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We are smack in the middle of apple season in Ireland…

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And Halloween is just a few days away…

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In our Irish home that can mean only one thing…it’s Apple Cake time! 

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Oh yes…Ireland+Halloween+Apples = Apple Cake in our Irish home and today’s gorgeous recipe comes from the Allen family…Rachel+Darina+Myrtle Allen. This recipe has been in their family for generations and it is delicious to the very core! (Sorry…I could’t help myself!)

For a change, I deconstructed the Allen recipe and turned it into these adorable single-servings for our brekkie this morning. They would be absolutely lovely served, hot out of the oven, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream immediately following dinner.

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While I prepped and baked this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder how many Irish people remember that Ireland+Halloween+Apples have been closely linked for centuries. Probably not too many anymore.

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In my mother-and-father-in-law’s time, everyone knew: they hadn’t yet succumbed to the ways of other places. In our time, however, we have been snookered into looking at the world globally and taking on board the commercialism of our celebrations…this means Halloween-a-la-America in many places around the world.

But I digress…

A few years ago, while researching my second book, Irish love & Wedding Customs, I came across a collection of handwritten manuscripts from the last century at the U.C.D. Folklore Library. On the pages were story after story about how apples were used on Halloween in celebratory games and for marriage divination.

Weeks later, I came across a painting called Snap Apple Night. It was painted by Cork-born artist Daniel Maclise in 1832. It is said Maclise was inspired to create the painting after attending a Halloween barn party in Blarney, County Cork.

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Look closely at the painting…do you see the young couple sitting on the floor in front of the fire? The young man has his arm possessively around the dark-haired girl’s waist and just near her left hand is a bright green apple. To the right of the two love birds are a group of young men and women bobbing for apples. And, to the left of dead-centre, a man is trying to take a bite of an apple hanging from a string…he’s playing Snap Apple.

The people in the painting are “trick or treating” in an incredibly voluptuous way…a uniquely Irish way…a way we’ve lost sight of. (Sigh.) Can’t you just feel the tension of the lust and love and happiness between the people in Maclise’s painting? Fantastic…don’t you think?

Another Ireland+Halloween+Apples tradition from long ago, one not shown in Snap Apple Night, is a game of marriage divination whereby a person would peel an apple carefully in order to get one long piece of the skin. Then they would throw the skin over their shoulder and check to see what letter it formed on the ground. The letter was meant to signify the first initial of a future spouse.

I adore the old Irish ways and it is such fun to share the traditions and memories of long ago with my children. Much like the Allen girls handing down of a favourite family recipe, I hope that through my cooking and writing, I am handing down something from the past to the current and, one day, the future generations of our family. From our Irish home to you and yours wherever you call home…we wish you Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh (Happy Halloween)!

Irish Apple Cake

Serves 6

Ingredients

22g white flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

110g butter

125g caster sugar

1 (organic) egg, lightly beaten

about 50-125ml milk

1-2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped into bit sized pieces (Note: I suggest using 3-4 apples)

2-3 cloves, optional (Note: if serving in ramekins you will need 1 clove per ramekin)

egg wash

Directions

1. Preheat the oven t0 180C/350F.

2. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl.

3. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until it resembles the texture of breadcrumbs.

4. Add 75g of the caster sugar.

5. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and enough milk to form a soft dough.

6. Divide dough in two. Put one half into an ovenproof plate and press it out with floured fingers to cover the base.

7.  Add the apples and the cloves.

8. Sprinkle over some or all over the remaining sugar, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

9. Roll out the remaining dough and put on top of the apples – easier said than done as this “pastry dough” is more like scone dough. (Note: my dough was too sticky to roll out so I just flattened it with my hands and then put it on top of the apples in the ramekins.)

10. Press the sides together, cut a slit through the lid, egg wash and bake for about 40 minutes or until cooked through and nicely browned on top.

11. Dredge with caster sugar and serve warm with Barbados sugar and softly whipped cream.

* From Living Library blog: “Lady Wilde, in her book Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland wrote: “It is said by time-wise women and fairy doctors that the roots of the elder tree, and the roots of an apple tree that bears red apples, if boiled together and drunk fasting, will expel any evil living thing or spirit that may have taken up abode in the body of a man.”

* From The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids: “In a Medieval Irish story Connla the Fair, an Irish prince, fell in love with a beautiful Faerie woman, who arrived on the Irish shore in a crystal boat. She offered him an apple from the world of Faerie; he took the fatal bite, and was hers forever. They set sail for her magical island where the trees bore both fruit and blossom, and winter never came. There they ate an ever replenishing stock of apples, which kept them young forever. An Otherworldly apple tree magically makes music which can dispel ‘all want or woe or weariness of the soul’. In Irish lore, the God Óengus offered three miraculous apple trees from the magical woods, Bruig na Bóinde (New Grange), as a wedding gift for one of the Milesians. One was full in bloom, one shedding its blossoms, and one in fruit. The deliberate felling of an apple tree was punishable by death in ancient law).

* The old Irish tree list here and a brief history by Irish forester, Fergus Kelly, speaks directly to the history of old Irish trees, including the apple tree.

* The secret steamy history of Halloween apples over at NPR.og.

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Mincemeat pies. If there’s anything that says Christmas in our Irish home it is these buttery-rich, sweet, MEAT-less wonders. Yes…it is somewhat confusing…meat is right there in the name…but these lovely treats are absolutely, positively, meat free. I know this because I’ve eaten my fair share! How could I not? Bite-sized deliciousness served on a plate with a dollop of boozy cream…who could resist?

A quick Google search on the history of mincemeat pies shows that they were once, a long time ago, an entirely different dish. Around since the 11th century, mince pies first became popular in British kitchens in the 1700s. Back then there was chopped beef or mutton in them, along with dried fruit and warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Rich and savoury, they were a main course dish and not an after dinner pudding or tea time treat.

It wasn’t until the 18th century, when “cheap sugar arrived from slave plantations in the West Indies”, that the mince pie we know and love today was created. Sweet trumped meat and now the only animal protein you’ll find in a modern mince pie is beef suet, a raw fat found around the kidneys and joints of a cow or mutton ~ though increasingly even it is being left out by bakers who are sensitive to animal products in their diet.

Irish Mincemeat

 

In Ireland, mince pies make their appearance in shops, bakeries, and holiday markets in early November. Truth be told, my favourite store-bought pies come from Avoca HandweaversButler’s Pantry and Cavistons in Glasthule, though Lidl, Aldi and Dunnes make nice ones too. Very few of my Irish friends go to the trouble of making them. Even my lovely sister-in-law, Rosie, spends her pre-Christmas time in the kitchen making her family-famous Christmas pudding, rather than making mincemeat pies.

But for those die-hard Christmas types like myself, it’s really a straight-forward, and dare I say “fun”, process. The only two things you really must do to ensure the end result is worth the effort is: 1) make your own candied peel (easy-peasy); and 2) make the mincemeat far enough in advance (two to six weeks is about right) to allow the alcohol, fruit, and sugar mixture to fully mature.

Mincemeat pies are best served out-of-the-oven-warm, with a generous spoon of freshly whipped, and dare I say “whiskey-laced”, cream, but they are also very good at room temperature a day or two later too. On its own, mincemeat is wonderful mixed into vanilla ice cream, may be added to home-baked apple or pear tarts, served over yoghurt, or tossed into a fresh fruit salad. And, finally…if you’re looking to give homemade Irish Christmas gifts this year…a beribboned jar of handmade mincemeat (or candied peel for that matter) would be positively lovely.

Happy Christmas!

Mincemeat

(makes 10 cups)

Ingredients

8oz/300gm/2 cups sultanas

8oz/300gm/2 cups currants

4oz/150gm/1 cups raisins

6oz/200gm/1 1/2 cup candied peel

600gm/3 cups muscavado or dark brown sugar

2 cooking apples (or green apples), peeled, cored and coarsely grated

zest and juice of 2 organic lemons

6oz/3/4 cup of Irish whiskey

1lb/450gm beef (or vegetable) suet*

1 teaspoon of pre-mixed cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves (also known as mixed spice)

a pinch of salt

Directions

1. Combine all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.

2. Put the ingredients into sterilised jars, cover and leave two to six weeks to mature, stirring once a week.

3. Use what you need and keep the rest in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

* If you’re making mincemeat to give as gifts to be used on muesli or ice cream, leave out the beef suet.

Ballymaloe Mince Pies 

(Makes 20-24 Mince Pies)

Ingredients

225g (8oz) plain flour

175g (6oz) butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1 dessertspoon icing sugar, sieved

a pinch of salt

a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind

1lb mincemeat (to see Darina’s mincemeat recipe, please see link below)

egg wash

Directions
1. Sieve the flour into a bowl.

2. Toss the butter into the flour and rub it in with your fingertips.

3. Add the icing sugar and a pinch of salt.

4. Mix with a fork as you gradually add in the beaten egg (do this bit by bit because you may not need all of the egg), then use your hand to bring the pastry together into a ball. It should not be wet or sticky.

5. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.

6. Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4

7. Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about 3mm (1/8 inch) Stamp into rounds 7.5 (3 inch) in diameter and line shallow bun tins with the discs.

8. Put a good teaspoonful of mincemeat into each tin, dampen the edges with water and put another round on top.

9. Brush with egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves or stars.

10. Bake the pies in the preheated oven for 20 minutes approx.

11. Allow them to cool slightly, then dredge with icing or caster sugar. Serve with Irish whiskey cream (or brandy butter.)

 

Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

A fun article about six Northern Irish brothers who make 20,000 mincemeat pies a day at this time of year.

Here’s a brief history of mincemeat pies.

Looking for some other Irish Christmas fun facts? Check out this blog post.

Irish Central always views Ireland from a slightly more cynical/humorous lens, but I like it. Check out their Christmas post for 2014 here.

In 2004, Darina Allen posted recipes for a nostalgic Irish Christmas meal. You can find it here but, be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart. The list of dishes is incredibly long.

The beautiful photo at the start of this posting is from Getty Images. It was taken by David Cordner. I would have used my own photo, except I haven’t made my mince pies yet because the mince is still marinating and Mr. Cordner’s photograph is incredibly beautiful!

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Irish Vegetable Soup

Soup Unblended…

Autumn is upon us and with the change in temperature outdoors we need warm, wholesome, foods to keep us energized and satisfied.

This soup will do nicely. It is vegetarian, but so flavourful you’ll hardly miss the meat! The parsnip gives the soup a hint of sweetness, but only slightly, and if you’re not a fan of parsnips you can omit them altogether and substitute in another vegetable. In fact, the beauty of this soup is you can throw nearly any combination of veggies into the pot and come out with a dish that is simply delicious.

And Soup Blended!

And Soup Blended!

I follow Darina Allen’s method for vegetable soup making, which is 1:1:3:5. That is one cup of onion (could be onions, leeks, shallots or a combination of the three): one cup of potatoes: three cups of vegetables: and five cups of stock. This is foolproof soup making. Warm and wholesome, this is perfect when served with a slice of Irish Brown Bread. Enjoy!

Autumn Vegetable Soup

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

2 tablespoon of butter
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup potatoes, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
1/2 cup cauliflower, chopped
5 cups of vegetable (or chicken) stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Place the butter in a large pot and place over a medium high heat.

2. When butter is melted and foamy, add the onion and potato.

3. Sauté for 2 minutes, then cover and sweat for 8 minutes.

4. Add the stock, carrots, parsnip, celery, and cauliflower, lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender when you insert a fork.

5. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste and then either serve as a chunky vegetable broth or blitz with a hand blender to form a silky smooth soup.

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Some see Lent as an opportunity to give something up. Others see Lent as an opportunity to take something on: something that is “good”. I see Lent as an opportunity to do both. Which is why, in our Irish home, each of us is giving something up for Lent and, Saturday to Thursday, I am taking on the task of finding delicious meat-free meals for my family {and for you and yours) to enjoy each Friday during this holy season.

Last week, the first Friday in Lent 2014, we had Irish Black Bean, Kale and Quinoa Salad: a very tasty meal indeed. This week, we’re trying a recipe from Rachel Allen, an Irish chef whose bubbly personality and common sense approach to cooking have made her a household name in these parts.

Rachel Allen Photo Credit: Kerrygold USA

Rachel Allen
Photo Credit: Kerrygold USA

If you do a Google search on Rachel Allen, you will discover that she was originally from Dublin and left home at eighteen to study at the world-famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland. You will also learn that Rachel is now a busy TV chef, author, journalist and mother of three, who still teaches at Ballymaloe. She is the author of six bestselling cookbooks, and has sold in excess of one million books worldwide. Her popular television series for RTE (Ireland’s national television station) and the BBC have been broadcast internationally in 33 different countries and she frequently appears on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen. Attracting two million viewers on the BBC, her TV series is also the highest ever rated show on The Good Food Channel in the UK. Rachel is also a main presenter of the BBC’s Good Food Channel flagship program, Market Kitchen.

That’s some C.V. (resume)!

While I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Rachel, I do remember her from a time when she was a trainee at Ballymaloe Cookery School and I was a student. I was in a hands-on cooking class, being taught by Darina Allen (now Rachel’s mother-in-law), when a young Rachel scurried past the back of the demo table and out the patio door. Someone in the class inquired about the very pretty blonde that had just slipped by and Darina replied, “Oh, her…she’s my son’s girlfriend”. I remember the looks passing between the student chefs…ones that said, “Lucky him!”. Fast forward some fourteen years later and the “girlfriend” is now the “wife” and a part of the Allen “magic” that began with Myrtle Allen, grew with Darina, and has now been passed to Rachel.

Rachel, Myrtle and Darina Allen: Photo Credit: Ballymaloe Cookery School

Rachel, Myrtle and Darina Allen
Photo Credit: Ballymaloe Cookery School

By all accounts Rachel is a lovely woman, which makes it all the nicer to follow her recipes. Tomorrow {Friday}, I’ll be making her Broccoli Soup with Parmesan Toast. It’s one of those thick and hearty Irish soups, that’s easy to make and looks positively delicious.

If you prefer a fish dish, you may want to try Rachel’s Roast Haddock with Lemon Basil Potato Salad…which looks really fresh and spring-like.

If, however, you want something a wee bit heavier but oh so “more-ish”, you may want to have a go at making Rachel’s Kale and Purple Sprouting Broccoli Bake. Click on the link to the left to watch the video.

Photo Credit: rachelallen.com

Photo Credit: rachelallen.com

Oh, goodness, with so many fabulous Rachel Allen recipes to choose from, we’re spoilt rotten! I’d love to know which recipe you try tomorrow or any day during Lent. I’ll be sure to let you know whether my little family enjoyed the soup. All the best to you in the kitchen…cheers!

Related Articles:

Discovering the Fresh Face of New Irish Cooking at http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-calcook-discovering-the-fresh-face-of-new-irish-cooking-20140306,0,1148730.story#axzz2vnuCnHj2

March 10, 2014 article in the Irish Examiner about Myrtle Allen turning 90 at http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/matriarch-of-ballymaloe-celebrates-her-90th-birthday-261396.html

Refreshing look at Rachel Allen’s Kitchen at thekitchn.com

Rachel Allen website here

Darina Allen website here

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Darina Allen by Koster Photography.jpgI don’t know how I missed it!

Every now and again for the past year, I’ve been googling “Darina Allen” looking for a blog. Surely Ireland’s most celebrated cookery writer and founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School would have one. Then, last month, I noticed a comment about Darina Allen and her relatively new blog whilst looking at the Irish Food Bloggers Association website.

It seems Darina started blogging on 14th June last year. In her own words, “it was a rough start initially” but in the last eight months she’s really taken off…literally. Darina’s blog reads more like a journal of food travels than recipes. To date she’s taken us to such places as Cambodia, New York, Sri Lanka, Mexico and, of course, all around Ireland in search of discovering food trends.

For those who don’t know her, Darina is to Ireland what Alice Waters is to America. She is credited with starting up the first Irish farmers market a decade ago. There are now over 150 of them across Ireland. Three years ago, she and Waters put forward an idea that lead to the Slow Movement’s Annual Grandmother’s Day, with the hope that grandmother’s Forgotten Skillscould help end child obesity by teaching their grandchildren to plant and cook dishes made with fresh local ingredients. She is author of 16 books, including Forgotten Skills of Ireland, Ballymaloe Cookery Course and, an old standby, Simply Delicious.

I had the good fortune of meeting Darina while attending the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shangarry, County Cork many years ago. She’s a quick wit, a wonderful teacher, and a food activist in Ireland and beyond. Ballymaloe is one of the only cooking schools in the world located on an entirely organic farm. In fact, it was my time spent at Ballymaloe which led to me developing organic kitchen gardens at our home in Ireland and in America.

If you visit Ireland and have an interest in cooking, consider a trip to Ballymaloe…there is a 12 week certificate course, over 60 shorter courses, and many afternoon classes to enjoy. And, if you’re just a fan and want to know what Darina’s getting up to, check out her blog.

And, if by chance you’re visiting the Cork area this weekend, Darina is hosting the first ever Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine at the Grain Store, Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School.

BallymaloeLitFestFoodWine250[1]There will be an incredible line-up of over 40 speakers including: Alice Waters, Madhur Jaffery, Claudia Roden, Bill Yosses (The American White House Pastry Chef) Stephanie Alexander (from Australia), Claus Meyer, Camilla Plus, Rowley Leigh, and David Thompson. Jancis Robinson MW and her husband Nick Lander are coming over from the U.K., as are Joanna Blythman, and some of the new young voices in food: Thomasina Miers, Stevie Parle, Alys Flowler, and Claire Ptak. And, that’s just the beginning. This international cast will be matched by a strong Irish presence. You’ll have to look at the Litfest.ie website to get the whole picture. It’s quite a tempting line-up!

Happy reading and cooking.

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