Darina Allen on the virtues of the Country Market Movement

Recently, I spent a very pleasurable few hours at the Country Market in Bandon which is about to celebrate 40 years since its establishment in December 1976. 

I’m altogether a great admirer of the Country Market Movement and the stalwart members who, week in week out, bake, bottle, grow and knit to sell to their community.

There’s always a particularly admirable ‘dig for victory’ sort of ethic but these ladies and one brave gentleman were particularly spirited, committed and justifiably proud of their country market and I was duly impressed by the quality of the produce. 

Lots of fresh vegetables, floury Kerr’s Pink, roosters, freshly picked romanesco, new season parsnips and a variety of healthy looking plants, home grown onions. (I bought them all.) And then there were the breads and cakes. I loved the way customers came in through the door scarcely looking to right or left, making a beeline for their favourite produce.

The Country Market organisation has a protocol and quality standards that all members sign up to. Each is identified by a number so customers don’t necessary know who produces the item but regulars have their favourites and keep an eye out for new products.

I was hugely impressed by the variety not just of cakes, biscuits, quiches, tarts and meringues but also by the of jams, marmalades and autumn jellies and range of cordials and syrups. 

I bought an elderberry, blackberry and brandy tonic as well as a carrageen Elixir with lots of ginger and a ginger and apple tonic for tickly coughs and chest ailments. 

I also pounced on dukkah and za’atar. You can sprinkle it on top of flat bread, on hummus and is great on fried or poached eggs, avocados or tomato salad.

There was also cottage cheese preserved in oil and pinned on a trellis on the wall, lots of beautiful hand-knits, little jackets, cardigans, woolly hats and those old fashioned wavy tea cosies that I love.

I marvelled at the prices. 

Another customer with a large basket had cleared the shelves of all the apple slices, she confided that she was doing the ‘after-match’ catering in a sports club in the city and she could get nothing as delicious or as good value anywhere else. 

I couldn’t get over how reasonably priced everything was, most of the cakes and biscuits were made with butter and other fine ingredients. The pear and almond tartlets had Calvados in the frangipane. 

Six pieces of shortbread for €1.60, half a spelt fruit loaf studded with fat sultanas was just €2.60, six Welsh cheese cakes were €3.10, yes, 52c each but think of the work, making pastry and homemade jam and madeira mixture and then glace icing for the top.

Another customer was scooping up several packets of brownies with chocolate icing on top.

You must rush to the country market immediately and don’t leave the shop without hugging the cooks. 

They deserve it for their public spirited efforts because for what it’s worth (and it’s not my business), they can scarcely be factoring in their own time when deciding the selling price.

Maureen Wintersbottom, a stylish, sprightly 79, year old gets up at 6am every Friday to bake three dozen delicious gluten-free scones, how about that for spirit? 

If you get there early, you might be in time to pick up a jar of the super delicious Ajvar relish made with roasted red pepper, smoked paprika and spices that we fought about in this house for several days, delicious with goats cheese, labne or on smoked chicken, pan- grilled meat or fish or even a fried egg.

So for those of you who think country markets are about ‘wee buns’ go and check them out, if you are fortunate enough to have one near you. 

They would love new members so if you are a dab hand at sewing or growing or baking or pickling go along and perhaps you can put your skills to good use to enhance the weekly income. 

Speaking of skills, how wonderful would it be to see these making, baking, rearing, growing knowledge passed on to a flourishing Youth Country Market. 

Watch this space… 

Bandon Country Market, Weir Street, Bandon. Open Friday and Saturday, 9am-1pm

Parsnip and Maple Syrup Cake

Darina Allen on the virtues of the Country Market Movement

Serves 8

175g (6oz) butter, plus extra for greasing

110g (4oz) Demerara sugar

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) maple syrup

3 large organic eggs

250g (9oz) self-raising flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons mixed spice

250g (9oz) parsnips, peeled and grated

1 medium eating apple, peeled, cored and grated

50g (2oz) pecans or hazelnuts, roughly chopped

zest and juice of 1 small orange

icing sugar, to serve

Filling

300g (10oz) cream cheese

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Equipment

2 x 20cm (8 inches) deep sandwich tins

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Grease the cake tins with a little butter and line the bases with parchment paper.

Melt the butter, sugar and maple syrup in a pan over a gentle heat, then cool slightly. Whisk the eggs into the mixture, then stir into the flour, baking powder and mixed spice.

Next add the grated parsnip, apple, chopped pecans, orange zest and freshly squeezed juice. Divide between the two tins and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until just starting to shrink from the sides of the tin Cool on a wire rack. Just before serving, mix the cream cheese and maple syrup together. Spread over the base of one cake and top with the other.

Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

Ruffles Chocolate Brownies

Darina Allen on the virtues of the Country Market Movement

Makes 32 or more depending on size

375g (13ozs) chocolate (good quality 62% Valrhona or Callebaut)

375g (13ozs) butter

6 eggs

400g (14ozs) sugar

200g (7ozs) flour

150g (5ozs) chopped walnuts or hazelnuts or pecans

Equipment:

Tin – 35 x 24 x 6cm depth (14 x 9½ x 2½ inch depth)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a gentle heat. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until it’s a light mousse. Gradually add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mousse. Fold in the flour to this mixture. Finally add the chopped nuts. Cook in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, then turn down to 160C/315F/Gas Mark 2 1/2 for another 20 minutes until the centre is slightly wobbly, leave to sit in the tin to cool and set.

Turn out carefully and cut into squares. Yummy!

Welsh Cheese Cakes

Makes 18

(8oz) shortcrust pastry

110 g (4oz) butter

110 g (4oz) castor sugar

175 g (6oz) flour

2 free-range organic eggs

approximately 1 tablespoon milk

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp vanilla extract

Filling: homemade jam, apple puree, marmalade, lemon curd, chocolate spread

Equipment: 2 round-bottomed bun trays

Roll the pastry thinly, between 1/8 and ¼ inch. Using a 3-inch cutter, stamp into rounds and pop neatly into the patty tins.

Grease the patty tins with a brush dipped in a little melted butter. Put a generous ½ teacup of chosen filling into each one.

Cream the butter in a bowl. Add the castor sugar and beat until light and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat well.

Stir in the sieved flour and baking powder mixed together. Add a little milk if the mixture appears too stiff.

Divide between the tins. Bake as they are or decorate in the traditional way. Reroll the trimmings and cut into ¼ inch thick strips. Arrange a cross over the top of the cake mixture. Bake in the preheated oven at 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4 for 20 minutes approximately. Cool on a wire rack.

Note: alternatively, sprinkle a few flaked almonds over the top.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Caramel Bars

This is a wickedly sweet and chocolaty tray bake. The recipe makes lots, so freeze some of the bars for another time if you wish.

Makes 30 bars

Chocolate Base

200g (7oz) butter

50g (2oz) cocoa powder

300g (11oz) caster sugar

2 organic eggs, beaten

225g (8oz) plain flour

Hazelnut Caramel Layer

125g (4½oz) butter

1 x 397g (14oz) tin of condensed milk

2 tablespoons golden syrup

75g (3oz) caster sugar

125g (4½oz) toasted and halved hazelnuts

Chocolate Topping

200g (7oz) dark chocolate, chopped

1 tablespoon sunflower or vegetable oil

Equipment: Swiss roll tin – 20x30 cm (8x12 inch)

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3.

Line or grease the base of the Swiss roll tin.

In a medium sized saucepan over a medium heat, melt the butter for the chocolate base, stir in the cocoa powder and then the sugar and mix until smooth.

Remove from the heat and stir in the eggs until mixed and then the plain flour. Spread the chocolate base over the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes until firm on top.

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool while you make the hazelnut caramel layer.

In a medium sized saucepan and over a medium heat, melt the butter and then add the condensed milk, golden syrup and sugar.

Turn the heat to low and stir continuously for 12-15 minutes until the mixture is dark caramel in colour – do not let it burn. Remove from the heat and stir in the nuts. Spread evenly over the chocolate base and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a bowl sitting over a saucepan of simmering water (also known as a bain marie).

When it is melted, stir in the oil and then pour over the caramel layer and smoothout, leaving to cool and set. Cut into squares. These will keep for a week in an airtight container.

Taken from Rachel’s Food for Living

Hot tips

Home Butchery, Charcuterie and Sausage Making with Philip Dennhardt: This one-day course will be of interest to anyone who likes pork in all its delicious forms. 

Philip Dennhardt comes from a long line of German butchers and he will demonstrate how to butcher a side of pork like a professional. He will then transform every scrap from nose to tail into a full range of yummy hams, succulent sausages, and perfect charcuterie. 

Full instructions will be given for the making of air-dried hams, brine-cured hams, brawn, bacon, and sausages, chorizos, and salamis as well as some recipes for country pâtés and terrines. 

This is a perfect opportunity to pick up plenty of tips and hints on ways of cooking and preserving pork. 

The course starts at 9.30am on Saturday, November 19, and finishes at 5pm. 

It includes a delicious light lunch. At the end of the day, guests will be able to taste a variety of mouth-watering pork products and all the dishes made during the course. 

Booking essential on www.cookingisfun.ie or 021 4646785


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