Wild wonders: Taste the difference in West Cork

Wild wonders: Taste the difference in West Cork
WILD WONDERS: Mags Riordan, on her Bumblebee Flower Farm in Drimoleague, says we should all eat nasturtiums as they are high in vitamin C and have antibacterial qualities. Picture: Andy Gibson

Over the past week, you may already have taken the opportunity to forage, forest-bathe, or sample bush-tucker burgers courtesy of visiting Australian twin chefs Luke and Samuel Bourke, but there is still lots more to enjoy from the event that has been billed as Ireland’s largest food festival.

Little wonder. A Taste of West Cork, which runs until Sunday, plays host to more than 265 events on eight islands and in 50 West Cork towns and villages.

As volunteer chairperson Helen Collins says: “The groundswell of support and unity that West Cork has displayed in promoting this unique region is heart-lifting. It’s quite a feat to have buy-in from 50 towns, villages, and islands.”

This year, there are 43 guest chefs, 14 speakers, and hundreds of events from Bantry to Beara. If last year’s figures are an indicator, A Taste of West Cork will attract more than 25,000 visitors and give the region an economic boost estimated at some €2.3m.

And there’s still time to get in on theaction. On Friday, you can spend the day foraging for mushrooms on the Beara peninsula with Irish mycophagist (that’s one who eats fungi, to the uninitiated) Bill O’Dea, or drop into Michael Collins House in Clonakilty to discover that the Irish revolutionary had a sweet tooth.

On Saturday, scientist turned food writer and Eat Like a Girl blogger Niamh Shields will bring her recipes to life at Riverside Café, Skibbereen, while in Leap “knife-maker supreme” Rory O’Connor will give a workshop on one of the most important tools of the trade.

There are any number of food themes that emerge from a festival designed to showcase West Cork’s abundant produce, but it isperhaps fitting to focus on two events that celebrate the nutrient-rich foodstuffs that are all around us, free and too often ignored: seaweed and edible flowers.

At least now, the nutritional benefits of seaweed are starting to be recognised. Over the last two decades, there has been a huge change, says Dr Prannie Rhatigan, a medical doctor with a lifetime experience of harvesting sea vegetables.

It’s a far cry from her childhood in the north-west when her family were asked if times were tough when they were seen harvesting seaweed from the shore.

Now, there is a growing awareness of how adding seaweed to our diets — in smoothies, pestos, or sprinkled on salads — can bring a host of benefits. Seaweed, explains Dr Rhatigan, is rich in minerals, vitamins, trace elements, and fucoidan, which can help prevent cancer. “Seaweed is a powerhouse of nutrients,” she says.

A Taste of West Cork has added an extra date on Friday so that people can join Dr Rhatigan to learn how to identify andsustainably harvest seaweed. The key to sustainability is to harvest seaweed with a sharp knife or scissors.

“Never pull it off the rock. Give it a hair-cut,” says Dr Rhatigan whose second book The Irish Seaweed Christmas Kitchen was awarded best In the world in the seafood category of the World Book Awards earlier this year.

Sustainability is also something that is very important to founder of Bumblebee Flower Farm in Drimoleague, MagsRiordan.

The farm won a Euro-Toques award for its sustainable growing practices and this weekend visitors will be shown how to sustainably cultivate flowers and herbs and learn about their health benefits.

Mags Riordan, a professional florist, first began to explore edible flowers when she was asked to make a wedding bouquet for a two-year-old flower-girl who was likely to eat it.

She began to look at the flowers she was growing differently and soon realised that many of them — dahlia, rose, marigold, and sweet william, to mention a few — were edible. “I munched my way through the tunnels,” she laughs.

Now, she runs a dedicated edible flower farm, supplying gourmet edible flowers to a number of chefs including Eddie Attwell, head chef of the Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff.

Flowers, she tells Feelgood, not only have flavour and texture but also many health benefits. Nasturtiums, for instance, are her number one choice. “We should all be eating them for their health benefits,” she says. They are high in vitamin C and antioxidants and have anti-bacterial qualities.

However, if you are interested in harvesting the power of flowers, a word of caution. Only organic, pesticide-free flowers are suitable to be eaten, says Mags who will explain more at a workshop on Saturday.

atasteofwestcork.com

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