THE Oxford Food Symposium is a weekend conference that brings together over 200 international scholars, journalists, chefs, scientists, sociologists, anthropologists and enthusiastic amateurs for serious discussions on food, its culture and its history.
This year the theme was Food and Markets. Papers presented were asked to examine “the historical, sociological and practical aspects of the economic exchange between producer and consumer through which food arrives on our tables. Not forgetting the pleasure of marketing: the excitement of discovering new ingredients, watching the skill of a market cook preparing a dish to order; the sheer enjoyment to be found in the peace, charm and sunshine of wandering around an open air market in an unfamiliar (or familiar) part of the world and learning how people live”.
The first Oxford Symposium was held in 1981, the brainchild of Alan Davidson and Theodore Zeldin, chaired by food writer and journalist Paul Levy and Claudia Roden.
I hadn’t been for many years but this year, I was invited to give the Jane Grigson Memorial lecture — I loved and admired Jane Grigson so it was a joyful honour. I spoke on the revival of the markets in Ireland from the original farmers market in the Cork Quay started in 1996 to the 160-plus farmers markets around the country today.
The latest Farmers Market to open to queues on the first day is at Wilton Shopping Centre in Cork on Tuesdays from 10am to 2.30pm.
The whole weekend was wonderfully convivial with a variety of intriguing presentations, including a fascinating insight into the behind the scenes in food markets in Russia, by Anya von Bremzen, author of six books, including her latest Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing.
Other papers explored World Street market food in India and Mexico, San Francisco and Southern Vietnam.
Sadly I missed Samantha Martin McAuliffe’s from Wicklow presentation on Feeding Dublin, but this paper and all the others will be up on the Oxford Food Symposium website ( www.oxfordfoodsymposium.org.uk ) for everyone to access before too long.
Gastronomic dynamo, Allegra McEvedy cooked a Market Dinner on Friday — the starter was a celebration of the fresh produce from the market, peas and broad peas in the pod, radishes, sweet and delicious tomatoes, cured black olives, sheep’s cheese, fresh herbs, dukkah and manaqush flatbreads. The main course was porchetta rolls with salsa verde with crispy pig ears and crackling and dessert was summer strawberry, nut and hibiscus jelly cups.
Hope I’ve whetted your appetite.
Allegra’s Orange Blossom, cashew and semolina cake
I have to say this is my favourite: a truly stunning cake with the most incredible, crumbly texture. All the ingredients bring something to the party — semolina for colour and consistency, cashews for moistness and all their good oils, and orange flower water to keep the whole thing fragrant and light. It’s really stunning on its own, or makes a fab pud with a bit of fruit and a blob of crème fraîche.
Yellow cake like you’ve never had it before.
For the cake:
200g butter (at room temperature)
250g golden demerara sugar
250g ground cashew nuts,
raw and unsalted
zest and juice of 2 oranges
110g fine semolina
1 level teaspoon baking powder
a good splash of orange
blossom water (about 2 tablespoons)
for the rosemary syrup
15g rosemary, in little sprigs
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 160C/320F/gas 3.
Cream the butter and the sugar together with a mixer until light and pale. Mix in the ground cashews. Add the eggs, one by one, waiting until each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the orange zest and juice, followed by the semolina, baking powder and a pinch of salt.
Grease a 25cm cake tin with a little butter, then dust lightly with flour. Shake the flour all round the inside so that there is a fine dusting, and then tip out the excess.
Spoon the cake mix into the tin and then put into the oven on a tray to bake for around 1½ hours. (The reason for the tray is that when I did it some of the mixture oozed out of the bottom of the tin — it could just be that my tin was broken, though it didn’t look it, but it’s better to be safe than on your knees scrubbing the oven.) When the time is up, do the skewer test to check it’s cooked through. If a little bit of the cake mixture sticks to the skewer, pop the cake back in for another 10–15 minutes.
When it is done, cool in the tin while you get on with the rosemary syrup.
Put the rosemary sprigs in a small pan with the sugar and 5 tablespoons of water.
Cook over a very low flame for 5–10 minutes until the rosemary has softened and the sugar has turned into a thick, clear syrup.
Now sprinkle the orange blossom water over the cake. Then loosen it around the edges of the tin with a knife and transfer it to a wire rack. Wait 5 minutes and then brush the rosemary syrup over the cake and dot the candied rosemary sprigs across the top.
Shelf Life: Up to a week and, believe me, it just keeps on getting better.
Best Kept: Uncovered, at room temperature.
From Allegra McEvedy’s Colour Cookbook
Trine Hahnemann’s Lamb stew with fennel, fennel seeds, white wine and elderflower cordial
1 kg lamb cut in cubes from lamb shoulder or leg
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
10 sprigs of tarragon
50 ml elderflower cordial
500 ml white wine
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves
Heat butter and olive oil in a big sauté-pan and brown the meat on all sides. Do in two batches if necessary so you make sure to brown the meat and not boil it.
Chop the leeks into slices in 2 centimetres, cut the fennel to slices of 1 centimetre.
Add the garlic, fennel seeds, bay leaves and tarragon to the sauté-pan and mix well, now add 2/3 of the leeks and fennel. Leave the rest for later. Mix into the meat, let it sauté for a few minutes, then pour over the elderflower cordial and white wine. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir well together and bring to a boil. Skim any froth that rises to the surface, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for 45-55 minutes.
When the lamb is tender, add the rest of the leeks and fennel and let simmer for 5 minutes more; season to taste with salt and pepper.
Before serving sprinkle the fresh tarragon leaves over.
Serve with boiled pearl barley, boiled potatoes or mash.
Allegra’s Strawberry Vesuvius
A gorgeous summer drink.
To drink the right thing at the right time is just as important as the eating side of things. Here are three tastes of summer, all swirling around together with the express mission of making you feel lovely and drunk. Just a little something to liven up your party — sunshine in a glass.
300g strawberries, hulled
70g caster sugar
300ml Pimms N°1
1 bottle chilled Prosecco, Champagne, Cava or sparkling wine:
Triple Sec (optional)
Put the strawberries, sugar and 300ml water in a saucepan and gently cook down to a compote for about 10–15 minutes.
Once the strawberries have cooled, pour into a blender, add the Pimms and blitz. Pour the thin purée into the bottom of your champagne flutes — about 60ml in each.
Gently top up with the fizz of whatever kind, going nice and slow to avoid a messy pink eruption, or fast if you want to see how this cocktail got its name. I recommend Prosecco, but of course Champagne is the winner, but a little redundant with all that other gear in it; Cava is fine too; and then there’s always good old sparkling wine to fall back on.
Serve with a swizzle stick.
Shelf Life: Purée in the fridge 5 days; freezer 1 month. Best Kept: Purée in the fridge, or freeze in ice-cube trays…
From Allegra McEvedy’s Colour Cookbook
Have fun in the kitchen. We’ve some brilliant short courses coming up at the Ballymaloe Cookery School during the summer. The afternoon cookery demonstrations are open to the public every day. Check out a Weeks Worth of Menus, a super course from July 28 – 30. www.cookingisfun.ie
Burrata, a beautifully tender Mozzarella infused with cream, used to be impossible to get it in Ireland, but IAGO in Paul Street in Cork now imports it freshly every week. Sublime with some heirloom tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil leaves or baby broad beans and rocket leaves.
Taste of Cavan takes place on August 8 and 9. Now in its third year, the two-day festival of food has more than 60 exhibitors, from artisan cheesemakers to ice-cream producers. Visiting chefs include Neven Maguire and Richard Corrigan. www.thisiscavan.ie
Date for your diary: East Cork Slow Food Event. Have fun and learn how to Forage for Edible Wild Foods with Emer Fitzgerald at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on Wednesday. July 30, at 7pm. Slow Food members €6/Non-Slow Food members €8. Enquiries to 021-4646785 or email email@example.com
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