Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Irish Farmers' Market by Clodagh McKenna


Both a cookbook and a culinary tour of Ireland, celebrating the diversity and quality of local food and showing how the experience of shopping at farmers' markets can transform your everyday cooking.

When Collins sent me The Irish Farmers' Market by Clodagh McKenna I was really chuffed. When I carried Clodagh’s newly released copy (released in paperback in February 09, after its initial release in 2006 in hardback) home, I didn’t expect some of my friends to turn into sneak thieves.

I kid you not. I got to make one of the delicious soups from the cookbook and showed it off to said “friends” and before I could say “keep it secret, keep it safe” I had an email saying: “I’m sorry, but I accidentally put that cookbook in my bag...” from one of them. *narrows eyes*

But, all is forgiven. As I bought them their own copy! And I got mine back last week.

Cooking is a very personal experience. I like to think of myself as a foodie, but I know, compared to some, that I fall far short of that ideal, but I am happy to nibble my way through stalls and find out more about flavours and experimenting. It is always a pleasure walking around Bromley’s market on Saturdays or even on a secret holiday Friday, which is when the big farmers' market takes place. I love Borough Market and wish I could live closer to it, as it is, twenty minutes down the line to London Bridge is sometimes just not close enough.

There is a huge drive to slow and natural cooking – I have always been a fan of this – my chili cooks at least for a full day, then stands overnight, to be served the next day. The flavours are immense and wonderful as it has developed and melted into one another. You can’t go wrong with this type of cooking. And it is something most South Africans grow up with and it is a good way to entertain.

In The Irish Farmers' Market, Clodagh is definitely an ambassador for Ireland’s cuisine as well as a champion of good food and taking it easy. It is a lovely meandering book, letting you visit some of the markets in each of the regions in Ireland, meeting some of the farmers selling their goods and showcasing some of their fantastic products and how it is made into delicious dishes.

The recipes are interesting – there are over a hundred of them – and they range from very traditional Irish favourites to some dishes which have more than a hint of the Med about them. The focus is however – very heavily – on local produce and organic fresh ingredients. It also showcases seasonal foods – which, in this day and age when we can eat whatever we like, whenever we like – is something I quite like, it makes you feel like you are really “living” off the land.

So, Mark’s favourite is definitely the fried mackerel recipe – not entirely my favourite thing, I have to admit, but he swears by it. I’m much more partial to the thick stews which go fantastically well with the soda bread. And let me say: soda bread is one of the easiest things to make – ever. Even if you are petrified of cooking and baking. (I made some this weekend to go with leek and potato soup but guess what, it was eaten so quickly, I only managed to take photos of the crumbs!)

A big plus point about this cookbook is – apart from the fact that it is like chatting to a well known and enthusiastic friend – is the way the recipes are explained and recommended. Also, the photography makes you want to go and make the food. I have two more on order, for two other friends, as the “legend” of the cookbook is now travelling through our circle of friends. Don’t you love it when you get an item which you can then just share?

If you want to find some of Clodagh’s recipes, check out this site. The Irish Farmers' Market is now available in paperback and will make a very good pressie for Mother’s Day!

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