Friday, 27 September 2013

Ploughing Food - The National Ploughing Championships

The 2013 Ploughing Championships have just finished up for another year. Over 700 acres of ploughing demonstrations and competition, agricultural stands and not so agricultural. Something for every one, all 200 000+ of them. The crowds descended on the County Laois fields at Ratheniska, parking in stubble fields and walking or being pulled by a tractor and trailer up to the site.

It was a long day and unless you wanted to drag a rucksack with a picnic, at some point you needed food. The catering areas were numerous and populated predominantly by burger bars. All the usual suspects Rumbles, Gourmet Burger etc. were in evidence. There was fish and chips, burgers and chips, steak sandwiches, flabby pizzas and packet soup kitchens. The smell of grease hung in palls over packed picnic areas, as much littered with bodies as discarded packaging.

The first day I brought a small flask of coffee and some brown bread and blackcurrant jam and ate it in the traffic queue to get into the site. This kept me going until about 4pm but then the hunger pains kicked in. I saw Rumbles in a huge tent. There was a queue but it moved fast. There were a few choices, overcooked slices of beef, shrivelled salmon and half a chicken which looked the most edible.

The food was being doled out by a team of latex-gloved staff grabbing fistfulls of vegetables, chips and potatoes, throwing it onto paper plates that already had had a latex-gloved hand slap the meat of choice on. Hardly appetising.

This plate of food along with a watery cup of tea cost €15.

It was mass catering feeding the masses.

The next day I suddenly got weak around lunchtime. There were long queues at every food vendor. We remembered the lovely smells coming from the meat vendors in the livestock area we had originally walked through and decided to walk back there. There were also long queues here but not as long. There were Irish Hereford, Irish Angus and Irish Limousin burger stands. We choose the Limousin as it had the shortest queue.

We should have known.

The burger patty was grey, flat, chewy and utterly, utterly tasteless. The burger bun a McDonalds chemical formula. A limp piece of Iceberg lettuce and a watery tomato slice came to €5. If this was to showcase Limousin beef it failed on all fronts. In fact I am convinced every stand had stopped off on the way to the show and bought a job lot of supermarket yellow pack burgers.

I remembered a farmer friend telling me all these French/Belgian breeds that Irish farmers have become obsessed with, probably due to the public obsession with lean fat-free meat; produce tasteless meat. He was right. To have flavour, to have succulence, you need fat. But you also should not cook the bejaysus out of meat as per health fascist requirements.

The vast majority of people at these events are probably quite happy to queue up and pay over the odds for a greasy burger but there are those of us who are not.

To my mind a wasted opportunity to showcase food at a huge event showcasing farming. Surely the two should go hand in hand?

This disconnect needs to be joined up.

The consensus among our group was we would not be coming back again in a hurry. I wonder how many of the thousands walking out said the same?

A comment has been passed that I should have tried to find the quality, artisan food sellers. The reasons I didn't are because, firstly, I suffer from hypo-glycemia and when I get the shakes I need to find food fast. This was made extremely difficult with the badly designed layout of the site. The map was also terrible. I assumed it was my "female brain" but my son who most definitely has a male brain pronounced it worse than useless. In addition, when you did eventually find the row the stand was supposedly on, the stand number (on map) was not displayed outside.

Also I have tried all the artisan producers and know their food is good. The purpose of the blog post was to highlight the organisers of an agricultural event (the largest of it's kind in Europe apparently) allowing such a preponderance of mediocre food sellers.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Gooseberry Martini

This summer past has produced an amount of soft fruit. All my bushes have been laden with fruit except my gooseberries. The Gooseberry Saw Fly got the better of the leaves and I'm not sure if this affected the crop hugely but it certainly didn't help.

I started looking for ideas and found a recipe for Green Cowboy Martini on the Channel 4 website.

I followed the recipe  (250g gooseberries in 75cl gin, add 2 tbsp sugar and leave for a month) using up all my gooseberries and then read the bit where it tells you to put the martini together. I had no gooseberries left. So how was I going to make the syrup?

I left the gooseberries in the gin until now, they have been in it since the end of June. I decided to decant the gin and use the marinated gooseberries to make the syrup.

I weighed them and they were 220g. I added 150g of sugar and 300ml of water. I simmered the syrup until the fruit had softened, about 15 minutes. Using a potato masher mash the fruit into the syrup. Allow to cool and then strain through a double layer of muslin into a clean, sterile jar or bottle.

Follow the suggestion in the recipe for 75ml of the gooseberry infused gin and 10ml of the gooseberry syrup. I poured it over crushed ice but by the time I had faffed about taking the photo the ice had melted.

It makes a lovely drink particularly if you like gin.

Tags: Gooseberry gin  Gooseberry recipes  Gooseberry syrup  Summer cocktails Gooseberry saw fly