The campaign trail: How Darina Allen changed how we eat

The campaign trail: How Darina Allen changed how we eat

Passionate about food grown with integrity, Darina has been instrumental in establishing the networks that have allowed Irish producers to flourish.

Sally Barnes

Sally Barnes is a key figure in the worldwide celebration of Irish artisan produce. She is a true craftsperson and has been smoking wild fish in West Cork for over forty years.

“The most immediate image I have of Darina’s care and attention to detail might just be her amazing ability to send on her lovely cards after visits to the smokery with her students - she never failed to write a thank-you note afterwards, and that MUST have been written, by her own hand, on the bus going home, as it would arrive in the post the next day!

Such a conscientious lady. Her unflagging energy is such a fine advert for eating good clean food, and her sharing of her knowledge and experience is applied to everybody she meets with such grace and kindness.

"Like Myrtle, she encourages and nurtures so many budding producers, her passion for Slow Food is boundless, and we are all so much the richer for having that energy in this country, and all parts of the planet where she puts her feet and mind. The ethos of Slow Food is in her veins and soul.

"Her food is comfortable and for sharing, reinforcing the joy to be had in sitting around the table with good friends and good food, it makes me feel human in the best way.”


Serves 4

  • 3 shallots, peeled and chopped finely, or 2 medium-sized onions, peeled and chopped finely
  • 2 tbsp olive oil or butter
  • 3 big floury potatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 300g undyed smoked white fish, haddock for preference, or white pollack, which is highly sustainable
  • 1 litre of organic milk if possible.
  • Pepper/ chopped parsley or chives to finish.

The campaign trail: How Darina Allen changed how we eat

Gently sweat down the shallots/onion in oil/butter, until translucent. Stir in the chopped potato, to soak up the cooked onion and oil, pour on the milk, stir gently to incorporate all, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Do not let it boil, in case the milk splits. Whilst cooking down the potato and milk mixture, skin the fish, removing any bones (use fingers to feel for them, there won’t be many), and cut into small cubes.

When the potato is almost soft, add the cubes of fish to the mixture, stirring through carefully, and simmer very gently again for five minutes. The potato should now be very soft, and the fish will be heated through.

Finish with a scratch of pepper, and a sprinkling of finely chopped fresh parsley or chives. Serve with brown bread and butter. This is the ultimate in comfort food, and makes for a very soothing supper.


The woman behind the Burren Smokehouse and one of the founding members of Slow Food Ireland, Giana Ferguson has forged her own path in Irish food and led her to an enduring friendship with Darina.

“Darina has a very generous and positive nature. She always sees the best in people, she also sees their potentials. It is often the case that she will ask for help in one of her projects knowing it will bring out the best in you;

"I remember well her asking me if I had heard of slow food. The next years of my life became completely taken up with helping herdevelop slow food in Ireland!”


Makes 6-8

  • 225g russet potatoes (we often use leftovers)
  • Half cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • Salt
  • 45g Gubeen cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted

Peel the potatoes, cut into evenly sized pieces, and put into a pan of salted water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until cooked. Drain, mash and let cool.

Heat a skillet or heavy-bottomed pan (dust the skillet with a little flour. When the flour starts to colour, reduce the heat slightly and start frying).

Sift the flour with a pinch of salt and add to the cooled potatoes with the grated cheese and melted butter. Knead into a dough and divide into portions. Place in the hot skillet (in batches if needs be) and fry for three to four minutes on one side before turning over and panfrying foranother three to four minutes.

Be careful not to let the cakes burn. Serve warm.

TIP: For extra flavour, fry the potato cakes in a frying pan right after you have cooked some bacon.

Darina says

“The Slow Food Movement supports artisan food producers who make quality products and promotes a philosophy of pleasure. In addition, it encourages tourism that respects and cares for the environment, and — last but not least — Slow Food promotes charity initiatives around the world.

"Slow Food seeks to combine pleasure with an understanding of responsibility towards the environment and the world of agricultural production.

"One fundamental idea is that gastronomes and food enthusiasts must be sensitive to the protection of endangered local cuisines, animal breeds and vegetable species.

Slow Food’s aim is to develop a new, less intensive, cleaner model of agriculture, one that is capable of preserving and improving biodiversity and offers prospects to the world’s poorest regions.

"The Slow Food organisation actively supports artisan producers, local butchers, bakers, and endangered food cultures. The Slow Food ethos offers a way forward for rejuvenation of Irish agriculture and rural economies through encouraging value-added artisan food production, to a premium world marketplace.”

■ Saturday 13th September, 2003


As president Slow Food Ireland, Hermione has seen the reach of Darina’s passion firsthand.

“Way back in June 2011, when Darina was president of Slow Food Ireland, I was lucky enough to accompany her to the Slow Food International Councillor’s meeting in Rabat, the capital of Morocco.

"We arranged to meet at the Aer Lingus check-in desk at Heathrow as Darina was flying in from San Francisco, having been there on a research trip, and I was flying in from Dublin. As Slow Food is a voluntary organisation without funding, we each pay our own fares.

"The staff behind the check in desk were so excited to see Darina they gave us access to the lounge even though we were travelling economy and nor were we travelling with Aer Lingus. But that is not the highlight of my story!

“When we arrived in the lounge and found a table to sit at, Darina opened her small carry on suitcase and took out a biscuit tin, which she placed on the table. She opened it and to my delight, and surprise, it was full of artisan food that she’d bought back from the US. Farmhouse butter and cheese; home-made bread rolls; figs; avocado; tomatoes and cakes, all bought at the local farmers’ markets in San Francisco.

She laid all the food out on the table as if she was at home setting the table for dinner. She had plates, cutlery, napkins, salt and pepper.

"A feast of a picnic if ever I saw one. She explained that she never travelled anywhere without her biscuit tin full of good food and would keep it stocked up throughout the journey.

"She would buy products from each artisan producer she came across. Thus, buying locally, buying seasonally and supporting the artisan producers as well as ensuring she always had some very, very good food to eat.

“This is not Darina being pretentious or precious, this is Darina being sensible and living by what she teaches. Taking your own picnic food with you wherever you go means you will always have something delicious to eat; you will know exactly where your food has come from and it’s a lot cheaper, fresher and probably more nutritious, than purchasing factory-made, plastic-wrapped sandwiches.

"I learned a valuable lesson that day, almost 10 years ago, and still carry my own biscuit tin with me on my travels.”

The campaign trail: How Darina Allen changed how we eat


Serves 6

  • 1.35kg boned shoulder of lamb
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • generous pinch saffron
  • 50g butter
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 300ml tomato juice
  • salt
  • 175g medjool dates
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 1 tbsp oil, optional 50g flaked almonds
  • fresh coriander leaves

Trim the lamb, discarding excess fat. Cut into 4cm cubes. Mix cinnamon, paprika, ginger, pepper and saffron with four tablespoons of water. Toss the lamb in this mixture. If you have time, leave to marinade for up to 24 hours.

Melt the butter in a wide pan. Add the lamb, onions, garlic, tomato juice, salt and enough water to come half way up the meat. Bring up to the boil, cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer.

Cook for about 45 minutes, turning the lamb occasionally until the meat is meltingly tender. Add the dates, and coriander. Continue simmering for a further 30 minutes or so, uncovered until the sauce is thick and unctuous. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Fry the almonds in the oil until almost golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle almonds and remaining coriander over the lamb just before serving. Serve with couscous.


Decorated chef Declan Rylan left behind a successful career to found his passion project, Arbutus Bread. He says that without Darina’s direction in the beginning, he would have been lost.

“I am hugely grateful to Darina for her help over the years, When I sold Arbutus Lodge and started a bakery it was she who gave me the contacts which enabled me to go to the bakery school in Aurillac in the Aubergne in France — even to this day, I have maintained contact with the French bakers I met.

"Then she strongly recommended that I join Midleton Farmers Market, which I love and which introduced me to markets (we now sell weekly at three).

Darina introduced me to the Artisan Committee of the Food Safety Authority which has given me a broader vision of artisan food production in Ireland and fascinates me.

"It also gave me an insight into just how hard Darina works for small food producers around Ireland — nobody works harder or does more for small Irish food producers.”


Makes 1 loaf

  • 450g (1lb/4 cups) plain white flour, preferably unbleached
  • 1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 level tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 75g sultanas (or more if you’d like)
  • 1 free-range egg
  • about 350 – 425ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 220˚C/425˚F/gas mark 7.

In a large mixing bowl, sieve in the flour and bicarbonate of soda; then add the salt, sugar and sultanas. Mix well by lifting the flour and fruit up in to your hands and then letting them fall back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore more lightness to your finished bread.

Now make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Break the egg into the base of a measuring jug and add the buttermilk to the 425ml (14fl oz/1 3/4 cup) line (the egg is part of the liquid measurement). Pour most of this milk and egg mixture into the flour.

The campaign trail: How Darina Allen changed how we eat

Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle drawing in the flour mixture from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky.

The trick with Spotted Dog like all soda breads, is not to over mix the dough.

Mix it as quickly and gently as possible, thus keeping it light and airy. When the dough all comes together, turn it out onto a well- floured work surface. Wash and dry your hands. With floured fingers, roll the dough lightly for a few seconds — just enough to tidy it up.

Then pat the dough into a round about 6cm (2 1/2 inches) deep. Transfer to a baking tray dusted lightly with flour. Use a sharp knife to cut a deep cross on it, letting the cuts go over the sides of the bread. Prick with knife at the four triangles. Put into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes.

If you are in doubt about the bread being cooked, tap the bottom: If it is cooked it will sound hollow. This bread is cooked at a lower temperature than soda bread because the egg browns faster at a higher heat. Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and smeared with butter and jam.

Darina says...

“During all the years I’ve written for the Irish Examiner, I’ve seen innumerable diet fads come and go, but have never advocated any regime. I simply encourage readers to seek out fresh naturally produced local food in season.

"Nothing I’ve seen or read has changed my mind, but the more I learn about the mass production of food and the problems associated with the intensive production systems and factory farming, the more convinced I am that organic is not a luxury, it is a necessity.”

Saturday March 18, 2006

“Today is the first birthday of the Midleton Farmers’ Market — a whole year has whizzed by since we set up our stalls for the first time behind the courthouse. Farmers markets are set up for the express intention of providing an outlet for farmers and small food producers to sell local seasonal produce to the consumers who are desperately seeking this kind of food.

"These markets are different from some of the established markets, they do not sell clothes, CDs, tools, bric-a-brac … they simply sell local food to local people, the producers themselves or an appropriate representative must man the stall.

"They enable farmers and food producers to sell their goods locally which benefits themselves and the community. They keep the money circulating within the area and attract people to adjacent retail businesses. Farmers’ markets benefit the environment by encouraging sustainable agriculture and small-scale,less intensive production.

"They reduce the effects of the long-distance transport of food and the need for excess packaging. The variety of produce is amazing and of course most abundant during the growing season.

As you enter the market area, Mrs Burns who has been a trader for many years sells a variety of vegetables, bundles of fresh carrots and turnips, in season.

"Wendy English and her mother are next with their table piled high with freshly baked scones, cakes, biscuits, jam and chutney. Next comes Frank O’Neill with a variety of goodies, carrot cakes, delicious little pies, beautifully grown vegetables from his garden and pots of jellies and jams.

The Ballymaloe Cookery School Gardens stall is next, with organic vegetables, lots of free-range eggs, brown bread, jams and chutneys. Little bunches of sweet pea, Nora Aherne’s duck, Frank Krycwzk’s salamis, chorizo, fresh herbs, salad dressings, elderflower cordial and occasionally organic free-range pork from our own saddleback pigs.

£Frank Hederman from Belvelly near Cobh has a tempting array of smoked fish, chicken, duck, and mussels. Sarah Mossman swings into action by his side making crepes which literally sell like hot cakes. Fiona Burke who does three markets a week, Macroom and Bantry, as well as Midleton, sells a gorgeous selection of Irish farmhouse cheese, as well as carefully chosen continental cheese, aged gouda, comte, double Gloucester and seaweed, and Fingal Ferguson’s gubbeen bacon.

"Clodagh McKenna from Ballymaloe House has a stall sandwiched between Fiona Burke and the Yorks. She sells delicious home-made fresh pasta, parsley pesto, tomato fondue, toffee apples, brown soda bread and soups and dressings.”

Saturday 2nd June, 2001

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