, gut boosting water kefir, kombucha and gorgeous unctuous yoghurt. 

There was a most fantastic slab of fine, home cured streaky bacon and homemade sausages from the happy rare breed Mangalitsa pigs with a soft flowing scramble of their own eggs.

Lots of pickling, fermenting, curing and preserving, served up on small plates of creative, flavourful real food. No silly foams, gels or skid marks on plates. 

Here these young people are really ‘walking the walk’, not just ‘talking the talk’ as so many places do, skilled, accomplished earthy organic food, locally sourced and seasonal. The menus sang of the season and the produce picked at its peak from the vegetable garden and hedgerows — zero miles food.

I’m licking my lips remembering some of the flavours still so vibrantly fresh in my mind. Country loaf and Guernsey butter, new season asparagus wrapped in crispy filo parcel, garlic scapes and Jack of the Hedge, pickled ramson and cabbage terrine, curds and nettle, Mangalitsa loin and turnip, hazelnut tart with fresh cream… you’ll just have to go there yourself to experience the magic!

www.coombesheadfarm.co.uk

Coombeshead Farm Bircher Muesli

This recipe is quite adaptable depending on seasonality — the below is the base for quantities but for example at the moment Coombeshead Farm are using semi dried rhubarb rather than prunes as that is in season on the farm.

Serves 4 – 6

500g (18oz) rolled spelt/rye grains (can be good quality barley oats or normal oats or even seeds such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds)

100g (3½ oz) pitted prunes or semi dried fruit of choice cut into bite size pieces

750ml (1¼ pints) good quality apple juice or red/white grape juice

Completely submerge the grains and prunes in the juice by at least 3cm and leave for 24 hours minimum to allow the phytic acid to break down.

Finish with toasted seeds or nuts.

Serve to your liking, perhaps some farmhouse yoghurt, fresh seasonal fruits or berries and some local honey, a perfect breakfast.

Coombeshead Farm Giardiniera

110g (4oz) salt

200g (7oz) heritage carrots chopped into irregular shapes

230g (8¼oz) cauliflower or broccoli, small florets

200g (7oz) radishes, halved

1 red onion, cut into small wedges

10 frigitelli peppers halved

2 red peppers cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces

1 head of garlic, cut in half

2 celery sticks, peeled and sliced

400ml (14fl oz) water

900ml (1½ pints) cider vinegar

30g (1¼oz) castor sugar

110ml (4fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

110ml (4fl oz) organic rapeseed oil

10g (1/3oz) dried oregano

3g chilli flakes

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

10g (1/3oz) black peppercorns

Prepare the vegetables and put into a stainless steel saucepan or Delph crock pot. Sprinkle with salt. Add enough water to cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Drain the vegetables, rinse well and check for salinity, pat dry.

Heat the sugar and water in a pan until just dissolved and transfer to a large bowl. Add the herbs, peppercorns, chilli flakes, vinegar, and oil together. Add the vegetables and store in airtight containers for a minimum of 2 weeks until ready.

This pickle is perfect served with grilled meats, charcuterie, and cheeses.

Mint Vodka

Darina Allen is inspired by her stay at Coombeshead Farm for this week's recipes

1.3 litres (2¼ pints) vodka

175g (6oz) freshly picked mint leaves (no stalks)

150g (5oz) sugar

Equipment

1.5 litre (2½ pints) Kilner Jar

Put the mint leaves into a Kilner jar. Add the sugar and cover with the vodka. Seal the jar, invert every couple of days to dissolve the sugar. Taste after a week or two, best to drink sooner rather than later — delicious on its own or with soda water or tonic and lots of ice.

Asparagus in Filo

Serves 12 (makes approximately 30)

12 sticks asparagus in season

12 sheets of filo pastry

175g (6oz) unsalted butter, melted

150g (5oz) Parmesan, finely grated

Sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Trim the ends of the asparagus. Put into a saucepan of boiling salted water, just enough to cover, bring back to the boil and simmer until tender, 3-4 minutes depending on size. Remove from the heat, strain and allow to cool. Cut into 10-12.5cm (4-5 inches) pieces.

Alternatively, toss in a little extra virgin olive oil and pan grill on a high heat for 3-4 minutes, they should retain a nice bite.

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.

Lay a sheet of filo on the worktop, cut into four pieces, brush with melted butter. Sprinkle it evenly with finely grated Parmesan, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the asparagus in the middle. 

Tuck in the edges and roll up tightly. Arrange in a single layer on a baking tray, brush with melted butter and refrigerate. Sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese before it goes into the oven.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until they are crisp and golden all over.

Serve piping hot, sprinkled with a little more Parmesan.

Hot Tips

Pop-up event at Ballymaloe:

The Ballymaloe 12 Week Certificate Students Pop Up takes place Saturday, July 6. As always this will be a great evening of food and entertainment from the current Summer Certificate Students with all proceeds going towards our East Cork Slow Food Development Fund. Tickets selling fast… To make a booking contact 021-4646785.

Organic

training

courses:

National Organic Training Skillnet (NOTS) 

hold a variety of excellent courses throughout Ireland. Some upcoming short courses in July include a Forage Crop Seminar and Ice Cream Production. September courses include their much sought after Certificate of Organic Horticulture. For more information and a full schedule of NOTS courses go to www.nots.ie or call them on 071 9640688.

- www.cookingisfun.ie 

- www.instagram.com/darina_allen 

- www.instagram.com/ballymaloecookeryschool

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