By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist
My myriad of food projects occasionally includes testing recipes for food blogs and cookbooks. Last year I had the pleasure of testing recipes for an upcoming Irish cookbook by Imen McDonnell, whose food blog, “I Married an Irish Farmer” (now called Farmette), had quite naturally caught my attention a few years back.
Imen is a bright American who worked in broadcast production and lived the fast paced life in Minneapolis, New York and Los Angeles. She met and married an Irish farmer who took her to the countryside of his multi-generational farm in the lush countryside of Limerick, where he raises dairy cows and free range chickens.
Imen’s blog was intoxicating, and I was drawn not only to her recipes but the stories as well. I could relate to the isolation of rural life that I’d once experienced myself, and I could appreciate how it felt to move to a working family farmstead. She writes with earnest and heartfelt honesty as she maneuvers her life in the rural countryside. While her life in Ireland sounds romantic and idyllic, it can be a lonely existence, waiting for your farmer, whose work is never done.
Just before my last trip to Ireland, Imen’s book, “The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm” was released, and I received my long awaited copy. After an email exchange with Imen, I was delighted to discover I would be in Dublin during her book launch at Hodges Figgis, the oldest bookstore in Ireland.
I made my way from Wynn’s Hotel on Lower Abbey to Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street, about a 20-minute walk that took me past the Irish Yeast Company (sadly the shop recently shuttered for good). Once at the bookshop, it was easy to spot Imen, surrounded by country friends, a few ex-pats and fellow cooks, writers and epicureans. Her affable husband, Richard, helped play host while charming and precocious son Geoffrey served up large portions of charm and small slices of Lavonda’s buttermilk pie (you’ll find the recipe in Farmette).
It was easy to love this assemblage of high-energy young women, who came to support their friend, and I was struck by the deep friendships and collaborative efforts within the group. When I mentioned to Imen that I was going to use one of her recipes in this column, she was quick to introduce me to her author friend, Nessa Robins, and keen to recommend that I should mention Nessa’s cookbook, “Apron Strings.”
Imen may not yet speak with a brogue, but I can assure you, her heart is pure Irish. If you fancy Ireland and her foods, you’ll want to purchase “Farmette,” available on Amazon.
Another great cookbook author on the Emerald Isle is Darina Allen, who’s the “Alice Waters” of Ireland. She’s the founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, and the driving force behind the Farmers Markets in County Cork. I was lucky enough to visit the school, tour the beautiful and abundant gardens and, naturally, purchase a few bits and pieces for my kitchen.
These women are all working collectively to bring awareness to the abundance of natural foods that Ireland has to offer and the emergence of an exploding artisan food culture.
My previous visit to Ireland in 2013 coincided with the year of the “Gathering,” an initiative encouraging all of Irish ancestry to “come home” and bring their friends and family along too. To introduce real Irish food during the gathering, Darina Allen created a fantastic website with traditional Irish recipes. If you want to try your hand at turning out Treacle, then have a look at the website: https://www.irishrecipes.ie/
As per my norm, I passed up the gift shops and headed to the markets. Before I left Ireland, I had to purchase an extra suitcase in Killarney. With a steadfast “nothing to declare,” I’m home and happy with my Irish treasures.
APPLE JACK FRITTERS – Serves 4
(reprinted from “The Farmette Cookbook”)
•3 granny smith apples or any semi-sweet variety
•Juice of 1 lemon, plus 1 tsp zest
•2 Tbs vanilla sugar or caster sugar
•1 tsp vanilla extract
•2 Tbs Longueville House apple brandy (Calvados or apple jack in USA)
•1 cup plain flour
•1 cup apple cider
•2 Tbs olive oil
•4 cups vegetable oil for frying
•Remove cores from the apples, peel and slice ½ inch thick. Put in a bowl and macerate with the lemon, zest, vanilla sugar and brandy for at least an hour.
•In a separate bowl, add the flour and whisk in the cider, followed by the olive oil. Whisk until completely smooth. Let sit for one hour.
•Heat 4 cups of oil in a large saucepan to 350ºF. Dip the apple slices into the batter and then into the oil, frying in small batches. When golden, remove, with a slotted spoon, and place onto paper towels to absorb excess oil.
•When finished, pile on a serving platter and sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar. Serve hot with or without whipped cream if you like
Scullery Notes: This batter is best made in advance and allowed to sit for at least an hour. Omit brandy and cider for children’s version..
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