Ireland became a member of the European Union in 1973, within a short time a tidal wave of regulations swept over the country.
Small producers, butchers, bakers, cheesemakers were often asked to comply with regulations far out of proportion to the risks involved and to spend more than the business could afford.
Many long-established businesses ceased to exist and many important enterprises were lost.
It was in this climate that the Europe-wide Eurotoque organisation was established, in 1986.
Myrtle Allen was a founder member and the instigator of the original Eurotoques awards in 1996.
She was a passionate supporter of local farmers, fishermen, artisan producers cheesemakers, fish smokers, foragers — long before local became a sexy word on the food scene.
The aim of Eurotoque was and still is to preserve Irish culinary heritage by supporting traditional cooking methods and promoting producers of local and seasonal artisan products.
The members, chefs and cooks of which I am proud to be one, are part of a nurturing community who pride themselves in being custodians of Irish food culture and actively support local artisan producers.
This year’s Eurotoque Food Awards honoured dedicated food producers, who make exceptionally good raw materials which enable the chefs to create their magic.
I was delighted that the awards were held in Virginia Park Lodge, which gave me an excuse to visit renowned Irish chef Richard Corrigan’s, beautiful establishment on an 18th Century country estate in the midst of acres of vegetable, fruit and herb gardens overlooking the banks of Lough Ramor in Co Cavan.
The awards were presented by Richard Corrigan himself and Caroline Hennessy under the grape vines in a tunnel in the ‘Gooseberry Garden’ with a backdrop of the Lough and Leagh mountains.
Here are a list of the awards winners who were presented under the categories Water, Craft Growers, Land, Farm, Dairy and Artisan Produce.
Water: Connemara Seaweed Company; Craft Growers: Ballyholey Farm, Glensallagh Gardens, Iona Farm, Gorse Farm and An Garrai Glas; Dairy: The Village Dairy; Land: Bumblebee Flower Farm; and Artisan Produce: Ballyminane Mill.
For more information on all the winners go to www.euro-toques.ie
Lunch, cooked by chef Eoin Corcoran and his team, was a celebration of Irish produce.
The winners were presented with a piece of bespoke Fermoyle Pottery, www.fermoylepottery.ie, each piece representing their award category.
The award lunch dinner was refreshingly uncheffy, a delicious lobster cocktail, sole with asparagus and the first broad beans of the season and soft meringue with rhubarb.
Richard’s chef, Eoin kindly sent the recipes to share with our readers.
A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions with a blob of butter melting in the centre, add the butter just before serving so it melts into the centre. ‘Comfort’ food at its best.
Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.
Chop finely the scallions and chopped chives and place them in a saucepan.
Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse.
Just as the milk is coming to the boil add the pre-soaked dillisk, drained and cut into strips.
Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions and seaweed, beat in the butter.
Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Serve in one large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre.
The mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.
Cover with parchment paper while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.
Richard Corrigan’s Lobster Cocktail
Bring a large pot of heavily salted (seawater) to a simmer and gently place in the lobster.
Simmer for 10 mins and immediately remove into ice cold water.
Remove the tail and claws from the lobster. Extract the meat from the tail by firmly pressing a hand until the shell cracks allowing easy removal.
Crack the claws and use a pick to remove any remaining lobster meat.
Mix all ingredients for the cocktail sauce. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary.
Shred the lettuce. Peel and deseed the cucumber and slice into chunks.
Assemble the lettuce and cucumber in a serving dish. Slice the lobster and place on top.
Spoon a generous mound of cocktail sauce to the side, serve with lemon wedges.
Crispy Irish Snails with Garlic Mayo
Gaelic Escargot in Co Carlow are Ireland’s first snail farm, check them out on www.gaelicescargot.com
Heat a pan or deep fat fryer of oil to 180°C.
Finely chop the chilli and mix with the rice flour, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Whisk in the iced water to form a light batter.
Just before cooking, drain and dry the snails, dust with a little flour.
Coat each snail with the batter and fry in very hot oil until crisp and golden.
Provide cocktails sticks and a bowl of garlic mayonnaise for dipping.
Ballyminane Brown Soda Bread
This is a more modern version of soda bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin.
If you can, source the flour from one of the winners, Ballyminane Mill, based in Co Wexford, it is the last working water-powered flour mill in Ireland.
Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary.
The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins — using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle.
Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top.
Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
The quantity of buttermilk can vary depending on thickness. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cream to low-fat buttermilk (optional).
Tomato Salad with Flowers, Za’atar and Freekeh
This is a pretty salad with lots of edible flowers and the tomatoes are particularly good. Freekeh is a Lebanese wheat.
It’s picked while still under ripe and set on fire to remove the husk, which smokes and toasts the grain.
Put the freekeh into a saucepan with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 4-6 minutes, depending on the freekeh (some are broken grains, others whole).
It should be soft but still slightly chewy. Drain, season with salt and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and toss. Taste and correct the seasoning.
In a little bowl, whisk the pomegranate molasses with 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil to emulsify.
Cut the tomatoes into wedges. Season with salt and a little extra virgin olive oil.
Lay the tomatoes on a plate, scatter with the freekeh, then sprinkle over the za’atar and edible flowers.
Finish the plate by drizzling with the pomegranate molasses mixture.
Taste and add a few more flakes of sea salt if necessary.
Freekeh cooking times vary quite dramatically depending on the type and age of the freekeh.
A dish of roasted fruit couldn’t be simpler, I love to add some freshly chopped herbs, eg rose, geranium or verbena to the sugar or the accompanying cream.
I’m a huge fan of the sweet and intense flavour of roast rhubarb.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.
Trim the rhubarb stalks if necessary.
Slice the rhubarb into 2½cm (1 inch) pieces and arrange in a single layer in an oven proof dish.
Scatter the sugar over the rhubarb and allow to macerate for an hour or more, until the juice starts to run.
Cover loosely with a sheet of parchment paper and roast in the pre-heated oven for 10-20 minutes depending on the thickness of the stalks — until the rhubarb is just tender.
Serve alone or with ice-cream, panna cotta, labneh or thick Jersey cream.
Uncover the rhubarb after 10 minutes for more caramelisation.
Nutrient-dense, heritage variety flours are becoming available once more.
Seven generations of the Mosse family have selected fine wheat and stoneground flour in The Little Mill in Co Kilkenny.
More recently, they are leading the way in the revival of traditional heritage grains.
For more details, contact Bill and Robert Mosse, at 056-7727399 and www.kellswholemeal.ie.
Hope you are all having fun growing some radishes and salads on your window sill.
We are in the midst of the growing season, so radishes take less than three weeks from seed to crunchy radishes.
Another book you may want to know about: The Way We Eat Now: strategies for eating in a world of change by Bee Wilson.
Bee is a brilliant researcher, and definitely one of the world’s most compelling voices in journalism.